Mind The Gap: Organization Culture

September 17, 2010 — Leave a comment

The phrase “Mind The Gap” was introduced in 1969 by the London Underground to warn passengers of the gap that exists between the train door and the station platform.  Today, it is used as a warning by transit systems worldwide. Just as it is important for passengers to “Mind The Gap” to prevent injury, it is equally important for organizations to “Mind The Gap” so they do not fall into the traps that will keep them from moving forward – organizational culture in a global organization is extremely complex and fraught with many potential chasms. It is very interesting that people think differently, have different concepts of time, space, work, etc. – however, if we are not careful to appreciate and value the contributions and knowledge that people bring, it is easy fall onto the tracks dead center of an oncoming train! This will cause waning business results, the degradation of important relationships, the sacrifice of your own success, and ultimately – almost certain death! Because globalization continues to gather momentum, the interactions between people from differing geographies and cultures is frequent, and intensifies the complexities of organizational culture. The more borders a company crosses, the greater the potential for misunderstanding and conflict amongst stakeholders, but also inherent is the potential for unimaginable reward. To succeed across both boundaries & borders, it is essential to break through the barriers of organizational culture and rigid patterns of thinking.

Today’s leaders are increasingly susceptible to a vicious cycle: repeatedly riding the bullet train of quick fixes. Consider the worst-case scenario in which this dangerous cycle gradually undermines an organization’s capacity to transform itself and remain competitive – after all, yesterdays solutions are often today’s challenges. Transforming an organization means fundamentally changing how all employees in an organization perceive, think, and behave—so that they can satisfy the diverse needs of disparate stakeholders. Because we operate in a constantly shifting global economy, renewing and transforming the organization remains at the forefront of senior leaders minds – without renewal and transformation a company can not sustain market share and market growth. Yet this incredibly complex problem is often addressed as if it were quite simple. Otherwise, why would senior leaders continually subject their organizations to quick-fix approaches that rarely, if ever, result in long-term survival and success?

Some common systemic barriers, or “gaps”, that are pervasive in organizations today (although not all-inclusive by any means):

  • Mistrust within & across functions, geographies, and cultures
  • Withholding of information & expertise
  • Unwillingness to change old habits & traditional practices
  • Defensive communication, finger pointing, and demeaning behavior
  • Reluctance to express true opinions and disagreements in group meetings
  • Little or no cooperation and teamwork across boundaries & borders
  • Strategic goals not deployed into clear tasks and objectives — making priorities vague and confusing, and accountability near impossible
  • Overlapping and virtual boundaries are treated as separate fiefdoms, empires, and silos
  • Reward systems ignore group performance, teamwork, and contributions to process improvement

If these systemic barriers are ingrained throughout an organization, what is the likelihood that employees from different functions, geographies, and cultures will effectively collaborate with one another in cross-functional teams to move the organization forward? I dare say – not very likely! Simply having heard about the quality program in the company newsletter, having received a mission statement on a calendar card/poster/coffee mug, or having learned some new skill in a half-day workshop are not enough to create significant improvements. And when these efforts fail—as they do about seventy-five percent of the time, leaders gravitate from one quick fix approach to another – searching for the promise of an even greater improvement. Since  the first change didn’t succeed, let’s now try another, better change! And the cycle continues…still with little success.

Transforming the way in which all employees perceive, think, and behave requires fundamental change in a variety of interrelated systems and processes throughout the organization—which is quite distinct from hoping to transform an organization by relying on a quick-fix approach. Implementing an ongoing series of singular approaches is also quite likely to fail (1) if the sequence does not address the order of operations, focusing on the change itself vs. what and how things must change  (2) if the interrelationships among these various approaches are ignored and (3) if the human component is neglected. In sharp contrast, a holistic program that addresses culture, skill acquisition, team alignment, strategy, and rewards will provide an integrated sequence of activities and cross-boundary teams that remove systemic barriers to success before proceeding to improving business processes, learning processes, and ego-defining processes. In reality, leaders often go about the order of operations backwards – trying to change processes before addressing the order, interrelationships, and human elements of change. Implementing a holistic program is no small challenge, but it does allow one to “Mind The Gap” and position the organization for unimaginable success.

What are you doing to “Mind The Gap” and ensure sustainable change in your organization?

I would love for you to engage the discussion and let us know how you mind the gaps in your organization. Please feel free to contact me at  Sheri.Mackey@LuminosityGlobal.com or by visiting our website at www.LuminosityGlobal.com. Check back next week for the next installment of Leadership Across Boundaries and Borders.


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Sheri is The Global Coach, founder of Luminosity Global Consulting Group, Global Executive Coach, Speaker, Writer and Global Business and Cultural Expert.

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