The Flow Of Organizational Culture: New Thinking And Theory For Better Understanding And Process 3030256847, 9783030256845

This book presents a new approach to organizational culture based in the ontologies of process metaphysics, complexity t

582 86 3MB

English Pages 207 Year 2020

Report DMCA / Copyright


Polecaj historie

The Flow Of Organizational Culture: New Thinking And Theory For Better Understanding And Process
 3030256847,  9783030256845

Table of contents :
Acknowledgements......Page 5
Contents......Page 7
List of Figures......Page 9
Chapter 1 Introduction......Page 10
References......Page 15
Chapter 2 A Culture Perspective: Growing Culture in a Community Garden......Page 16
References......Page 24
Chapter 3 A Mental Model of Organizational Culture......Page 26
References......Page 47
Chapter 4 Sense and Meaning......Page 49
References......Page 57
Chapter 5 Ontologies of Organizational Culture......Page 59
References......Page 70
Chapter 6 Culture and Organizational Change......Page 72
References......Page 95
Chapter 7 Creating Context: The Role of Sensemaking in Producing Culture......Page 97
References......Page 123
Chapter 8 Metaphors: A Critical Culture Tool......Page 125
References......Page 143
Chapter 9 Using the Ideas and Approaches: A Case Study......Page 146
References......Page 178
Chapter 10 Working with Organizational Culture: Ideas About Consulting......Page 179
References......Page 201
Index......Page 203

Citation preview

Jim MacQueen

The Flow of Organizational Culture New Thinking and Theory for Better Understanding and Process

The Flow of Organizational Culture “Organizational culture is the ever-evolving product of dynamic webs that connect individuals and groups. Jim’s book awakens us to contemplate this flow in everyday life … Thought-provoking and profoundly skill-building. This book is for all system-change professionals who want to deepen their conceptualization of healthy human systems, and put their participatory values into practice.” —Sam Kaner, Founder and Executive Director of Community at Work; Author, Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making “In this well-written, expert, and important book, Jim MacQueen gives us unique and coherent access to Organizational Culture. Why is this important? For both the practitioner and scholar within our OD professional selves, a deep and useful grasp of Culture’s sense/meaning and application/theory, like breathing, is essential to our own effectiveness. I found learning, challenges to my thinking, and new perspectives on many pages. Future readers should have the same experience.” —George H. Schofield, Developmental and Organizational Psychologist, Writer, Consultant, Speaker; Author, How Do I Get There from Here? (named a Must Read by NASDAQ, 2017) “The amorphous concept we call organizational culture is truly a flowing, ever-changing, complex adaptive system. MacQueen blends theories, examples, consulting tips, and even scenes from Shakespeare into a clear narrative for practical application, to help consultants and leaders shape the shared understandings of individuals in the groups they serve into new and better cultures for the changing world around us.” —Eric Sanders, Organization Development Economist, LLC; Faculty, Elmhurst College, USA

Jim MacQueen

The Flow of Organizational Culture New Thinking and Theory for Better Understanding and Process

Jim MacQueen InFlow OD Bethel, AK, USA

ISBN 978-3-030-25684-5 ISBN 978-3-030-25685-2  (eBook) © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2020 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland


It takes many people to write a book such as this one. The following people have been beyond helpful helping me on writing this book. Romi Boucher—one of my readers and also an Organization Development practitioner who has helped with content and keeping my APA citation style on track. “I could not have done it without her.” Veronica Aiken—a close friend and a fine editor of style. John Moore—another good friend and proofreader extraordinaire. Montenique Finney who served as a coach to keep me organized and going during the writing process. Philippa Thomas and Matt Vogler made substantial contributions to my understanding and use of the neuropsychology content. Joe Leedom helped in a significant way to edit Chapter 6. Ceil Tilney offered excellent business-related feedback and enthusiastic support throughout the project. Lynn Mace was instrumental as a health coach in keeping my body functioning so that I could concentrate on the task of writing. Helen Anderson who began asking me about a book when I was still doing presentations on culture and before I had seriously started to consider writing this one. v



Richard and Cathy Hach who participated in the actual consulting work and have stayed friends in spite of it. Christine Luketic did the initial data analysis and helped me to figure out the right questions to ask. James Hawden helped to write the survey used for the case study. Michael Stamper was responsible for the data presentation graphics. Joanna MacQueen—my wife and a principal reader and editor—has made enormous contributions to the accuracy of the text and also to the substance of the book. Thank you for your care, insight, and especially, your patience.


1 Introduction 1 2

A Culture Perspective: Growing Culture in a Community Garden 7


A Mental Model of Organizational Culture 17


Sense and Meaning 41


Ontologies of Organizational Culture 51


Culture and Organizational Change 65


Creating Context: The Role of Sensemaking in Producing Culture 91


Metaphors: A Critical Culture Tool 119


Using the Ideas and Approaches: A Case Study 141




10 Working with Organizational Culture: Ideas About Consulting 175 Index 199

List of Figures

Fig. 3.1 Emergent process: a system of diverse agents (A), richly connected (B), gives rise to an emergent pattern (C), and which feeds back down into the system (D) (Seel, 2000) 29 Fig. 3.2 The cultural dynamics model (Hatch, 1993) 30 Fig. 3.3 Culture as a complex adaptive system, Sub-systems in the cultural system: A, B, C, and D 33 Fig. 7.1 Organizational sensemaking and transitions 113 Fig. 9.1 Quantitative data charts 159 Fig. 9.2 Qualitative data chart—Question 16 (Question 16: What does the brand promise, “Let’s explore what’s possible together,” mean to you?) 163 Fig. 9.3 Qualitative data chart—Question 17 (Question 17: In what ways have you seen the brand promise (Let’s explore what’s possible together?) and the brand character (Approachable, Plainspoken, Collaborative) become the [Department’s] way of doing thing?) 166 Fig. 9.4 Qualitative data chart—Question 27 (Question 27: What additional thoughts about branding at [the Department] would you like to share?) 168




No man steps in the same river twice. (Heraclitus)

One of the originators of the field of organization development, Kurt Lewin, once said, “There is nothing so practical as a good theory” (Lewin, 1951). Lewin seems to have had a great sense of irony when he mixed the concepts of practical and theoretical in the same sentence. “Practical” carries with it a sense of usefulness as well as connotations of something that is down-to-earth, pragmatic, utilitarian, and realistic. “Theoretical,” on the other hand, is more closely associated with the notion that something is abstract, conceptual, hypothetical, intangible. Certainly, there is a kind of tension between the two words. I think the juxtaposition is intentional, designed to construct challenges to our thinking as we struggle with something like this book that is both practical and theoretical. Good theory needs to be put to use in a practical, utilitarian way. However, for it to be truly useful, we need to be able to understand the concepts and ideas that are its foundation. There is little in this world as abstract and difficult to understand as organizational culture. And yet, we can experience the force of its existence tangibly. Scholars, organization development (OD) practitioners, and managers have been working to define and harness culture’s energies since at least the 1950s when an awareness of organizational culture first began to blossom.

© The Author(s) 2020 J. MacQueen, The Flow of Organizational Culture,



In this book, I will offer up new perspectives, ideas, and interpretations of theory about the nature and processes of organizational culture. It is my hope that these new approaches will help to release the energy embedded in Lewin’s dynamic tension between the practical and theoretical and make the book useful in both realms. Throughout the book, you will find practical ideas about consulting to and changing organizational cultures. In every case, I have tied those ideas to the theoretical concepts and philosophies of other scholars and practitioners (especially Edgar Schein, Karl Weick, George Lakoff, and Mark Johnson) as well as my own. As a boy, I was the type who liked to take things apart to see how they worked. Toys, clocks, kitchen gadgets, all were the targets of my curiosity. As an adult, organizational culture has become the target of a similar drive to separate its parts and understand how those components work together as a whole. The theory in this book is one product of those explorations. Another is the consulting practices that come out of that theory. I am happy and excited to be sharing both with you in this book. Speaking of you, who do I imagine you to be? First of all, I hope this book will be valuable to consultants like myself: knowledgeable OD practitioners with some experience explicitly working with organizational culture. Like me, some of what you have tried didn’t turn out so well while other efforts exceeded expectations, though you may not have understood fully why that happened. I hope this book helps you to create more consistency in your practice by providing you with new ideas and insights on both the theoretical and practical sides of your work. This book is intended to be a springboard for your intellect, imagination, and invention to take your practice into new areas and to higher levels. It is not a collection of how-tos or recipes for dealing with organizational culture. You will have to make those up for yourself. I am also hoping this book will be of use to those of you who are students of OD and to your teachers. There are many ideas contained here that are not included in the more traditional OD texts. Or, if they are, they may show up in a different form with a different point of view. Some of the underlying ideas I think are quite important. They will be new to you and perhaps a little challenging. Some ideas, such as systems thinking and social construction, are not explained here in any great depth. These topics are too big to be handled effectively within the scope of this book. Also, it seems they are already a part of the discourse of students that I’ve encountered over the last few years. (Please



don’t assume that you don’t need to study these topics or others that are touched on but not elaborated in this book because I haven’t taken the time to deal with them in more depth. I believe that studying those topics, if you’re not already familiar with them, will markedly increase your insights and abilities as consultants.) I want to reference a second Lewin quote for this introduction “A culture … is not a static affair but a live process like a river which moves but still keeps to a recognizable form” (Lewin, 1951). This speaks to an idea that is fundamental to this book: All organizations and their cultures exist in a flow of time and process. In my mind, this statement by Lewin is closely related to a principle of change articulated over 2500 years ago by the ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus. Heraclitus is famous for saying, “No man steps in the same river twice.” This statement is true because the river is always changing. The water that is in it today is not the same water that was in it yesterday, this morning, or even two minutes ago. In addition, you are always changing. If the baseline is yesterday, what have you learned or experienced that is new or different for you since then? You have changed physically and psychologically since yesterday, this morning, or even seconds ago. This idea is fundamental to much of the premise of this book and so I will be referring to it periodically as we move ahead. Organizations and their cultures are like Heraclitus’ river. They exist within the flow of time. Their processes, like time, are continuous. As a consultant, the group you worked with yesterday in many ways will not be the group you work with today. Any change or disruption that happened to their processes between yesterday and today will have had an effect on their assumptions and beliefs about their organization. Their sense of identity as part of the organization may have shifted. In addition, their plans about what actions and activities they may need to engage in today may also be different. In effect, their culture will have changed, possibly not in an immediately noticeable way. (Noticeable changes may often take a long time to emerge.) The assumptions that constitute that culture may have shifted and are on their way to manifesting themselves in the groups’ behavior. As a consultant, you need to be aware of this, not because you are necessarily going to change what you do with the group now, but because you need to be prepared to do so. In other words, staying centered, in touch, and in sync with the organization’s culture as it flows is critical to your success as a consultant.


