Build a Constructive Culture

What is a Constructive Culture?

Although there are many definitions of culture, we define it as the general patterns of relating that can be found in a community.

The Human Synergistics (HS) suite of profiling tools includes a cultural inventory that, as with most of their instruments, is based on Human Synergistics Circumplex™. (see diagram) One of the uses of the Circumplex is to provide a consistent framework for observing the human condition and human relationships. As such, at Talking About, we think of culture in such terms.

Based on the Circumplex, we can assess cultures as being more defensive (red and green) than constructive (blue) or more constructive than defensive. The Human Synergistics organisation uses more than forty years of locally relevant Australian and New Zealand data based on these behavioural styles to clearly demonstrate a link between constructive styles and vastly more effective individual and group leadership and organisational performance. The reason for this is fairly straightforward. The defensive styles can be seen as coping styles or "moving away" styles. The focus in the utilisation of these styles is to defend what already exists. On the other hand, the constructive styles can be seen as satisfaction related styles or "moving towards" styles. The focus here is on creating something new. The result of a more constructive culture can be seen as greater input of organisational energy into maintaining shared meaning and achieving goals resulting in better outcomes.

Building a Constructive Culture?

Although many people may like to tell you otherwise, creating a culture is simple. All you have to do is put a group of people together and let them do what they do. The result will be the culture of the group. The challenge lies in building a desired culture.

The key to doing so lies in a simple idea - Foundations and Alignment.

Establishing the Foundations

If you want to build a constructive culture then it makes sense to establish constructive foundations. We use a simple approach to do this. The foundations of a culture are the community's (organisation's) values. Most large organisations have an espoused set of values, however these values are not established in direct relation to the culture they wish to create nor do they tend to be their practiced values. This is where the HS Circumplex becomes valuable. We invite our clients to build a value set of FOUR values which are directly related to the FOUR constructive styles in the Circumplex - Achievement, Self-Actualising, Humanistic Encouraging and Affiliative.

When used with the Human Synergistics' Circumplex, this approach establishes a direct link between all aspects of a constructive culture and the community's values and also covers the most important aspects of organisations - outcomes, individual well being, individual and organisational learning and relationships.

The problem with most cultural initiatives is that they are far too detailed. For example, it is not possible for a human being to remember 20 different things they should do when they give someone feedback.

The ontological approach effectively addresses this issue. Rather than having to remember many things when needed, we work with our clients to establish a mechanism that will trigger a set of questions that help establish how to do what is needed in a constructive way.

This approach is established by creating an acronym for the value set. Here is an example of what this can look like in a group.

Consider these four values based on the constructive styles:

  • Achievement - Excellence
  • Self-Actualising - Authenticity
  • Humanistic Encouraging - Support
  • Affiliative - Trust

The acronym is "EAST".

Now when anyone in that group has to deal with an issue, they have a place to start that will trigger four questions:

  1. What will be an excellent result and how can we achieve that?
  2. How can we do that authentically?
  3. How can we support each other to do this?
  4. How do maintain trust with each other and the stakeholders involved?

This approach gives people a common starting point for dealing with various concerns and so establishes a more common approach in general.

Creating Alignment

However, the establishment of the foundations is never enough. The role of organisational leaders in build a constructive culture lies in ensure alignment to those values. Our leadership development programs are designed with this in mind.

To achieve this alignment, organisational leaders need to be:

  • Resilient - to manage their own way of being such that they can respond in a constructive way:
  • Adaptable - to be able to deal with the changes required to create a more constructive culture;
  • Aligned - to ensure they are personally aligned with the organisational values; and
  • Accountable - to take personal responsibility for creating a constructive culture.

Most cultural initiatives also run into problems because they are seen as purely about individuals changing their attitudes and behaviour. It is important to recognise that the organisation's policies, systems, processes, environment and so on, also have a significant impact on the culture. In order to change the culture, it is also important to look at how policies, systems etc can be made more supportive of a constructive culture.

Ultimately, building a constructive culture is about consistent application of desired values. This is the biggest challenge of leadership.

Want to read more?

If you would like to read some articles that explore these ideas in more details, please click here.

For More Information

For more information about how Talking About can support you develop a more constructive culture, please contact a Talking About Coach on +61 412 741 537 or email us at info@talkingabout.com.au.