Every group has a culture. It is like a different language to the uninitiated. It takes a while to learn. The culture comes from the use of language, topics of discussion, priorities, how we look and body language. Most people when they feel uncomfortable with a group aren’t sure why.
This is because they are receiving physiological signals that indicate to them that they don’t belong. In a social environment, this is easy to deal with. If we feel uncomfortable in the company of one group, we just find another social group that does suit us. However, in the work environment it is much more difficult, because we are stuck with our colleagues, whether we like them or not. This can create a divide. Different sub-groups who are drawn together, because they share a common language. There are also go-betweens, who give something to both groups.
There are three main types of go-betweens:
- Those who crave the acceptance of different groups, so they adapt to the different cultural dynamics in order to be accepted. These go-betweens subconsciously learn the group language in order to provide something of benefit to each group dynamic. Their motivation is personal – what’s in it for me?
- Those who seek the acceptance of different groups and do so consciously, in order to learn the culture. Their motivation is data gathering and may be to the benefit, or detriment of the group. For instance, they may be curious, in order to understand the group thinking better (an example being in order to market their goods better). Or to gather intelligence (for instance to identify those who are likely to hinder progress of the company)
- The leaders. They are able to be accepted by other cultural groups because they consciously provide something that benefits the group. These go-betweens seek acceptance in order to influence the group dynamic. Like data gathering group, they may have either beneficial or detrimental motives as far as the group is concerned. Their motivation is to influence the group thinking or change the dynamics in some way
Whatever our motive, it is impossible to transition between groups successfully even if we want to if we are unable to speak the language of that group. Those seeking acceptance may resent the group for rejecting them, if they have not been able to speak the language of the group.
In an organisation, cultural groups can either add to, or hinder the efficient running of the business.
When the energy of the group is in line with the business mission and values, they can hugely benefit the business. However, in situations where the cultural group becomes disengaged from the organisation, the focus and energy is taken away from the purpose of the business and instead diverted into petty issues, excuses, hurt feelings, pride, blame etc…
When group dynamics interfere with the business goal, it is important to address the problem for all concerned. Individuals trying to function when they are in a disengaged group environment can feel stressed, insignificant, under-valued, unloved, tired and restless.
The only way to affect change within a group culture is by first understanding, rather than judging or criticising the culture and then by communicating in a language that the group can identify with.
Training, process alignment and reorganisation are only a part of the solution. Because of people’s instinctive desire to be accepted by the ‘tribe’ the group culture becomes the dominant force every time, and this is where many organisations miss the point.
To find out more about cultural language, contact Lucy Windsor on 01932 888885.