This book provides a tour of the elements of organizational culture. Understanding these elements, their interactions, and interdependencies is necessary to the work of consultants who want to work in this particular part of the field of organization development (OD). These are the consultants who seek to participate with an organization in developing or changing an aspect of its culture. Especially if this will be happening in the context of supporting the resolution of some business problem or structural change effort. In general, the book examines how culture is created from the moment people begin to organize, to how culture tends to be regarded in the process of change management, to the processes at work in an organization as culture is being formed. Along the way, there are descriptions of how I have consulted to cultural issues and recommendations about consulting practices and techniques. What follows is a chapter by chapter overview of this tour so that you can anticipate where we are going. In Chapter 2, “A Culture Perspective: Growing culture in a Community Garden,” I examine some very basic ideas about the nature of organizational cultures, how they grow and function in everyday life, and how culture is part of an organization from the moment people start to organize. It will cover a bit of the history of how a few representative scholars have conceived of culture over the last 60 years. In Chapter 3, “A Mental Model of Organizational Culture,” the answer to the question “What is organizational culture?” gets fuller and deeper consideration. In the course of this chapter, I present several scholars’ models of organizational culture. I also present my own model of culture as a system of processes, a central tenet of this book. I include several diagrams to help make the ideas more accessible. Chapter 4, “Sense and Meaning,” explores the use of two words many authors use almost interchangeably when discussing culture: “sense” and “meaning.” Here, we explore in the context of this work, the subtle distinction between these words. The differences are important to understanding how organizational culture works and what are some of the products it produces. We spend a little time in Chapter 5, “Ontologies of Organizational Culture,” thinking about some of the philosophical perspectives that are important to the book’s particular conceptualization of culture. This will be important for your understanding of the underpinnings that support this specific framework of ideas and your practical application of those ideas as we get into the latter parts of the book.



Chapter 6, “Culture and Organizational Change,” demonstrates in a very practical way how and why it is important to maintain a “culture perspective” in your professional work. I will take you through an examination of John Kotter’s change management model as he presents it in his book, “Leading Change” (Kotter, 1995). This chapter will describe in some detail how and when you, as a consultant, should be putting your attention on an organization’s culture during such a process. In Chapter 7, “Creating Context: The Role of Sensemaking in Producing Culture,” we take advantage of Karl Weick’s insightful work on sensemaking in organizations (Weick, 1995) to understand the dynamic processes used by members of an organization as they construct culture. We will also take a look at some recent developments in neuroscience that will help to expand your understanding and appreciation of sensemaking and enhance your expertise when supporting the development of organizational culture. People use metaphor to explain and communicate ideas. The more complex and abstract the idea, the more important the use of metaphor becomes. In Chapter 8, “Metaphor: A Critical Cultural Tool,” we will explore the use of metaphor for communication, cognition and generating the creative processes. All of which need to be part of changing cultures. Chapter 9, “Using the Ideas and Approaches: A Case Study,” provides a case study of a project I did in which I used the ideas and tools outlined in the book to support a cultural change in an organization. It explores the project’s background, the techniques I used, and presents a discussion of the projects successes and failures. Throughout the book, I provide descriptions of how I have consulted in situations where there was a clear relationship to dealing with specific aspects of a client’s culture. Likewise, I make suggestions about what you might do in the context of developing or changing an organization’s culture. Chapter 10, “Working with Organizational Culture: Ideas About Consulting,” gives some overall shape for the practice of these techniques and some advice on the mind-set a consultant needs to adopt to make them successful. Writing this book has, for me, been a wonderful journey of insight and discovery. I hope that it will provide you, the reader, with some of the same pleasures.


References Kotter, J. P. (1995). Leading change: Why transformation efforts fail. Harvard Business Review, 73, 59–67. Lewin, K. (1951). Field theory in social science. New York: Harper & Row. Weick, K. E. (1995). Sensemaking in organizations. Thousand Oaks: Sage.


A Culture Perspective: Growing Culture in a Community Garden

Il fault cultivar notre jardin. (Voltaire, Candide, 1759)

If you change the way you talk about something, you will change the way you think about it. If you change the way you think about it, you will change the way you deal with it. That is the essence of everything we are going to talk about in this book. Organizational culture is constructed with and through the narratives and conversations that we share with each other (the anecdotes we tell, the expressions we use with each other, how we treat each other, how we think about what needs to be done in an organization, etc.). All of these are carried by the stories we tell that communicate the meaning of what happens in our organizations day to day. These phenomena are present with us from the very minute we think about creating an organization. For example, imagine forming some sort of really simple organization. Perhaps, you’ve decided, because a lot of your friends and neighbors have complained about not having enough fresh vegetables, that you’d like to start a community garden. You know there’s a perfect vacant lot just around the corner from you. You talk to a few friends and neighbors and three or four of them are really interested in the idea. So, you and your friends get together to talk about this more. When you meet, everybody is congenial and polite. This turns out to be a group that’s very good at listening to each other. So, you have a nice, rich conversation. You decide among the group that a community © The Author(s) 2020 J. MacQueen, The Flow of Organizational Culture,



garden really is a good idea. You recognize, however, there are some aspects of hosting this activity that are going to take some work: Somebody has to make sure the space is actually available and that the owner of the land is willing to let people use it for a garden. You have to get the word out so the people in the neighborhood know that the garden space is available. Somebody wonders, if this scheme is really successful, who’s going to decide who gets to be part of the group and who has to wait to get on the list, if a list is how you’re going to handle this problem. And, by the way, how will we make a decision about that? Someone else suggests that the group should divide up and the responsibilities for these tasks be distributed. And before you know it, you have a very basic framework for initiating and operating your community garden. You have an organization. What you probably have not realized is you’ve been building the culture of this organization from the moment you began meeting. This is because organizing begets culture and culture begets organizing. That is, you cannot organize without generating culture and culture strongly influences what and how you organize. The very idea of a community garden comes out of some aspect of the culture in which you live now. The idea of community or communal gardening has a long tradition in many cultures. You have simply borrowed it for application in your neighborhood. The idea that a group of people would get together to discuss this idea and move it along is also based on our existing culture. The way you behaved together when you met probably is reflective of a few cultural norms specific to where you live. The way you decided to solve the problems of structuring yourselves will undoubtedly become part of the way you do things going forward, at least until the operation becomes big enough that you need to find different ways of structuring how you do these things. The methods that you chose to make decisions, finding consensus, for example (ideas that everyone can live with) (Kaner, 2014), or voting (somebody wins, somebody loses), or some combination of the two will likely live on in the organization as an expression of “how we do things around here” (Bower, 1966). The more you do things that people feel have been successful around organizing the more likely you are to continue doing them. For example, let’s say you initially try to make your decisions by consensus—you talk about an idea, negotiating and modifying the idea until everybody



feels it works. If in the course of trying to make the decision this way, the group gets stuck and is unable to reach a consensus, then someone is likely to say, “let’s just vote on it.” If the group feels like that was a successful process, chances are that this method will get used again and again whenever decision making gets stalled. Without realizing that you were shaping your culture, voting becomes part of the group’s culture: its norms and traditions. Imagine that in one of your meetings, an argument breaks out. For whatever reason, one or two people become testy or maybe even belligerent. People walk away with a bad feeling. Perhaps a couple of days later, one or two people call the person or persons who were more aggressive than others and ask, very respectfully, that those people at the center of the argument work really hard in the future to control their tempers. This may result in a new variation on the norm of being congenial, that is, being “nice.” The group now probably realizes, not necessarily consciously, that anybody who violates this piece of the culture is likely to experience some sort of mild punishment. Being “nice” has become an assumed value or a norm that is part of your organization’s culture. (I will discuss more about how organizational values are formed and the neuroscience behind it in Chapter 7.) It’s quite likely that if the group continues to succeed and grow, including bringing in new members, people will reflect on their experiences as group members, and, consciously or unconsciously, figure out what rules exist for getting along and making progress in this group. Ultimately, either through being taught overtly or through learning by example, new people will learn “how things get done” in this group. As we have seen, what we learn, what we teach, and the understandings we make of those things, becomes the culture of a given group. That culture comes out of what we have brought with us from our existing meta-cultures to organize ourselves so we are able to work together. The organization that we construct out of facing and solving our problems creates an increasingly specific organizational culture. Like most, this group will probably continue to grow and take on new tasks. If you and the group, for example, decide that you want to expand your operations to provide more and different kinds of food not necessarily available out of the garden, you might end up creating a co-op. My experience is that the culture that you created while you and your group were establishing the community garden will dictate much of how you organize the co-op and the ways you manage more complicated tasks.


This will mean that the way you go about solving the problems of having a more complex organization will create a more involved and complex culture. Holding a picture of these kinds of processes in mind whenever you look at organizations/cultures and think about what’s going on with them, represents what I would call having a culture perspective. That is, you maintain an ongoing awareness of what organizational culture is and how it works. You use that awareness to help interpret all that you observe in any organization with which you are involved. A good deal of what I want to help you do with this book is about developing that culture perspective. At this point, you probably are asking, “What is organizational culture, exactly?” In order to begin answering that question and set the stage for this book, I want to explore some history and some definitions that are important to having context for where we go next. These historical definitions are important because they tend to encapsulate the paradigms for understanding organizational culture that are most generally in use in today’s world. The first of these is in a book by Terrence Deal and Alan Kennedy entitled “Corporate Cultures: The Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life” (Deal & Kennedy, 1982/2000). This book is of particular interest because it is one of the first business-oriented books published on corporate culture (along with an article by Andrew Pettigrew) (Pettigrew, 1979). Prior to these, the general field of culture was dominated by anthropologists and sociologists. In 1982, an uncredited article appeared in the popular business press suggesting that organizational culture had a major impact on business performance. These publications set off a tidal wave of interest in organizational culture by the business community. Deal and Kennedy were among the first, along with Pettigrew, to take advantage of that interest. Deal and Kennedy define organizational culture as “values, heroes, rites and rituals, and communications” (1982/2000). With few predecessors in the realm of organizational studies, it is no surprise that their definition of organizational culture reflects a bias for anthropology. This is because the anthropological approach tends to be about studying and reporting on what can actually be seen while observing a group (as opposed to researching and applying more recent understandings for the purposes of ‘improving’ a culture to improve performance).



