Linking organizational development and culture

A strong, focused culture results in people being aligned in their ways of thinking and doing in the organization. For example, a culture strong in participative practices means people will involve themselves in the running of the company whereas a culture that is more authoritarian causes people to wait and follow the lead set by their managers. So which culture is better? The answer is, it depends. The determining factor for which culture should exist in your company is the lifecycle stage of your company.

Think about a child and how it grows through its lifecycle. As an infant, this child needs a parent who provides and cares for him, taking care of all of his needs. As the child grows that parenting approach needs to change and slowly, over the years, give the child more space to make decisions, to solve problems, and to make mistakes. Thereby, the child eventually grows to the point where he can handle the challenges of life on his own. The child has become an adult.

The same is also true for companies. A startup or infant company requires a leader who nurtures it and guides it, making all of the important decisions. This is necessary as startups usually employ inexperienced people, are always close to crisis, are very vulnerable and can easily die. The organization needs and is dependent on the founder for survival.

As the company transforms from startup into its growth stage and moves towards adulthood, this authoritarian leader needs to develop managers to whom he can eventually delegate authority and within whom he can build accountability. This is necessary as the complexity of the business increases; more control over operations through systems, process, and professional management is needed. Now, the previously needed and beneficial dependency on the founder becomes a liability. What happens should this person leave the company? The leader must make himself dispensable.

But what about a large professional organization, stagnating and loosing its ability to adapt and change with the market? This again requires a cultural shift led by leadership. But this organization needs decentralization so people can innovate. In these large bureaucratic organizations, there are experienced people wanting to change and innovate but they are held back by an overly controlling and centralized corporate headquarters. Problem solving and decision making need to be pushed down into the organization where people know what is really going on and know how to deal with things.

A strong culture drives behavior in an organization. But different stages of organizational development require different organizational behaviors. By understanding the different stages of the organizational lifecyle, we see the necessary behaviors at each stage and can adapt the culture accordingly.

Greg Mathers
Adizes Latvia

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