Everyone talks about culture, everyone says it’s important, but most of the time the conversation is frustratingly vague. People can give you examples of organisational cultures they admire or factors they think are important, but it seems like they aren’t 100% clear on what exactly they mean by organisational culture. 

For some, organisational culture seems to be synonymous with group behaviour, for others it’s about shared values and beliefs; some stress the importance of leadership, others want to look at the environment and climate in which people operate.

So before you start to think about how you change your culture to support your growth, make sure you and your team are clear about what it actually is that you’re looking to change! 

At The Pioneers we follow a definition of culture taken from Edgar Schein:

The culture of a group can be defined as the accumulated shared learning of that group as it solves its problems of external adaptation and internal integration; which has worked well enough to be considered valid and therefore to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, feel and behave in relation to those problems. 

This accumulated learning is a pattern or system of beliefs, values and behavioural norms that come be to be taken for granted as basic assumptions and eventually drop out of awareness.

Edgar Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership

What does this mean in plain English? 

Well, as a business grows the people who work there learn how to engage successfully with customers, users and investors (problems of external adaption) and how to work together effectively as a team to get work out the door (problems of internal integration). 

It’s in the self-interest of the team to stick with the ways of working that appear to bring success and to look to improve on the ones that don’t. 

The more often something works, the more ingrained it becomes in the emerging culture of the organisation. Over time, attitudes, behaviours or ways of working that may have started as tests or experiments, become rules or norms and then basic assumptions that underpin the group’s sense of unity and identity. 

By the time a start-up has validated that its product has market fit, it will have a strong and established culture. If you’re at the stage where you’re looking to scale your business, you will have a set of stories, artefacts, attitudes, behaviours, values and ways of working that enable your team to work together and to win customers. 

Whether you’ve tried to articulate this culture or not, new joiners will experience a set of standards for what they have to think, feel and do in order to fit in and be accepted by the group— and this is what we mean by your culture.