In 1985, Quinn and McGrath put forth a more sophisticated definition of organizational culture (Quinn & McGrath, 1985). Their idea is that organizational culture is “a collective belief system about social arrangements that are deeply embedded values.” Again, this definition reflects the influence of anthropology. However, it is framed more in the context of group behavior and suggests more of the psychological and sociological complexity that exists and can be observed in organizations. Terms such as “social arrangements” and “deeply embedded” begin to suggest relationships within a group over a period of time. (Several years later, Robert Quinn teamed with Kim Cameron to produce a highly regarded book, “Diagnosing and changing organizational culture: based on the competing values framework.”) (Cameron & Quinn, 2011). In 1985, Edgar Schein introduced his definition of organizational culture: A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems. (Schein, 1985)

This idea changed the way many people think about organizational culture. For the first time, the source of organizational culture began to be understood as process. It also informs much of what is contained in this book. As a paradigm, I find this definition to be the most robust of any produced in this era or subsequently. Its fundamental idea is that organizational culture is a set of assumptions which are, by definition, taken for granted and therefore largely invisible to the group itself. Also, it is based on the premise that those assumptions are learned as a result of problem-solving. This opens a set of questions about the essential nature of organizational culture and, with that as a given, how to consult to the issues that come up around organizational culture. Schein’s idea predicates an approach that is fundamentally process-based. By this I mean, working with those dynamic forces and activities that are naturally in play when an organization’s culture is created rather than the more mechanical, prescriptive approaches of some other scholars and consultants. Schein’s definition also suggests that it is problem-solving processes that produce the assumptions to which he refers. The targets of that


problem-solving are very basic group experiences, i.e., how will the group handle the issues of adapting to those changes and forces that happen outside of it and those changes that happen inside it. (When you think about it, there aren’t many other kinds of issues with which a group has to deal.) The resulting assumptions are the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems (Schein, 1985). This gets us very close to the dictum that culture “is the way we do things around here” (Bower, 1966). I have built on Schein to form my own definition of organizational culture. In doing so, I’ve wanted to express both my experience of organizations and their cultures as well as what I have learned through my study of a number of disciplines that may seem to be only tangentially relevant to culture. Among these, systems thinking seemed particularly important because of the use of this discipline to explain and support a great number of organizational phenomena (Eoyang, Olsen, Beckhard, & Vail, 2001; Senge, 1994; Stroh, 2015). Over time, I’ve noticed that the cultures of many organizations are filled with symbols and symbolic references that have emerged without conscious direction by the organization’s members and yet are sometimes also deeply meaningful to the members of the organization. My definition of organizational culture, with deep acknowledgment of Schein’s work, is, “A symbol rich system by which people in an organization construct and apply meaning about their work lives.” I’d like you to notice that this definition is not about a “thing,” a static entity that can exist independently of the people in an organization and its environment. Instead, the definition is about a system whose elements are continuously interacting with each other and the environment. This definition suggests that, in its essence, culture exists as processes and can only be experienced as flow. More specifically organizational culture is a complex adaptive system (CAS), also known as a self-organizing system which, by definition, is always in process. Olson and Eoyang offer the following definition. Self-organization is the tendency of an open system to generate new structures and patterns based on its own internal dynamics. Organization design is not imposed from above or outside; it emerges from the interactions of the agents in the system. (Olson & Eoyang, 2001)

One way of looking at this is that there is no such thing as organizational culture. There are only processes which produce the artifacts that



we can identify as the manifestations of a culture. The agents, the people in the system, are interconnected and interactive. The emergent product of the communication among the agents of the system is culture. The idea that “people in an organization construct meaning about their work lives” is meant to infer a process of social construction which happens through the sharing of narratives about their understanding of reality. In many ways, the paradigms that these definitions seek to create are as similar as they are different. The definitions developed by Deal and Kennedy (1982/2000) and Quinn and McGrath (1985) as well as Schein’s and my definitions deal with the symbols of what becomes important in an organization. Schein’s definition and my own tend to focus on the processes through which these symbols are created and adopted. The differences are important because the paradigms we adopt in looking at cultures can dramatically influence how we understand the organizational cultures with which we interact, how we perceive their importance, their influence, and how we deal with them as managers and consultants. It is at this point that you are probably asking, so what? What is the point? What is the value of introducing yet another definition, another theoretical model of organizational culture? Why do we need new theoretical thinking about organizational culture? There must be hundreds of theories of culture and probably an equal number of ideas about how to apply those theories for whatever purpose, either to change the culture or maybe just simply to understand and manage it better. My first response to these questions has to do with the idea that we, as organization development (OD) consultants, are really only effective when we can identify and work with the processes going on in an organization. Schein’s and my definitions help to make those processes more visible and to direct our influence in more precise ways. My other response has to do with the issue of organizational change and the often-stated idea that 75% of all change efforts fail. This idea has one that is generally accepted without a lot of proof (Hughes, 2011). Hughes’ article on the subject shows that most of these claims arise because some scholar or practitioner is citing another’s similar assertion even though neither has produced credible empirical evidence to back up the claim. This has been true whether the authors are Michael Beer (Beer, Eisenstat, & Spector, 1990) or John Kotter who seems to have first popularized this idea in a Harvard Business Review article in 1995 (Kotter, 1995). As a matter of fact, Hughes speculates that the people


who continue to use the 75% figure are doing so to promote an intervention or approach that will improve the success rate. (What Kotter actually said was, “Well over 50% of the companies I have watched fail in this first phase.” But the remark without citation or other forms of proof persists and the 50% figure seems to have morphed into 75%.) I find a much more reliable source for this kind of statistic comes from an article by Smith (2002) in which he reports on a meta-study of 10 different types of organizational change interventions involving 49 individual studies and over 43,000 different samples of effort. These change efforts included most of the various change events with which an organization may have to deal. The median success rate of all of these efforts was 33%, which tracks with Kotter’s “ball park” statement. Success rates ranged from 58% for strategy deployment to 19% for culture change. Unfortunately, Smith cannot tell us any of the details of how these efforts were implemented which would be helpful for the following discussion. All we can say is that the figure of a 25–30% rate of failure seems to have a basis in people’s experience (including mine). Ultimately, we are left with the question of why it matters how much change succeeds or fails? It matters because in this country, as well as many others, we are investing huge amounts of time and money trying to change our organizations to make them more effective or efficient or, sometimes, simply more pleasant places in which to work. A more interesting and urgent question is, why do so many change efforts fail? There are huge numbers of theories and studies related either directly or indirectly to change effort methodologies that seek to explain why so much change fails. Mostly, these explanations come down to finding fault with leadership, communications, trust, or what many theorists and practitioners term resistance (a term which carries with it all the baggage you might expect of an idea borrowed from the practices of psychotherapy). All of these effects have to do with people, with their responses to change or how they have been prepared (or not prepared) for change, or how they may have been affected by the approach that a particular consultant or manager used. Again, and again, it seems that failure has been laid at the feet of the poor attitudes or psychological states of the targets of the change and a nearly ubiquitous failure on the part of managers and change consultants to manage “resistance.” I’m going to express a different point of view. In my experience, nearly all questions of partial or complete failure of a change effort come down to some sort of conflict between an organization’s culture



and the proposed changes to the organization. You will recall that most definitions of organizational culture come down to a set of beliefs, values, assumptions, and rules that govern virtually every aspect of how an organization functions. For the moment, I’m going to ask that we stipulate to the idea that organizational culture is in its broadest and truest sense “the way things get done around here” (Bower, 1966; Deal & Kennedy, 1982/2000). Burnes and Jackson (2011) state, A potentially significant reason for the failure of change interventions is a lack of alignment between the value system of the change intervention and of those members of an organization undergoing the change.

To extend this, I believe that poor alignment between a given change effort and an existing culture (of which values are a significant element) sets up a conflict. This conflict between what we’ve learned and believe over the course of months or even years about “how we do things around here” creates a cognitive dissonance between what we’re being told to do now and what we’ve been told to practice as the right way to do things all this time. This goes beyond the conventional concept of a values system. Instead, it is a way of viewing every aspect of how we function and operate in this system. This cognitive dissonance in turn creates resistance to or rejection of the change. In other words, this leads to a failure to effectively prepare the culture of an organization to align with the change. Or, conversely, to align the change with the culture of the organization. Such an alignment is critical to the complex task of ensuring the successful implementation of any change. In the following chapters, I will discuss in some detail the nature of organizational cultures and how they are formed. I will also examine the relationship between organizational culture and attempts to implement and manage change processes in organizations.

References Beer, M., Eisenstat, R. A., & Spector, B. (1990). Why change programs don’t produce change. Harvard Business Review, 68(6), 158–166. Bower, M. (1966). The will to manage: Corporate success through programmed management. New York: McGraw-Hill.

