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Problem Solving, the Forge of Corporate Culture, Engages Employees

It happened again this past week! A client asked how you mold corporate culture. This was part of a brand new merger where the challenge is getting two different corporate cultures to operate effectively under one roof.

We all know it’s important…and difficult. It can make or break an organization’s success. Industry experience is that it takes three to five years to change it. So it’s important, hard, and time consuming…but how do you do it? A 2006 article from the Harvard Business School hints at the answer.

Because culture is such an important organizational phenomenon, many scholars have proposed definitions of what culture is. These include: observed behavioral regularities that occur when people interact, the norms that evolve in close working groups, the dominant values espoused by an organization, the philosophy that guides an organization’s policy toward employees and customers, the rules for getting along with other people in the organization, and the feeling or climate of a particular organization. However, MIT’s Edgar Schein, one of the world’s foremost scholars of organizational culture, argues that while these meanings might reflect an organization’s culture, they fail to capture its essence 1.

Schein concludes that culture is a property of an independently defined social unit—a unit whose members share a significant number of common experiences in successfully addressing external and internal problems. Because of these common experiences, over time this group of people will have formed a shared view of the way that the world surrounding them works, and of the methods for problem solving that will be effective in that world. This shared view of the world has led to the formation of basic assumptions and beliefs that have worked well enough and long enough to be taken for granted.

These basic assumptions and beliefs are learned responses to the problems that the group has encountered as its members have tried to work together to survive in the face of challenges encountered in the external environment and in response to tasks that recur in the internal environment. Beliefs about how to solve these problems have become taken for granted because they have worked repeatedly and reliably. Because Schein defines culture as a learned result of a group experience, he asserts that culture is only found where there is a definable group with a significant history of togetherness.

1 Edgar Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1988). This note draws heavily from the concepts that Schein teaches in the first three chapters of this book.

So the answer lies in engaged problem solving. Bring people in the organization together to solve problems. Form cross-cultural and cross-functional teams (since different functions in the same company have different cultures – engineers think differently from accountants...from the sales force). Recruit from the employee population to work on problems that affect them. This is far different from assigning fixes to an internal group of Continuous Improvement specialists. Use the people, not the specialists.

We find that the key ingredient is structure. The teams must be provided clear processes for probing problems, developing solutions and implementation. This can be Root Cause Analysis (RCA) or the seven step Problem Solving/Team Building (PS/TB)…or any effective process to be utilized across the organization.

Behavioral structure and broad organizational engagement are critical to effective work management processes (versus IT systems). Convergent Results’ covers the full spectrum of basic work management practices from work identification through employee engaged problem solving. Please contact us to learn more how this can benefit your organization.

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