Driving through the narrow lanes of Devon in the UK, we came across a farmer with a mower attached to an arm on the back of his tractor. The kids were fascinated, “what’s he doing?” The farmer was mowing the hedgerows on the side of the road.
A little later, in talking with some friends who live locally, we learn the farmer does the hedgerows a couple times each year, he also helps with clearing and gritting the roads when it snows or is icy, and cleans the driveways of all the houses around. He is a quiet man, but believes it is his small contribution to the community, which he loves.
This story can be repeated throughout the UK and many countries globally. Ordinary people regularly doing things for the benefit of their broader community, not because they ‘have to’ but because it is so ingrained in them as ‘it’s just what you do’ that it rarely gets questioned. It is seen as ‘just part of being part of a community’. It’s rarely celebrated or even noticed – it’s the way things work around here – but leaves a significant hole when it disappears.
We see this is not only in communities, but in organisations and teams as well. People, often quiet ones, on teams doing things (big and small) that make the team and organisation work. In many ways, they are culture caretakers. They are rarely in leadership positions but that doesn’t mean they are not leaders. The culture caretakers ‘see’ things most of the rest of us don’t; they are not paid to clean driveways, grit roads, help those going through a rough time, but they do as they view it as important and helps the community function.
In our work on change, it is easy to overlook and even ignore these culture caretakers. We do this to our own detriment as we will always need to understand team or organisational culture to create lasting change.
And it’s always good to remember, there is rarely just one caretaker and they may not always agree with each other.
So who are your culture caretakers and how are you working with them? Drip by drip by drip.