16  J. MACQUEEN Burnes, B., & Jackson, P. (2011). Success and failure in organizational change: An exploration of the role of values. Journal of Change Management, 11(2), 133–162. Cameron, K. S., & Quinn, R. E. (2011). Diagnosing and changing organizational culture, based on the competing values approach (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Deal, T. E., & Kennedy, A. A. (1982/2000). Corporate cultures: The rites and rituals of corporate life. New York: Basic Books. Eoyang, G., Olsen, E., Beckhand, R., & Vail, P. (2001). Facilitating organizational change: Lessons from complexity science. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/ Pfeiffer. Hughes, M. (2011). Do 70 per cent of all organizational change initiatives really fail? Journal of Change Management, 11(4), 451–464. Kaner, S. (2014). Facilitator’s guide to participatory decision-making. San Francisco: Wiley. Kotter, J. P. (1995). Leading change: Why transformation efforts fail. Harvard Business Review, 73, 59–67. Olson, E. E., & Eoyang, G. H. (2001). Facilitating organization change: Lessons from complexity science. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer. Pettigrew, A. M. (1979). On studying organizational cultures. Administrative Science Quarterly, 24, 570–581. Quinn, R. E., & McGrath, M. R. (1985). Transformation of organizational cultures: A competing values perspective. In P. J. Frost, L. F. Moore, M. R. Louis, C. C. Lundberg, & J. Martin (Eds.), Orgnizational culture (pp. 315– 334). Beverly Hills: Sage. Schein, E. H. (1985). Organizational culture and leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Senge, P. M. (1994). The fifth discipline fieldbook: Strategies and tools for building a learning organization. New York: Currency Doubleday. Smith, M. E. (2002). Success rates for different types of organizational change. Performance Improvement, 41(1), 26–33. 10107. Stroh, D. P. (2015). Systems thinking for social change: A practical guide to solving complex problems, avoiding unintended consequences, and achieving lasting results. White River Junction: Chelsea Green Publishing.


A Mental Model of Organizational Culture

Culture: a symbol rich system by which people in organizations construct and apply meaning about their work lives.

If you are planning to work with organizational cultures, and I assume you are or you wouldn’t be reading this book, you will need to be developing the “culture perspective” that I talked about in Chapter 2. In order to do so, you need to create a mental model of organizational culture. My definition of organizational culture, a part of the basis of my mental model, is above. Senge describes mental models as assumptions and ideas about the nature of the world around us (Senge, 1990). An idea about what organizational culture is and how it works might also be considered a paradigm. Paradigms are cognitive frameworks shared by members of any discipline or group. A paradigm about organizational culture will serve to guide and inform our thoughts and actions as managers, teachers, and consultants when we deal with the construct of the culture of an organization. This chapter is about helping you develop and clarify your mental model of organizational culture. I am not suggesting that you adopt the model I present here without question. I fully expect and encourage you to develop your own working definition of organizational culture. However, if you don’t yet have a mental model of culture in your head, this is a place to start. If you do have such a model already developed or developing, I strongly encourage you to think critically about your mental model using the material in this book as a starting point for that examination. What makes sense to © The Author(s) 2020 J. MacQueen, The Flow of Organizational Culture,



you about any of the models you have encountered, including mine? Are they congruent with how you feel when you join or meet a group, and can see their behaviors and assumptions with new eyes? Does the model help to explain what is happening in a group or organization in terms of behaviors? If a particular definition or model predicates certain interventions by a consultant, do those interventions match your values? You should discuss these questions with others, and not just experts. Talk with people who are simply interested. They will have substantial intuitive knowledge based on their experience. And, if you like, contact me. Write me an e-mail. We will set up a time for a conversation. Do not settle for one explanation of what is organizational culture and how it works. We can begin with the definition of organizational culture above and the idea of a “system.” Here, I am using the word system as shorthand for “Complex Adaptive System” (CAS). A complex adaptive system (CAS) behaves/evolves according to three principles: (1) order is emergent as opposed to hierarchical, (2) the system’s history is irreversible, and (3) the system’s future is often unpredictable. The basic building blocks of the CAS are agents. Agents are semiautonomous units that seek to maximize some major goodness for fitness by evolving over time. (Dooley, 1996). (Olson & Eoyang, 2001, p. 7)

Olson and Eoyang (2001) say that agents may include ideas, people, departments, individual actions, etc. For our purposes, we will do best to think about the system elements or agents as people and their ideas. That is, the constructs and attendant actions that make up the system. As they interact (communicate with each other) they are continuously changed by those interactions, which in turn change the nature of the CAS. Because these agents are interconnected and their behaviors are interdependent, these communications and interactions may eventually lead to emergence, a phenomenon where new properties or structures arise spontaneously. Because they are not planned hierarchically, you might say that they arise from the bottom up. This is reflective of the language that Seel uses to describe emergence: “A new pattern, at a higher level in the system from the agents which created it” (emphasis mine) (Seel, 2000, p. 4). Many scholars and practitioners work to keep the sense of anything hierarchical out of discussions of CAS and emergence. It might, therefore, be more meaningful to say that the new structure emerges from midst of the agents’ activity.



As we continue to deal with systems as representations or metaphors for organizational cultures, I invite you to notice that we will be leaving a certain amount of traditional linear thinking behind. Working with complex systems predicates that we begin to think and communicate with more complexity. You will find as a consultant, you become more effective if you strive to stop thinking of yourself as being external to or separate from the system in which you are working. Instead, recognize that you become part of the system as soon as you begin working in it so that you talk, think, experience, and feel from the first-person point of view (Pearce, 1998). Working from the first-person point of view will help you to be more empathetic with your clients’ experience and encourage you to stay in the present, experiencing what your client experiences it. This allows you to work with the client and the system with a minimum of predetermined interpretations that will often get in the way of effective consultative action. A first-person point of view also will help you to check yourself when your biases based on previous training and experiences do come up. This way of first-person communicating and thinking about CAS is what Tsoukas and Hatch refer to as second-level complexity (2001). As we engage in the examination and analysis of organizational cultural systems, I will take a narrative approach to that work because I am less interested in uncovering empirical facts about organizational culture than I am in creating culture’s verisimilitude, a plausibly authentic picture of what that culture is about, through a good story (Tsoukas & Hatch, 2001; Weick, 1995). When it comes to shifting culture, people and organizations, their perceptions and beliefs (which are the essence of culture), are far more easily influenced by good stories containing a core of truth than they are by presentations that include only facts. Not only are systems more easily described in narratives (stories), but they are more easily interpreted because we can ascribe motivation to them in the context of the story. Tsoukas and Hatch illustrate this in the following way: “The king died and then the queen died. is a story. The king died and then the queen died of grief, is a plot” (Tsoukas & Hatch, 2001, p. 1002). The expansion of the story to include elements of plot allows us to look more deeply into what is happening within the story. This becomes important when we are examining an organizational culture and asking the question of how the system got to this point and perhaps, what are the narratives that contributed to building the current system?


Organizational systems are inherently narrative. We can observe them moving from point A to point B and in doing so, imagine the story behind their movement (Tsoukas & Hatch, 2001). This becomes important when we are examining an organizational culture and asking questions about how did it become what it has become? How did it get to this point? “How” is a very common question and one of great interest when one begins to examine the behavior and effects of culture in an organization. Our ability to infer motivation and method in the story becomes critical to answering the question of how. This in turn allows us to “engage parts of the system about the narratives they hold for either a situation, a threat, a strategy or a breakdown” (R. Boucher, August 22, 2018 [Personal Communication]). The idea of narrative becomes even more important as you begin to realize that human narratives, stories we tell each other, are the primary vehicles for creating and shifting meaning, and thus organizational cultures: a key theme of this book. The premise that culture exists as a system has additional implications for how we understand culture. Culture is not a thing—it exists only as process. It has no substance. While we can experience the effects and products of culture as artifacts (tangible outputs) of the system’s processes, those forces that we refer to as culture remain invisible. Rites, rituals, values, beliefs, corporate heroes, recurring patterns of communication and assumptions about how things work and get done in the organization have long been considered to be the core elements of organizational culture by scholars such as Pettigrew (1979), Deal and Kennedy (1982/2000), Cameron and Quinn (2006), and many others including Edgar Schein (2016). These artifacts are, in fact, the emergent and constructed products of organizational culture. They are also often the focus of work for those who seek to manage or change organizational culture. In other words, if we change whatever the artifact might be (structure, procedure, myth, etc.) we will change the culture as a result. This kind of focus seems to me to be working in reverse of what it might otherwise produce more effective and lasting results. Put another way, this focus of working on producing artifacts seems to lead one to work on changing a product in hopes of changing a process and its effects. What might really be called for is working on a process to modify the product and effects generated by that product (artifact). This brings us to the elements of my definition and model of organizational culture. I have described the system of organizational culture as



“symbol rich.” What do I mean by that and why is it important? Symbols are visible products of the processes of culture, which we have defined as cultural artifacts. As such they are often ubiquitous and usually easily identifiable when you learn what you are looking for. A symbol is something that stands for or suggests something else by reason of relationship, association, convention, or accidental resemblance; especially: a visible sign of something invisible: the lion is a symbol of courage. (“Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary,” 2008)

A dove is a frequently invoked symbol of peace and all that word and concept entails. Similarly, you will see in Chapter 4 an example of how a practice by an accounting department of manually updating and balancing a firm’s general ledger at every month’s end became symbolic of a previous accounting director’s values related to implementation and use of an automated accounting system. Similarly, the building in which the organization is housed and especially its interior design is often symbolic of some aspect of the organization’s identity a component of its culture. The employee handbook often is directly symbolic of an organization’s norms and values. Symbols become important for interpreting a culture because they help us understand cultural artifacts. As artifacts of the culture themselves, they often point very clearly to the cultural elements or products they represent. This makes them particularly useful for doing cultural analyses in organizations (Smircich, 1983). This is a kind of analysis of which I am particularly fond. It is almost impossible to do as a survey-based study, which often produces results based on some sort of cultural typology about the nature of the culture in an organization. (“Here in company X we are dealing with a type C culture. Therefore, if we want to change it, we should take steps 1, 3, and 5 but not step 7.”) These typologies are abstractions based on statistical results derived from studying other organizations’ cultures, then aggregating and averaging the results. A symbolic cultural analysis on the other hand requires an approach based in ethnographic techniques that might involve live interviews of individuals and groups who are actually in or have direct contact with the organization. The results are, therefore, very specific to the organization and the culture that you are trying to analyze, revealing aspects of the organization’s narratives. As a consequence, they are much more useful


