Jul 3, 2007

Cults and Cultures

One of the first paradoxical things we learnt during our Organizational Change and Development about the pros and cons of organizational culture.

Simply put, if you ask me whether a firm should have a strong culture or not, the answer would be - it depends. During a time when the firm is doing well, a strong culture is an asset. It enables one to build its strengths and run with the wind behind its back.

However, during a time of change, whether evolutionary or revolutionary, a strong organizational culture can soon get rooted in the 'old ways of doing things' focussing on the rituals of the past rather than the meaning behind those rituals.

However, if an organization builds a culture that values learning (not just at an individual level, but also at an organizational level) then it can avoid the pitfall of the strong culture during bad times. Yes, a very strong culture without an emphasis on learning, and focusing on "we are the best the way we are" is the sign of a cult.

The distinctive difference between a cult and culture is the cult's focus on arrogance of knowing all the answers. In that connection check this insightful post by Prof. Sutton Arrogance: Google's Achilles' Heel?