Culture and conformity

Here’s a perfect illustration of how organisational culture works:

Something underneath the surface (not explicit or visible to individual actors) quietly amplifies conformity and dampens outliers.

This is of course, a paradox. It’s a “good” thing when it comes to mission, vision, and rejecting toxic behaviour. It’s a “bad” thing if it means conforming thinking, seeking “cultural fit” and making it unsafe to challenge the status quo or hierarchy.

Amplifying conformity can be downright dangerous if it means risks are dampened or rejected/hidden. Being able to sense and consider how things could go wrong is crucial to survival.

If people stop —even for half a second— to ask themselves: “Should I say something, or just go along with it?”, that’s a worrying indicator. For leaders, it’s not what you hear that should worry you. It’s what you’re *not* hearing.

As a leader, if everyone around you agrees, that should give you pause. How do you know you’re not in “Emperor’s New Clothes” territory? “In what ways could this go wrong?” is a useful question. “What might we be missing?”

Of course, that pause, that hesitation, is imperceptible to most. Are you genuinely creating the space and safety for those questions to be asked?

You can preach from the rooftop about #PsychologicalSafety and paint the desired values on the walls – but if your people are in fact pausing, hesitating and holding back from saying what really needs to be said – that’s your culture.

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