to you and the client organization as tools for formulating and making consulting decisions about working with that specific culture. Beyond this, symbols can be used as cues for sensemaking in groups and the subsequent construction of culture (see Chapter 7). I will sketch this process later in this chapter and later describe it in detail (also in Chapter 7). In the process of culture construction, symbols sometimes do double duty. They serve as stand-ins for something that already is but also as metaphors that help people in the culture grasp and communicate some poorly understood or emerging aspect of the culture. Lakoff and Johnson tell us, “the essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another” (Lakoff & Johnson, 2008, p. 5). This is a function creating sense and meaning, not the creation of symbols. This is especially true when we are trying to understand and put words to abstract cultural concepts. While it is possible to use a symbol as a metaphor, it is important that in understanding how people construct and apply meaning about their work lives, these two ideas, metaphor and symbol, do not become conflated in the mind of the consultant. For example, we might ask a politician or national leader to make their statements about a relationship with another country, “a little more dovish.” The use of the symbol of the dove is metaphorical, allowing us to understand the kind of language we would prefer the politician use in terms of the symbol for peace. We construct meaning first by figuring out what “is” (making sense of some event or thing). This is particularly true in situations in which what “is” has changed, creating an interruption in the flow of a group’s work (Weick, 1995). We construct meaning by ascribing value to the sense that we have made. In other words, what is the importance of sense (how we understand something) for us and how important is that sense? This ongoing process provides us with the context for how we view our world. We make decisions and take actions based on that context—how we understand, interpret the world, and act in and on it. Schein refers to this context as taken for granted, unconscious assumptions about the correct way to perceive, think, feel, and act (Schein, 2016). In other words, context is how we apply the meaning that we have made about what has happened in our lives. In the specific terms of this book, what has happened in our work lives. Edgar Schein is one of the foremost scholars of organizational culture in the Western world today. His book, Organizational Culture and Leadership (Schein, 1985, 1992, 2004, 2010, 2016) is a true



masterwork on the subject of organizational culture. If you have not yet read it, I strongly recommend that you do. It is a book that far exceeds the goals and purview of this one. It is also a book whose basic ideas I have leveraged to create this current volume. Schein is the first of three scholars whose work and models I want to introduce to you. The others are Richard Seel and Mary Jo Hatch. Their ideas on this subject will help to clarify and amplify my own. Hatch, in comparing Schein’s work with a long list of other scholars and writers, including Pettigrew, Deal and Kennedy, Peters and Waterman, etc. notes that he is the only scholar (prior to her own writing) to have “articulated a conceptual framework for analyzing and intervening in the culture of organizations.” And that “Schein’s formulation remains one of the only conceptual models ever offered” (Hatch, 1993, p. 658). First, I find Schein’s model particularly valuable because he identifies the source of organizational culture as recognizable, tangible group activities: the problem-solving and the learning that groups achieve from solving problems. Schein has defined organizational (group) culture as: The accumulated shared learning of that group as it solves its problems of external adaptation and internal integration; which has worked well enough to be considered valid and therefor, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, feel, and behave in relation to those problems. This accumulated learning is a pattern or system of beliefs, values, and behavioral norms that come to be taken for granted as basic assumptions and eventually drop out of awareness. (Schein, 2016, p. 6)

We need to unpack this definition. Note that it is first about “accumulated shared learning.” The implication of this idea is that culture is dynamic. It comes from solving problems; not just once, but repeatedly so that the learning the group is doing is cumulative. As more and more problems are solved over time, the learning that the group is doing grows and is aggregated, expanding the depth and the range of the group’s culture. The description of the problems the group must solve is especially interesting. Schein identifies these as “problems of external adaptation and internal integration” (2016). If you think about that for a moment,


you have to ask, “what else is there?” Anything that occurs in the group’s external environment will be something to which it has to adapt. Any changes to its internal makeup or ways of operating must be integrated into how the group functions. Even if the group’s response to an internal or external stimulus or change is rejection, the group still finds ways to integrate that response into the patterns of how it functions. For example, let us say the boss has declared some sort of change to the way the group is to operate: perhaps adopting a new set of protocols or practices such as Agile. The group, as it collectively considers this demand and the proposed changes, decides they don’t like it. In which case, they may decide (not necessarily consciously), “Let’s all keep our heads down, avoid acknowledging the demand for change, and this, too, shall pass.” Many of us have seen such responses in organizations and the demand for change did eventually pass. Keeping their heads down was successful from the group’s point of view. This suggests that the group’s strategy for dealing with the problem worked. It can therefore be considered valid as a way to avoid the necessary adaptation and integration required by a change. It is highly likely that the strategy will be taught to new members as they join the group. This may not be overt teaching, but conveyed through modeling and peer pressure “as the correct way to perceive, think, feel, and behave” (Schein, 2016, p. 6) around certain management demands for change. Over time, the strategy and its associated patterns of behavior may be validated again and again. It thus becomes “the way we do things around here” (Bower, 1966), especially when the group is asked to implement a change. It has become a basic, taken for granted assumption (Schein, 2016) about how we respond to requests or demands for change. We no longer even have to think about what we will do when it comes up the next time. The group has formed a cultural norm about how to respond to change as part of their context for making decisions with regard to those situations in which the question arises. This illustration suggests a number of things to which a leader or consultant needs to be paying attention if they are thinking about trying to influence or modify a culture. First is the group dealing with internal or external issues about which they are likely to be responding as a problem they need to solve? In this case, the issue of how to handle a change in the environment. Second, what is the nature of the solution that is being developed, and how does it fit in with other existing elements of the culture? If the solution to the problem is contrary to effective operations or



functioning of the group, what action might be taken to influence the group away from adopting this approach to dealing with the problem so that the approach does not become embedded as a part of the culture? These can be difficult and tricky questions to address. Particularly because a good deal of the processing that will go into adopting an approach to dealing with change that says, “let’s keep our heads down and this, too, shall pass,” are about creating an informal consensus. These processes are non-linear. They do not happen in a logical, predictable order. And they can be subtle, almost to the point of invisibility. It is unlikely the group members will call a meeting to discuss this issue. The consensus is likely to be reached through bits and pieces of conversation that will be reflected back in terms of issues of identity and the meaning of the action the group takes: How do we see ourselves individually? Who do we think we are as a group? What do we think will be the likely result of the action and its impact? All of these questions will most likely find their answers drawn from existing elements of the culture, in what Weick calls cues (1995). This, of course, makes the action taken by the group more easily justified (“It’s how we always do it.”). One of the thorniest problems about the cultural development of a group such as this is that once the solution becomes adopted and reinforced, it becomes an underlying assumption about how to deal with the problem. And therefore, by definition, the underlying assumption becomes more or less invisible to members of the group. When this has happened, it becomes very difficult to change. It is not available for rational discussion and argument. It is now a part of the organization’s cultural system, the organization’s DNA (Schein, 2016). By adding this cultural element during a time of change, disruption, or stress, which throws the system out of balance, it achieves equilibrium. And systems that have achieved balance will tend to try to stay in that state so as not to expend unnecessary energy. The resulting behaviors can be interpreted variously as entropy (Ries, 1996) or resistance, depending on your mental models of organization and culture. One is a psychological interpretation suggesting the use of a problem-solving approach to correct it. The other is a cultural system interpretation that suggests an approach that might be more about finding ways to balance the system. Overcoming resistance in groups is notoriously difficult and involves making individuals the target of the intervention thus blaming them for “the problem.” Systems interventions generally do not work well when framed as problem-solving.


Instead this work is most effective when it takes advantage of energy already in the system and seeks to redirect it. (See Chapter 10, the chapter on consulting to organizational culture where there is a case demonstration of using a systems approach to this difficult issue in a business.) A part of Schein’s approach that is helpful in explaining many of these phenomena is the idea that cultures have structures. According to Schein, cultural structures exist at three levels, each level becoming increasingly difficult to observe and interpret. The first level consists of artifacts: visible structures and processes and observable behaviors. The second level is espoused beliefs and values: these are ideals, goals, values, aspirations, ideologies and rationalizations. These are things we think we ought to believe but sometimes do not, often depending on their source: did we come to them through cultural processes or were they given to us by our leaders? Depending on that source and how we feel about it, these ideas may or may not produce behaviors that are congruent with the values, norms, and other artifacts of the culture. The third level is composed of basic underlying assumptions, which are unconscious, taken for granted beliefs and values that, determine behavior, perception, thought and feeling. (Schein, 2016, p. 18)

Ultimately, an effort to shift culture must get to this level, though few seldom do. Notice in this description, the labeling of the levels suggests vertical structuring which in turn suggests a metaphor of depth. In working with this metaphor, Schein and many of his commentators have equated increasing depth with decreasing visibility of the elements of the culture. This has resulted in the invention by others of the unfortunate metaphor of organizational culture as an iceberg. I have not heard nor read Schein referring to cultures as icebergs. The use of this metaphor is to help convey the idea that only a small percentage of an organization’s culture is visible (the first level) because much of an iceberg rests below the waterline (levels two and three). I reject this metaphor on the grounds that if you train yourself about what to look for and how to interpret what you are seeing, even an organization’s basic underlying assumptions, the lowest level in the description above, can become visible to you over time. Beyond that, culture as iceberg does not fit with my own experiences of organizational cultures. Icebergs, in popular imagination, tend to be regarded as cold



and rigid structures, essentially unchanging except in the face of heat (melting) or violent, disruptive change (breaking apart). If you adopt my belief in organizational cultures as complex adaptive systems which are always in motion, adapting to the environment, and changing the environment as much as they are changed by it, the basic image of the iceberg as an appropriate metaphor for culture is counterintuitive. In the description above, the levels of culture might be linked by reciprocating arrows that indicate a dynamic relationship between these three levels. So, the levels of the culture and the various elements they contain are constantly interacting with each other, which suggests they are also changing each other in the process of that interaction. Viewed in this way, Schein’s representation implicitly contains aspects of a model that considers culture through the lens of a CAS. There are several questions and opportunities, however, that Schein’s model does not address. Chief among these is the question of emergence and its effect on and in the functions of an organizational culture. The second model of organizational culture I am going to present is Richard Seel’s. His definition and model of organizational cultures as CAS is very helpful in addressing some of these questions. As such, I regard his model as complementary to my own model as well as Schein’s. Seel defines organizational culture as, The emergent result of the continuing negotiations about values, meanings and properties between the members of that organization and with its environment. … Culture is the result of all the daily conversations and negotiations between the members of an organization. They are continually agreeing (sometimes explicitly, usually tacitly) about the “proper” way to do things and how to make meaning about the events of the world around them. (Seel, 2000, p. 2)

You will probably recognize Schein in the use of the term “negotiations” (Schein talks about reaching consensus) and certainly in the idea of “the proper way to do things.” Seel and I agree about basic concepts of culture and the idea of making “meaning about the events of the world around them.” It is through negotiations of how we interpret events in our daily lives and our various ideas of what constitute proper responses that emergence occurs. Olson and Eoyang attribute the differences among agents and those ideas as being a primary force for emergence (Olson & Eoyang, 2001).


