Harnessing the Power of Microcultures
By Pearl Mattenson, Director, Rosov Consulting
A June 2017 publication by Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO), “Exploring Microcultures and Why They Matter,” looks inside of philanthropic organizations and highlights an important point: we ignore sub groups that form in our organization (i.e. microcultures) at our peril.
What the GEO report does well is to show how when foundations leverage or intentionally nourish healthy microcultures, employee engagement and commitment improves. Importantly for the non-profit sector, so does a foundation’s ability to serve their grantees.
What is true for philanthropic organizations is true for all organizations. People align around a whole host of issues, values and behaviors. Sometimes, organizations help to create affinity groups through formal departmental structures or the way office space is allocated. As often, they form organically, as people connect in the interstices of their work. Are these groups good? Are they bad? The GEO report does a nice job of highlighting how and when these groups can serve the foundation’s goals and how they might obstruct.
As a systems coach, my perspective is that while the evaluative question is important for an organization to grapple with, it is premature. First, and foremost, there is a need to stop and notice that these micro cultures even exist. Too often, non-profits are working nose-to-the-grindstone to deliver on their mission never realizing that there is something powerful and positive taking hold among the staff that can better serve the work. Alternatively, an organization might discover that unintentional micro cultures mean that they are getting in their own way. The good news is that organizations are organic systems that can self-adjust, given the opportunity to “see” themselves in a new way.
Can you do this ‘stopping and noticing’ on your own? While the GEO report offers self-guided questions for consideration, I have found that it is profoundly difficult for an organization to engage in healthy reflection on its own. Much like a radiologist reads an x-ray that can aid in diagnosis, having a systems coach who can work with your organization to help you see what is going on and to discuss those observations in safe and productive ways can be critical to constructive forward movement.