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Does culture really matter?

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If you don’t put effort into understanding the organisational culture in which you’re trying to deliver a project, you’re asking for problems.  However with constant pressure to deliver more with less, and to do so quicker, how much time can you really spend on thinking about culture?

At the end of the day isn’t ‘culture’ just another way of identifying a group?  A way to pigeon-hole, pre-judge, and assume things about other people? Aren’t ‘Group-think’ and ‘Conspiracy of Optimism’ a result of culture? After all, it’s an individual that completes the work...

I’m dealing with others in the organisation on a one-to-one basis and we’re both adults; hopefully we’ll be able to make a mutually beneficial agreement to help improve the chances of delivery.  Regardless of where you’re from (even in the widest possible meaning) what matters most is how you manage and deliver, and it is essential that we trust each other to do our bit. 

But I believe that a mutual trust stems from a common cultural understanding. Having an idea of values and beliefs that we may share, or knowing where we may be in conflict (leading to frequently described cultural risk) helps anticipate behavior and supports effective communication – and because of this, understanding the culture of any and all stakeholders, including your wider organisation, is essential.


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  1. Sheilina Somani
    Sheilina Somani 01 March 2012, 01:18 PM

    The BBC Richard Dimbleby Lecture delivered this week by Leading geneticist and Nobel laureate Sir Paul Nurse addressed relationship between science, technology and its impact/enhancement on culture and civilisation.The lecture is well worth listening to, engagingly delivered and covers both personal and global dimensions. 

  2. Sheilina Somani
    Sheilina Somani 21 February 2012, 09:02 AM

    Adrian's comments regarding trust and common culture strike deeply with me.  I've certainly experienced being both leader and participant in project teams/groups where our individual cultures were vastly ranging, yet the common culture was definitely based upon trust and the emotional quotient that Adrian refers to. Emotional maturity is a significant skill in working with individuals.  Ability to be aware, consciously respectful of individuals and managing one's owns emotions contribute to success.  When we are able to create groups/teams or even brief interactions where participants feel 'safe' to respond honestly/openly ... then we're successful in creating a wonderful common culture.

  3. Alastair Smart
    Alastair Smart 01 February 2012, 07:25 PM

    Self-awareness is definitely key I think that a person will struggle to make subtle cultural adjustments unless they have a strong sense of their starting point, which links to understanding the inherited and learnt aspects of your own personality (and recognising it in others). Unfortunately much of the investment on improving cultural understanding and establishing a team culture that I have seen tends to be spent on quick wins, or only at the early stages of the lifecycle rather than longer term commitments. Thank you for all your comments its great to get such a strong response.  The neuroscience research sounds very interesting; I look forward to having a root around online to find out more!

  4. Sheilina Somani
    Sheilina Somani 01 February 2012, 01:13 PM

    Sion, great points!The awareness of cultural dimensions (internally and externally) is imperative to communicate effectively, with consideration for potential embarrassment, insult or even praise!The cultural nuances vary considerably between groups and individuals - cultures evolve at an incredible rate as people work together, learn more about one another and as Sion rightly states ... learn to trust.

  5. Sion Jones
    Sion Jones 30 January 2012, 04:48 PM

    Alistair,The culture of trust is of critical importance to success for any project. This not only applies "in-house" between you and your team and management, but also between you and your stakeholder & customer community. The test of trust between two parties is where each has the ablility to make life "difficult" to each other But Choose Not to exercise this power as it would irrevocably break the bond of trust between them and seriously damage their ability to work with each other. This is the guiding principle I have followed in building up relationships, whoever they are.Unerstanding of culture is a valuable commodity, just look at the message coming out of  the current HSBC advertisement campaign. They are not in the business of spending lots of money for the fun of, they have a very serious purpose behind it.

  6. Freda Muyambo
    Freda Muyambo 27 January 2012, 09:24 PM

    Culture matters, you try to fit in to where you are. What I believe is even more important is self awareness, as sometimes fitting in is a futile attempt when you stick out like a sore thumb no matter what you do. I first though about "culture" differently when I looked at my own. I was raised to be polite to my elders and probably not challenge men at all as it is viewed as being disrespectful. But to get a project done, at times one needs to put these aside in order to be more assertive.

  7. Sheilina Somani
    Sheilina Somani 25 January 2012, 09:15 AM

    Alastair, you make some really good points.Adrian's comments regarding the core human nature of trust is something each of us experience regularly.There is an aspect to trust that is instinctive/intuitive and there are further aspects that are evolved over time.  Geographical and family influences how our instincts are shaped in this.  As each of us matures we evolve our approach to trust and indeed our experiences further shape how we trust or indeed distrust others.It is worth pointing out that the 'essential trust' that Alastair refers to can be at an academic, professional or cerebral level ... without engaging a personal/emotional level of trust.  You don't necessarily have to like someone in order to trust their expertise.

  8. Adrian Pyne
    Adrian Pyne 24 January 2012, 06:06 PM

    Culture is hugely important as it drives behaviours, and ultimately, it is how people behave that determines project or programme success.To date most approaches to project, programme and portfolio management remain process oriented and the human aspects are peripheral at best. After decades of "best practise" 70% of projects still "fail". So process is not nearly enough. This means that investing in culture and behaviours is not a luxury, but a necessity. As for trust, I feel there is more than common cultural understanding, its much deeper than that. The latest research in neuroscience (thats real science not pseudo-stuff) suggests that trust is at one end of an emotional scale. And that emotions in both individuals and groups,  can be managed, irrespective of cultures.