In Fig. 3.1, Seel provides an excellent description of how emergence occurs in a CAS. If you think in terms of the illustrative story I constructed for the description of the formation of a cultural element in response to problem-solving in Schein’s model, you can see how people’s discussion of “keeping your head down” (frame A), their ensuing tacit consensus about the approach (frame B), gives rise to new patterns of thought and behavior (frame C), and eventually, through continual reinforcement, becomes a full-fledged cultural element which influences thought and behavior in the entire group (frame D). Seel also suggests that there are a few significant adjustments in consulting practices and approaches that might be made if one adopts the view of organizational cultures as CAS. “The complex systems approach invites us to work in the system, to give up the illusion that we can comprehend its complexity and to adopt more modest aims” (Seel, 2000, p. 6). I will have much more to say about this in the chapter on consulting (Chapter 10). Whether you subscribe to the idea of culture as CAS or not, you should consider the idea that you can interact with an organization without functioning as a part of that system is a myth. Seel suggests real changes in culture are the product of emergence. According to him, this emergence is the result of conversations among members of the organization about the meanings of their lives, their values and assumptions about the proper way to do things. Thus, it would make sense that the core of our jobs as consultants should be about finding ways to increase the connectivity among people in the organization and to encourage those kinds of conversations as I illustrated in the example of the marketing function (Chapter 10). As I have said before, the model of organizational culture that I present in this book is firmly rooted in ground prepared by Edgar Schein. Seel helps to bridge some of the conceptual gaps between Schein’s and my work by presenting a well-defined model of organizational culture as CAS. The third model I will discuss is by Mary Jo Hatch (1993), who also addresses the dynamic nature of organizational culture. In her model of culture, she brings focus to a set of ideas and the dynamic relationships among them. She views Schein as leaving gaps from a symbolic-interpretive perspective of examining and analyzing culture while stressing that she views Schein’s work as having made significant contributions to the understanding of organizational culture.



Fig. 3.1  Emergent process: a system of diverse agents (A), richly connected (B), gives rise to an emergent pattern (C), and which feeds back down into the system (D) (Seel, 2000)






Hatch’s ideas about how the more symbolic aspects culture work, which she refers to as “The Cultural Dynamics Model,” are developed on the foundations of Schein’s work (Hatch, 1993). Her focus in this case is the dynamic relationships among cultural elements of assumptions, values, artifacts, to which she adds symbols and the processes that link them. You have probably already noticed that Schein does not explicitly mention symbols as a key element in his model of culture. Hatch, however, sees symbols and artifacts as very closely linked through the processes that create them both as we shall see in Fig. 3.2. Following this model, Hatch defines culture as “continuous cycles of action and meaning making shadowed by cycles of image and information” (1993). You will recall, Schein says culture is created as a result of groups solving problems. One product of solving those problems is a set of assumptions about “the correct way to perceive, think, and feel” (Schein, 2016). The “correct way” implies some set of values. Values here can be thought of as those beliefs people have about the way things should be, not necessarily the way things are in actuality. Intuitively, we can understand how assumptions about the correct way to do things will influence

Fig. 3.2  The cultural dynamics model (Hatch, 1993)



the group’s values. Conversely the values the group shares will tend to influence their assumptions about what is correct. Hatch talks about artifacts as “visible, tangible, and audible results of activity grounded in values and assumptions” (Hatch, 1993, p. 659). Schein goes somewhat further in his definition of artifacts and helps put some additional light on Hatch’s claim about the relationship to assumptions and values: Observed behavior routines and rituals are also artifacts, as are the organizational processes by which such behavior is made routine. Structural elements such as charters, formal descriptions of how the organization works, and organization charts also belong to the artifact level. (Schein, 2016, p. 17)

Thus, we begin to see conversations among people that talk about how things should be organized, what should be served in the cafeteria, and even what kind of building they should have, which are conversations about the right way to do things and how things should be, are likely to result in the emergence of certain artifacts. If we were to overlay Hatch’s model with Seel’s, we can begin to see that these two ideas have a good deal in common. Imagine that the agents in Seel’s illustration are the values, artifacts, symbols, and assumptions from Hatch’s model. The ongoing and reiterative processes of realization, symbolization, interpretation, and manifestation are those that, in Seel give rise to the emergent pattern that feeds back down into the system. This new model might provide us with a more complete idea of how a cultural system might look and operate. It also reveals, from the perspective of the consultant, issues with both models. As consultants, we are best served by models that are instrumental at their core, that will serve as tools for our work. When it comes to organizational culture, we are most aided by descriptions or analogies that help us to develop clearer understandings of what we are working on as well as how and when to work on them. Seel’s model provides a good general description of what the process of emergence might look like. However, his idea of what or who are the agents or what processes they might be involved in is too general to be of any real use to the consultant. In a similar vein, Hatch works with an idea of cultural elements that is too limited. Beyond the four that she has included, there are also processes and elements of sensemaking, meaning making, identity


formation, rules and norms, and the whole process of teaching cultural assumptions and meanings to new employees that have substantial impact on the formation and development of organizational culture. Having discussed Schein, Seel, and Hatch, we come to my model. In presenting the models developed by Schein, Seel, and Hatch, my purpose has not been to dispute or invalidate the importance of the contributions of their thinking. Rather, I view them as complementary to my thinking with the hope that, should you explore any of them further, you will find ways to expand on Schein, Seel, Hatch, and MacQueen to find ideas and techniques that make your own thinking and consulting more robust. My own model illustrates the processes in which the members of the group or organization will engage to produce a culture such as the one I defined earlier in this chapter. The drawing below traces the generic processes a group will employ to stimulate the emergence of new organizational culture. Because of my belief that a culture is a CAS, I have employed the device of causal loop diagrams. Such diagrams are commonly used to describe the behavior of complex systems. In this diagram, the elements named within the circles are processes. You might think about them as memes for the activities in which people engage to construct organizational culture. These processes are assumed to be interactive and interdependent. Therefore, all of the lines connecting the processes are meant to represent reinforcing action or feedback loops. That is, the action and energy of any given process is transferred to the process to which it is connected by the line. One process may reinforce (feedback), influence, or alter the energy, quality, and impact of another process to which it is connected. Likewise, the second process’s impacts will influence whatever subsequent processes to which it is connected, and so on. Ultimately, the processes are all interconnected, gaining energy, and are feeding that energy back into the interdependent processes in reciprocal fashion. The whole system gains energy and will eventually generate the emergence of some new entity, which then also interacts with the rest of the system. The new entity will have its own unique way of communicating with the rest of the system, adding energy and influencing what the system does and how it does it. (If this is confusing, take another look at Seel’s diagram above.) The energy that was growing in the system and produced the emergence of the new entity did so because it had pushed the existing system



to the edge of equilibrium. When the system has more energy than it can handle, or is sufficiently disrupted by external forces, it moves out of equilibrium and into chaos. Emergence is the system’s way of absorbing and redirecting enough energy to return itself to equilibrium, its preferred state for operating efficiently. Most systems, including cultural systems, spend much of their time and energy maintaining equilibrium. This makes them appear stable when they are, in fact, constantly in flux. This is why so many cultural systems are difficult to change or influence. While it appears they are in stasis, they are actually quite active maintaining stability (Fig. 3.3).

Fig. 3.3  Culture as a complex adaptive system, Sub-systems in the cultural system: A, B, C, and D


Emergent events in otherwise balanced systems tend to happen on a cyclical basis. This means there are no real beginnings or endings in the system. Each existing cycle always includes the basis for a new one. For our purposes, however, it will be helpful to include and examine how a cycle of emergence is provoked. Schein says cultures are the result of problem-solving (2016). So, something has to occur within the system that will predicate the group needing to solve a problem. Generally speaking, it needs to be something with an order of magnitude such that people notice there is a something that needs to be resolved. The problem may be something that is a product of emergence or, as is more often the case, something whose source is external to the group, such as the boss’s demand for implementing some sort of change as in the illustration I presented earlier, or other disruptions both internal and external such as a market threat or opportunity, the introduction of new technologies, or the addition or loss of staff. The point in time in which the need to deal with the situation, the dilemma, or opportunity becomes apparent, I am calling a disruptive event. This event may occur suddenly or it may take some time for the group to recognize its presence and its challenge to the group’s way of doing things. In any case, it represents an interruption to the regular, accustomed flow of the group’s process. Interruption is a signal that important changes have occurred in the environment. This is a key event for emotion is the “interruption of an expectation.” It makes good evolutionary sense to construct an organism [organization] that reacts significantly when the world is no longer the way it was. (Weick, 1995, p. 46)

