When you type the word culture into Pixabay, one of the largest images site, it returns a range of pictures showcasing well known sites and scenes from countries all over world and weirdly quite a good range of pictures showing garlic. I am still trying to figure out that one! What this showed through the use of images is that culture is not something that is easily defined and differs greatly from one country to the next. The images also highlighted that it is not something one can necessarily touch but experience.
Miriam-Webster.com defines Culture as “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time.” From an organisation‘s point of view Culture is defined by the same source as “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.” The use of the word “shared” when used in this context had me thinking about how culture is formed at organisation level. At a social group, religious or racial level culture is easily understood and perpetuated.
As a Black Caribbean woman of African descent, I grew up feeling, breathing and living my culture which manifests and displays in many tangible and intangible ways. I was taught our way of life at my grandfather’s knees. The values of respecting your elders; putting God first in all things; cooking, laughing and dancing together as family and friends; being ambitious for yourself and others; being open and honest in your dealings with self and others; working hard, always having a clean home and the list goes on and on. My culture is so much an ingrained part of me that it is like breathing. I didn’t truly understand this until I left the Caribbean and moved to the UK. Talk about a culture shock!
At an organisation level Culture takes on a different context in my view. Different racial, religious and social groups have chosen to come together to work at a common goal. They bring with them all their different cultures and we have what I like to call a culture cocktail. The inherent problem with this is, with so many mixers involved, how then does an organisation maintain and define what it wants its culture to be and how does it ensure this is what all these different groups are perpetuating when they are with them?
I think in very simplistic terms it is very akin to how you parent a child. You set the ground rules ( not many, keep it simple and relevant). You reward compliance; you call out non-compliance and ensure there are consequences to behaviour which breaches the ground rules. You also leave enough space for the creative spirit to manifest itself and bring new things in that enhance what is already there.
When it is time you also provide the opportunities for your child to spread their wings and take flight to forge their own journeys and create their own subcultures. Similarly within any organisation for the culture to remain a thriving microcosm, some will need to leave and others will need to arrive and bring their experiences to bear.