I’ve been talking to a lot of people lately about their return to office plans. Returning to the office is a major organizational change after 15 months of working from home for most of us.
The people I’m talking to are fairly well dialed in on the tactical, practical aspects. They’ve thought through vaccination status, PPE stations, masks, and social distancing protocols. But they often haven’t thought about what this return might mean for their culture. Most of them don’t have a good read on what their employees think about returning to the office. It got me thinking about the role of curating culture during organizational change. In the case of this particular change, I think it’s important to focus on communicating early, often, and generously.
And of course, any time communication increases, the chance of conflict rises as well. Read on for tips on how to handle this change.
Organizational change is the process by which organizations change the way they operate, use technologies, are structured from a people perspective, and adapt to changes in the market.
Essentially, if your organization is in any kind of flux state related to people, product, or operations, you’re dealing with organizational change. And in order to remain relevant, you want to have your radar tuned to early signs that a change could benefit the organization.
Drivers of organizational change include the economic climate, consumer tastes, new technologies, government policies, socio-political changes, and competition.
Culture is commonly understood as “the way we do things around here.” It is informed by the organization’s values, mission/purpose, and both the management and talent development styles of the top leaders. Every organization has a culture, and companies with great cultures actively work at nurturing their culture.
Culture can support or impede organizational change. Four ways this typically happens include:
1.Psychological safety: Psychological safety is the single biggest thing that can support a culture of change agility. In 2012, Google studied hundreds of teams to determine what made teams most effective. Nicknamed the Aristotle Project, this study remains the gold standard for how to build an effective team.
Google discovered that the most important dynamic for effective teams is psychological safety. It defined psychological safety as “an individual’s perception of the consequences of taking an interpersonal risk or a belief that a team is safe for risk-taking in the face of being seen as ignorant, incompetent, negative, or disruptive. In a team with high psychological safety, teammates feel safe to take risks around their team members. They feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea.”
Teams that work to create vulnerability-based trust develop high degrees of psychological safety. It’s one of the five behaviors we assess when we work with teams (see #2 for more).
2. Conflict styles: Pat Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, created a model and an assessment that helps teams become more cohesive. It looks at the following five areas: vulnerability-based trust, conflict management, accountability, commitment, and results.
We referenced vulnerability-based trust above. Regarding conflict management, Lencioni talks about conflict styles being on a spectrum. On one side we have “artificial harmony”—these are cultures where everyone’s nice to each other…to their faces. Conflicts go unresolved until they get too big to ignore, and then they’re patched up as quickly as possible, often in less than optimal ways. On the other side of the spectrum is destructive conflict, where people attack personalities, not problems. Feelings get hurt and problems don’t get resolved effectively.
3. Communication styles: At Kadabra, we use the Everything DiSC assessment to help teams better understand their own personality and behavior style as well as the styles of other team members.
Different styles have different tendencies: the D style is very direct, the i style is very social, the S style wants to make sure everyone’s needs are met, and the C style is focused on accuracy and attention to details. When teams don’t understand how each style works, they can have problems communicating. And communication problems will hamper and change initiatives an organization is trying to implement. When teams communicate well, while it won’t necessarily make the change easy, it will at least not make it more difficult.
4. Lack of clarity about culture norms: We see this a lot with fast-growing companies. When the team is small enough that you know everyone’s name, it’s easy (or at least easier) to nurture the culture together. But once you start growing quickly, it’s much harder to onboard new hires into the culture norms of the organization. That’s because, for most companies, much of what makes a culture is implied, not explicit. When we work with organizations, we help them identify the culture, clarify what’s working and what’s not, and operationalize their values in ways that help new hires understand and thrive in the culture.