Once the disruptive event has occurred and is noticed by the group, the group members will need to reflect on what has happened and will then engage in some form of sensemaking (there is a detailed description of this process in Chapter 7). This happens so that they can make decisions to act in response to the disruption in a way that seems reasonable and rational (at least to the members of the group). The group will then assess the results of their action and ascribe meaning to those results as well as to the action that they have taken (Sub-system A). (See Chapter 4 for discussion of the difference between sense and meaning.) If the group is not pleased with the meaning they have derived from the action, it is likely that they will once again engage reflection and



sensemaking, and possibly make a new or additional action to deal with the disruptive event. The cycle is likely to continue until they have constructed meaning that they consider satisfactory, reiterating the cycle of Sub-system A. Subsequently, or sometimes simultaneously with iterations of the sensemaking cycle, they will engage in the construction or reconstruction of group and personal identities (see Chapter 7) that are consistent and congruent with the meanings they have constructed and applied in the process of problem-solving (Sub-system B). Because meaning and identity in these contexts are often abstract, the group will engage in the construction and use of metaphors and stories to clarify and define meaning and identity both for themselves and others with whom they want to communicate (Sub-system B). (See Chapter 8 for discussion of the importance and mechanics of metaphor in culture creation.) When the issues of meaning, identity, and their articulation have been sufficiently resolved to the satisfaction of the group, they can move on. However, it is possible that those results may stimulate other rounds of reflection, sensemaking, and action, related to the problem, reiterating the cycle or a portion of the cycle of Sub-system A which may in turn influence further thought and revision in the cycle of meaning, identity, and articulation (Sub-system B). The group may move on to constructing or revising their assumptions about the right and proper way to do things using the products of the cycles we have just discussed. Eventually, they will create various artifacts, including values, rules of behavior, and symbols that are expressive of their assumptions (Sub-system C). These may be used to influence and modify those very assumptions, as illustrated in the diagram. (This is essentially the dynamic process that Hatch examines in her model.) The products of the assumptions/artifacts creation and discussions (Subsystem C) also may influence the meaning/identity/articulation processes (Sub-system B) and find their way into the reflection/sensemaking processes (Sub-system A) as any of them may have been reiterated at any point in the overall process. All of the processes above are used to create and apply some solution to the problem presented by the disruptive event. They are also used in an iterative fashion to evaluate the relative success of that solution. When and if the group determines the solution has been successful, they can and will use what they have learned to teach the approach they developed, and perhaps modified, to new people as they come into


the organization (Sub-system D). If the solution or its application at any time was deemed not successful, using the application of the same system of processes; that failure and its lessons, if they were painful enough (see Chapter 7) will also be taught to new members of the group so they will avoid the tactic in the future. Ultimately, whatever will contribute to the success and survival of the group needs to be learned and applied as the membership changes and/ or grows. In turn, what has been taught and learned then influences all the processes in which the organization engages. These iterations of process and learning make up the system that we refer to as organizational culture. There are additional things to be noted about my model before we leave it. First, organizational cultures are not unitary. When it comes to cultures, the boundaries of what constitutes the group or the organization are socially constructed. What this means is that for the members of the group, the definition of the group is what they say it is. They may be the quality team within the design group because they have evolved that as their identity. Consequently, they will have developed their own variation on the culture of the larger entity from which they were formed and work out on their own different, though related, assumptions and values. This group’s individual culture will be formed and modified semi-independently from that of the larger group. If you are experiencing an image of nested Russian dolls, here, there is good reason. That construct needs to be taken into consideration when you are asked to work on modifying an organizational culture. How much of it are you seeking to modify and are there subcultures whose individual variants need first to be addressed before trying to influence the whole? Second, as I’ve tried to make clear in both the diagram and the narrative of this model, the processes of culture creation are not linear. You cannot expect a cause and effect type of response when you seek to add or alter an element of a culture. You can only push on it in one place and wait to see what happens. Third, many of these processes will remain more or less invisible to the consultant or manager because they are not linear and people do not necessarily engage in them with much consciousness. As a consultant, your awareness of people engaging in them will be dependent on the extent to which you accurately experience yourself as part of and



engaged in the system. A skillful and aware consultant will learn to spot when a group or part of a group is working on, for example, identity issues or clarifying assumptions and learn to offer support for sorting the meanings running around those conversations. Fourth, because of the interdependencies in a cultural system, the rate of change in the system as well as the results can be completely unpredictable. The process of construction and adoption of new cultural elements can seem extraordinarily quick or painfully slow. A group may respond to a disruption and create a new element to a culture in a matter of hours or days. More often, however, it will take much longer. It typically depends on the homogeneity of the group in all its aspects, which will affect the time it takes to reach consensus on the results of any and all the processes mentioned above. This will be reflected in the number of iterations that will take place in any of the cycles. My point in saying so is, beware of promising your client a time frame in which to expect to see and do a final evaluation of the work in which you are engaged. Do periodic evaluations based on whatever you can observe or have chosen to measure. Otherwise, counsel patience. Over many years of doing systems analyses of organizations and their problems, even before I began to apply the idea to understanding cultures, I sometimes taught the use of this technique to other consultants. Sometimes with especially difficult cases, we created very complicated and complex diagrams using the causal loop approach when there were many, many interconnected, interdependent agents in a single system. The central question in those instances was, as it is here, how do you use these diagrams to aid in your consulting? There were always multiple answers to that question, most of them highly specific to the individual case. However, the most consistent and generalizable is about where do you start? Most consistently, that answer is about looking for the point in the system where you are likely to find the most leverage. That point is usually where you can observe the greatest number of elements with the greatest number of connections. These spots provide the most leverage because they are the points where, when you try to shift one element you will usually have a relatively immediate effect on the elements to which the one is connected and then you can watch that effort move out from there. Like throwing a stone in a pool and watching the ripples move out from there. In the cultural CAS described above, I have most often found that point, the point of greatest leverage, to be the interactions of Sub-system


B. If you are able to guide some aspect of what the group is doing at this point, sometime not too long after the disruptive event has occurred, it is often quite possible that you will see an emergence in the whole system that bares some positive resemblance to what you and the group members guiding the overall process had originally envisioned. The case study that is the basis of Chapter 9 will provide some illustration of how this might be done.

References Bower, M. (1966). The will to manage: Corporate success through programmed management. New York: McGraw-Hill. Cameron, K. S., & Quinn, R. E. (2006). Diagnosing and changing organizational culture: Based on the competing values framework (Rev. ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Deal, T. E., & Kennedy, A. A. (1982/2000). Corporate cultures: The rites and rituals of corporate life. New York: Basic Books. Hatch, M. J. (1993). The dynamics of organizational culture. Academy of Management Review, 18, 657–693. Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (2008). Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary. (2008). Electronic Edition, Version: 4.7 ed. Merriam-Webster, Fogware Publishing, Art Software Inc., Data Storage Research. Olson, E. E., & Eoyang, G. H. (2001). Facilitating organization change: Lessons from complexity science. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer. Pearce, W. B. (1998). Thinking about systems and thinking systemically. Unpublished manuscript. Pettigrew, A. M. (1979). On studying organizational cultures. Administrative Science Quarterly, 24, 570–581. Ries, A. (1996). Focus: The future of your company depends on it. New York: HarperCollins. Schein, E. H. (1985). Organizational culture and leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Schein, E. H. (1992). Organisational culture and leadership (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Schein, E. H. (2004). Organizational culture and leadership. Jossey-Bass Business & Management Series. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Schein, E. H. (2010). Organizational culture and leadership (Vol. 2). Hoboken: Wiley.



Schein, E. H. (2016). Organizational culture and leadership (5th ed.). Hoboken: Wiley. Seel, R. (2000). Culture and complexity: New insights on organisational change. Organisations and People, 7(2), 2–9. Senge, P. M. (1990). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. New York: Doubleday/Currency. Smircich, L. (1983). Concepts of culture and organizational analysis. Administrative Science Quarterly, 28(3), 339–358. Tsoukas, H., & Hatch, M. J. (2001). Complex thinking, complex practice: The case for a narrative approach to organizational complexity. Human Relations, 54(8), 979–1013. Weick, K. E. (1995). Sensemaking in organizations (Vol. 3). Thousand Oaks: Sage.


Sense and Meaning

In this chapter, we will explore the question of meaning: What do we mean by meaning? Having clarity about the answer to this question is critical to how and why we work with organizational cultures and how we understand the results of that work. As you will recall, my definition of organizational culture is, “A symbol rich system by which people in an organization construct and apply meaning about their work lives.” Linda Smircich (1985) (whose work I reference in Chapter 5) helps me to emphasize the importance of meaning in organizations for the consultant. Can we see organizations not only as places where we gather to get work done, but as symbolic expressions, as displays of meaning as well as representations of the search for meaning. (Smircich, 1985, p. 66)

Smircich is writing about looking at organizations through a lens of cultural analysis, instead of organizational analysis, as a way to look deeper into how an organization functions at a given level. I have planted my definition of organizational culture firmly in this semiotic soil. To do cultural analysis of organizational life means the following: 1. We realize that organizations are representations of our humanity; they can be known through acts of appreciation.

© The Author(s) 2020 J. MacQueen, The Flow of Organizational Culture,



2. We realize that organizations are symbolically constituted worlds, like novels or poems; they can be known through acts of critical reading and interpretation. 3. We realize that organizations are symbolic forms like religion and folklore; they are displays of the meaning of life (Smircich, 1985, p. 66). Though this idea has never seemed to be popular with many organizational theorists or practitioners, I have always found it inspiring. I am drawn to interpreting any aspect of culture and organization semiotically as a way to gain deeper insight into my clients. For example, the accounting system used by any organization is a reflection of the values around the proper way to do accounting that whoever chose the system holds or held. The system and its operation are therefore, a symbol of “how we do accounting around here.” As such, they may reflect a great many values and cultural assumptions related to accounting. Some of these may go beyond the functions of that specific system. What I mean by this is, the activities of the people who work in and/or with that system inevitably reflect those cultural assumptions. I once worked with an accounting department where the group always kept a handwritten copy of the general ledger (GL). This was a practice instituted by the first director of the department (long since gone from the organization) who had insisted on keeping a manual GL because he did not fully trust the electronic system he himself had chosen and implemented. Nobody now in the department could explain why they continued keeping a manual GL other than to tell me it was the way they had always done it (a cultural assumption about the right way to do things). A brief cultural analysis of the practice revealed that it was symbolic of an historic distrust of electronic accounting systems. This revelation made it easier for the “old timers” in the department to let go of this archaic practice. The practice had acquired a new meaning for them. The idea of applying meaning to our work lives drives this chapter as well as most of the book. Smircich’s work had a lot to do with generating my early interests in this direction. My thinking was further developed and reinforced by Barnett Pearce’s brilliant and inspiring book, “Making Social Worlds” (Pearce, 2007). Pearce based this work on his theory of the coordinated management of meaning (CMM). In Chapter 2



of the book, he introduces the reader to an explanation of the construct of social worlds. He describes how confusing it was for him to visit the respective homes of his two sets of grandparents as a child. He noticed how things were done very differently in each of their houses. This was due at least in part to the fact that each set of grandparents espoused different religious faiths and so engaged in different rituals and practices. He also noticed differences in other kinds of behaviors such as how loudly or energetically they spoke, how the labor of the house was divided, etc. He found this all very confusing. How could they all be part of the same family and yet act so differently? (2007, pp. 38–39). Pearce goes on to imagine a conversation between himself (now a grandfather) and himself as this young boy. I would want to tell this little boy four things. First, he should have been confused when he moved through these different social worlds, because they really were social worlds. All of us create worlds that are “complete” or “whole” within their own horizons and are structured by a geometry “oughtness” that tells us what things mean and what we should, must, or must not do about or because of them. … Second, there are many social worlds. His grandparents’ worlds are far more alike than not, and occupy the smallest fraction of the great array of ways of being human. …Can he see the social worlds of his grandparents as just two of the infinite number of social worlds that exist or might exist[?].… Third, I tell him that each of these social worlds is made. They are shaped by things that we do to and with each other. They start and they end, and they change over time. …Finally, I tell him that he, like everyone else involved is an agent in the making of those social worlds. Although no one can “control” what happens, everyone in those social worlds affects what happens by their actions. (Pearce, 2007, pp. 40–41)

