Over the weekend, I called my Dad and ended up talking about the garden. After sharing a few challenges and successes we’ve had, Dad asked me about soil type & quality, water, wind, light, other plants nearby, and also what zone we were in. Plant hardiness zone maps look at local temperatures (and sometimes rainfalls) giving the gardener an indication of which plants will grow in her garden. Dad and I also talked about bugs, birds, rodents, and other animals.
Plants and gardens are part of an ecosystem. They are not just individual parts that have no impact on each other. Understanding the ecosystem helps you to know where best to place plants so they have the best chance of thriving. Obviously, this is almost the direct opposite of a scientific experiment in a lab where every element of the environment is controlled.
Organisational change happens in organisations which are not sterile, controlled environments. And yet, we often approach change like a scientific experiment in a lab. We seek to (and think we can) control all the inputs into the environment. We look for levers to pull, buttons to push. And we wonder why it doesn’t work or go according to plan.
Organisations have cultures. Ways of being. Cultures are the social and psychological environments of the organisation. Unwritten rules of how things are done around here. The expectations of ways of working. Culture is hard to point to, but we know it when we bump into it. Our organisational cultures shape us and we shape and reinforce it. Daily. And our organisational cultures evolve. Slowly. And yes, there are even sub-cultures, but these sub-cultures are not cultures on their own, they are still part of the broader culture.
So our ideas, solutions, are like plants for a garden. We need to understand where, when, and how to add them in. Sometimes we add something to the soil first, sometimes we remove or prune other plants. Water is almost always needed.
Just before Dad hung up, he said, ‘just remember, sometimes you think you understand your garden and you have the perfect plant for it. But it doesn’t work. It ends up dying. Gardening is one constant learning process. Sometimes your understanding is wrong and sometimes there is something wrong with the plant you chose. Best thing to do is to try again. Gardens are slow, beautiful things that become part of our lives. Treasure them.’
What happens if we view our organisational cultures in a similar way?