The Hidden Drag Inside Your Organization: Culture Patterns

July 2, 2024 Jamie Notter

In the world of organizational dynamics, the concept of culture patterns is a critical yet often overlooked element influencing every organization’s pace and effectiveness. Just as a racing sailboat is meticulously designed to slice through water with minimal resistance, organizations are trying to navigate the competitive landscapes of their industries with similar finesse. Unfortunately, unseen forces, much like barnacles on a hull, can create drag, slowing progress and dampening efficiency. We call these forces culture patterns, and understanding them is crucial for any leader looking to steer their organization towards success.

Culture patterns are competing commitments inside your culture that prevent you from living your cultural values either fully or as intended. They create friction within the organizational flow. This misalignment is real. It’s the project team that values open communication but defaults to siloed information channels under pressure, or the company that champions agility but clings to cumbersome approval processes when speed is most needed.

These are your barnacles, culture patterns increasing organizational drag, manifesting as missed opportunities, mediocre performance, and a frustrating status quo. This drag is particularly insidious because it’s not always visible on the surface. It operates in the undercurrents of daily operations, in the nuances of decision-making processes, and in the shadows of organizational structures. It’s both the overt resistance to change and the subtle reluctance that permeates through the organization’s fabric, diluting efforts and dampening spirits.

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The good news is, once identified, these culture patterns can be addressed more straightforwardly than you might think. The first step is seeing them—bringing these patterns into the open where they can be scrutinized, understood, and ultimately, navigated. In our latest book, we dissect four major culture patterns, unveiling how they manifest within organizations and, crucially, offering concrete strategies to mitigate their drag effect.

Addressing culture patterns doesn’t require monumental, organization-wide initiatives or unanimous buy-in from every corner of the workplace. Instead, it’s about strategic interventions and targeted changes that, once implemented, can significantly reduce drag and enhance the organization’s overall speed and efficacy. This approach demystifies the process of culture change, making it more accessible and manageable than traditionally perceived.

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Referring to culture change as “easy” may seem counterintuitive, especially given the weight and complexity often associated with altering organizational culture. However, understanding and addressing culture patterns simplifies the equation. By focusing on these specific areas of drag, leaders can enact targeted, impactful changes that ripple throughout the organization, fostering a more dynamic, responsive, and cohesive culture without the need for sweeping, top-down mandates.

In essence, culture patterns matter because they represent the hidden hurdles that keep organizations from reaching their potential. By bringing these patterns into the light and addressing the competing commitments that fuel them, leaders can significantly reduce cultural drag, propelling their organizations forward with greater speed and agility. It’s a journey of strategic refinement and focused change, leading to smoother sailing ahead. Get our book so you can start spotting your culture patterns.

Jamie Notter

Jamie is a co-founder and culture strategist at PROPEL, where he helps leaders create amazing workplace cultures that drive greater performance and impact. He brings thirty years of experience to his work designing and managing culture, and has specialized along the way in areas like conflict resolution and generations. Jamie is the co-author of four popular business books, including the award-winning Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement, and his fall 2023 release, Culture Change Made Easy. He holds a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in Organization Development from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.