Culture Is Critical


Culture is one of the things that makes humans so successful at working together and also one of the things that often drives us apart. Yet it is so endemic to our existence that we don’t even notice it. We don’t think about analyzing it and looking at how it serves our needs or how it may get in our way.  This first part of this paper provides a way of looking at work culture through the lens of the many factors that influence a social structure and shape the behavior of people as they live and work together. The second part describes how to paint an organization's cultural portrait as an exercise to gain insight into the current culture and envision a future culture design. 


The insights in this paper provide a framework for analyzing the various components that influence an organization’s culture. Establishing and maintaining a healthy culture is one of the key jobs for leaders at all levels. Readers will gain a deeper understanding of culture and how important it is to the success of an organization. In addition, this resource includes a method for generating the conversation needed to create a picture of the current state of culture.


Culture provides us with a reliable definition of our social environment that, as biological humans, we crave. This resource explores the critical nature of culture in our workplaces and the complexity in managing that culture. Culture defines our relationships and how we treat others, both inside and outside the organization. It brings us together to form cohesive, loyal working groups to successfully meet our needs.  Key ideas Relevance of Culture Discussion
  • Employee engagement
  • Competitive landscape
  • Workforce retention
Culture Building
  • Determining ‘Who’ we are
  • Who defines the culture?
  • Challenges that impact culture: Size, External Influences, Rapid Change
  • Tribal Basics: Goals, Belonging, Roles, Trust, Forgiveness, Collaboration
Cultural Types
  • Negative vs positive cultures
  • Hierarchies
  • Use of power
Cultural Evolution
  • Information gathering questions
  • Setting direction
  • Initiating Change
  • Maintenance
Culture for the Future
  • Cultural components to consider for future success
  • Building leaders for the future
  • Including all voices and perspectives counteracts groupthink.
  • Slowing down processes gives analytical thinking a chance to override biases.
Painting an Organizational Culture Portrait through Conversations
  • Defining the boundaries of the organization
  • Adding a base of Values and Beliefs
  • Identifying internal influences
  • Inserting external influences
By looking at the existing culture from all perspectives, leaders can build a culture for the future that serves all the stakeholders and customers of an organization.

Sample Activity

Information in this paper is for those engaged in analyzing a culture to plan for the future. This provides a basis for the culture portrait exercise. One or more groups are formed from representative employees to engage in the culture portrait exercise. This is a facilitated exercise to work as a group to paint the portrait. Multiple portraits can be produced if it is a large group. Once the portrait(s) are complete, have the groups present their portraits and discuss key ideas: . 
  • What are the pros and cons of what they see?
  • What will serve the organization well in the future?
  • What needs to change?
The group may want to create a portrait of what they would like the future culture to look like.


This asset is derived from the work of Anne Hunnex.

Target Audience:

  • Leaders
  • Educators
  • Facilitators
  • Consultants

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