Corporate culture describes and governs the ways a company’s employees think, feel, and act. Sometimes the culture makes the business customer centric (e.g., Zappos and Disney) and sometimes it makes the business focus on something like employee compensation (think AIG during the Great Recession). However, no matter what the culture it is the result of all the personalities of all the people who ever worked for the business.  Yes, ALL!

Who Cares?

We all should care because culture and personality affect the way we function as we go about our day.  Here are 2 examples:

  1. A customer calls you and expresses her frustration with your support.  As you listen, you get a mental picture of her most recent journey through your organization on her way to hopefully arriving at a satisfactory solution to her problem. Unfortunately, so far it hasn’t been satisfactory.  In some companies your answer would be “hang in there, we’re doing the best we can”.  But, because your company is very concerned with your customer’s experience, you say, (without much thought) “I’m sorry you are struggling to get an answer.  I will transfer you to an applications engineer who I am sure can help you and I will remain on the phone until you are satisfied”.  And when you reach the application engineer and explain the situation he immediately starts working with the customer until she finally says to you “Joe, thanks for your concern.  I know I am now in good hands so why don’t you go back to whatever it was that you were doing before I called you.”
  2. You are appointed to head up a multi-function team to select and implement a new software system. After a few meetings, you come to the conclusion that one functional team consists primarily of pragmatists who value decisiveness and problem solving.  The other functional team is made up of people who primarily are conservative and focus on the long-term.  They want to study each point until they are sure it will withstand any challenge. Your role is to make sure that both perspectives are considered and that the team’s output is not a compromise (the famous camel being a horse designed by a committee) but a solution that completely satisfies both groups.

In the first example, the corporate culture is clear and well defined.  When new employees are hired, they are screened to ensure they buy-in to the customer first behavior expected of everyone.  If someone sneaks through the screen, he either quickly realizes he made a mistake and leaves or is moved out before he can do any permanent damage to what the company stands for.  The second example offers a different set of challenges.

Blending different personalities into a functioning team requires a leader who is:

  • Perceptive
  • A great communicator
  • Well respected
  • Goal oriented
  • Patient
  • A coach, not a dictator
  • And many more too numerous to mention

Even with these traits, it will take the team a while to feel comfortable working together.  They will initially have a sense of distrust because each team will appear to the other to be operating under a completely alien set of assumptions and objectives.  The coach (you) will have to invest some quality time bringing everyone together and enabling the best traits of each individual to standout without the people being subjected to unnecessary criticism or pressure. If you fail, the project will fail!

If you feel as though you are on the brink of failing, you better bring in someone who is more experienced that you are in team building and team dynamics.  This person can be someone who works in your company or an outside coach.  When you decide you need the help, be sure and explain why you need it and why getting the help is better than blowing up the team and starting over.  If you do this well, your status in the company will be enhanced.

Remember, at the end of the day, it’s all about people!