For me, this is very much a description of organizational cultures. Each culture, or subculture, constitutes a different worldview. A journey among an organization’s different departments, or even different teams/ areas within a department, will yield to a careful observer subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle differences in ideas about “how we do things around here.” Pearce goes on to describe how we, as participants in organizations, families, or other groups, construct our own social worlds (cultures) with others through communication we are coordinating in often unconscious ways what we mean about things and events when we talk about


them. (I have described this process of coordination in Chapter 5 What I find interesting—and a bit frustrating—is that Pearce never defines what he means by “meaning.”) It is as if this word which has so much importance for him in describing the co-construction of social worlds is, or should be, simply understood by everyone because of its common usage. From Pearce, I went on to study Karl Weick and sensemaking. This was not only out of a quest for a definition of meaning, but because I intuitively understood that making sense of what’s happening around us is critical to the creation of culture. Weick is one of the acknowledged authorities on sensemaking. He describes the process this way: Sensemaking involves turning circumstances into a situation that is comprehended explicitly in words and that serves as a springboard into action…Sensemaking unfolds as a sequence in which people concerned with identity in the social context of other actors engage ongoing circumstances from which they extract cues and make plausible sense retrospectively, while enacting more or less order into those ongoing circumstances. (Weick, Sutcliffe, & Obstfeld, 2005, p. 409)

In other words, Weick is describing a process in which people in an organization are imposing order and structure onto their understanding of the events around them. They do this by identifying what is common to the current situation and events of the past, thus making them comprehensible in the present. In describing this process, he makes three points about the quest for understanding and a sense of stability in organizational life. First, sense making occurs when a flow of organizational circumstances is turned into words and salient categories. Second, organizing itself is embodied in written and spoken texts. Third, reading, writing, conversing, and editing are crucial actions that serve as the media through which the invisible hand of institutions shapes conduct. (Weick et al., 2005, p. 410)

Throughout Weick’s detailed and insightful descriptions of sensemaking, he does not, as with Pearce, differentiate between meaningmaking and sensemaking. Indeed, it often seems that he conflates these terms to create variety in the text. If it were not for the fact that I have a definite need to create a substantive differentiation for my model and definition, I might accept the idea that sensemaking and meaningmaking are essentially the same. In fact, I have come to believe that meaningmaking



is a subset and a product of sensemaking. This would certainly help to account for authors using the same terms for what are ultimately differentiated constructions. Weick uses the idea that people apply a number of what he calls filters as heuristics for helping them to do sensemaking. These include constructs such as paradigms, ideologies, arguments, and self-fulfilling prophecies. These constructs help people more quickly identify cues that can be used to link past experience with current experience, interpret those experiences, and make sense of changes in the flow of their environment. What I find particularly useful is understanding how those cues and filters seem to contribute most to the creation of cultural narratives. Personally, I have found that stories tend to be among the most productive filters for sensemaking of almost any of the other tools that Weick mentions. I suspect that this is because, as Weick points out, “Stories are inventions rather than discoveries” (Weick, 1995, p. 128). I suspect that most stories told in organizations to make sense of events are based on other existing stories, probably in the cultural narrative as a result of older sensemaking events. These stories often come pre-constructed with multiple symbols and a looseness of structure that are the hallmarks of organizational narratives. This allows them to be adapted to a particular situation as the interpretation that is being used for sensemaking evolves. The requirements necessary to produce a good narrative provide a plausible frame for sense making. Stories posit a history for an outcome. They gather strands of experience into a plot that produces that outcome. The plot follows either the sequence beginning-middle-end or the sequence situation-transformation-situation. But sequence is the source of sense. (Weick, 1995, p. 128)

However, the story structure, beginning-middle-end, cannot exist if one’s perspective is totally retrospective. “They lived happily ever after” from a narrator’s perspective, at best happens in a kind of pluperfect state. In attempting to make sense, people are always trying to work with a present that is always in the process of becoming a future (see Chapter 5). This idea emerges from a study of what Baumeister refers to as pragmatic prospection (Baumeister, Vohs, & Oettingen, 2016). In this essay, Baumeister cites a sampling study conducted to investigate the content and time dimensions of everyday thoughts.

46  J. MACQUEEN There were far more thoughts about the future than the past. Moreover, when people did say they were thinking about the past, the most common category they reported was “implications of the past for the future.” … Replaying the past for its own sake was not entirely absent but quite rare. … when people think about the past, it is mostly to assist them in preparing for the future. The past cannot be changed — but one can use information and lessons from the past to make pragmatic improvements in the future (which can still be changed). (Baumeister et al., 2016, p. 6)

It strikes me that there are substantial similarities between the purposes and the processes of sensemaking with its use of cues and those of pragmatic prospection, which relies on episodic memory to produce its results. Both seek to structure and interpret events of the past so that individuals can direct their behaviors so as to have a positive effect in the future. Both authors talk about these results in terms of what is meaningful to the individual(s) involved. So, if sensemaking and meaningmaking are subsets and products of each other, how does that happen? Sensemaking and meaningmaking are similar processes that exist along a continuum of activity in a dynamic relationship. The goal of sensemaking is to order and structure events retrospectively in for the purpose of creating frameworks for specific (and more or less) near-term actions. Its focus tends to be on the past, the present, and the near future. Its products are largely about what is tangible and what has utility. The goal of meaningmaking, on the other hand, is to prospectively create a range of possibilities for behaviors in the future (including interpersonal, emotionally based behaviors). Its products are about the relationships that individuals have with the sense that they have previously created. In doing so, the products of this process become more semiotic, less tangible, and increasingly available for incorporation into culture. The relationship of pragmatic prospection to retrospective sensemaking is clarified in another study cited by Baumeister, Vohs, Aaker, and Garbinsk (2013). In this study, they found, …that ratings of the meaningfulness of life correlated with how much people mentally linked the past, present and future (unlike happiness, which was correlated positively with thinking about the present only) (Baumeister, 2013).… Another key finding indicated that linking “time zones” (past, present, or future) increased meaning.… The least meaningful thoughts were those that lack any timeframe, and the most meaningful were the ones that combined past, present, and future. (Baumeister et al., 2016, p. 7)



In other words, imaginatively linking experiences across past, present, and future tends to make them more meaningful to individuals. My observation is that doing this activity as a social process amplifies the effect for members of a group. This is especially true as they begin to coordinate and share their ideas and conclusions about the experiences as relationally structured and imagined in the three time frames. It is interesting to compare these ideas about linking prospective thoughts across time frames with David Cooperrider’s description of the “Dream Phase” in the appreciative inquiry process. As the various stories of the organizations history are shared and illuminated, a new historical narrative emerges. This narrative engages those involved in much the same way a good mystery novel engages a reader. As participants become energetically engaged in re-creating the organization’s positive history, they give life to its new, most preferred future. (Cooperrider, Whitney, & Stavros, 2008)

Cooperrider promotes this process as “personally and organizationally invigorating,” again emphasizing its social nature. This matches my experience where, when I have asked people to do these kinds of activities in groups. They become very excited by the ideas they are generating as they agree, disagree, and build on concepts of the future they are beginning to share. In fact, as a particular concept of the future they are sharing takes on increased imaginative substance, I have witnessed people get up and march around the room chanting the words they have used to define that future (see Chapter 8). Baumeister (2016) also helps us to understand issues around meaningmaking and the processes of prospection. As he moves his investigations into the realm of narrative thinking, he notes that narratives are essentially stories. Stories are constructed by tying together actions, observations, and experiences in time. Without time, these events cannot be put together in any kind of meaningful way and they simply become incoherent collections of details without causal relationship. Thus, our ability to think in time—past, present, and future—results in our ability to create narratives, stories, and plans that can become meaningful. This idea echoes and reinforces Weick’s (1995) observations about narratives. To bring this further into the realm of meaningmaking, I’m going to call on the thinking of Carolyn Sortor (an artist living in Texas). In an essay entitled, “What Do We Mean by ‘Meaning’?”,

48  J. MACQUEEN I believe meaning resides in or arises from relatedness. …It’s human nature to try to make sense of things, so even if there’s no one around to explain the unfamiliar to us, we usually notice things about it, relationships among its components or between it and the rest of our experience. (Sortor, 2017)

We return to these elements and their interconnectedness again and again. As we do, we begin to discern patterns in those relationships. Those things that become most meaningful to us are those patterns that contain the greatest number and concentration of related, interconnected elements. This is very Weickean thinking, though I would be surprised if Sortor has read either Weick or Baumeister. Yet, she has brought the two lines of thought together. We make sense of events by constructing relationships among disparate parts of our experience, and we do so retrospectively. From those constructions, we can create narratives that only gain a satisfying structure (beginning-middle-end) when we think about them prospectively and place them in the future. We can only do this because we think about ourselves as having multiple possibilities in the future. We thus create a relationship between ourselves, the narrative, and the future (Baumeister et al., 2013). The more we mold and edit a story over time, the more we strengthen and add to those relationships. In addition, the more we build those relationships, the more meaning the story and its events have for us. Valsiner, a cultural psychologist (2007) notes that there is an ongoing dynamic relationship between sense and meaning. As individuals use sense to continuously modify meaning, we construct “potential meanings encoded in language” (Valsiner, p. 370). These he describes as, “ever-imprecise semiotic devices (actual meanings) which nevertheless fit the task of reduction of experiential uncertainty” (Valsiner, p. 370). This, ultimately, is the goal of both sensemaking and meaningmaking: To reduce the level of anxiety, we feel in unfamiliar situations. As Valsiner says, “It can be said the great power of human language in guiding human meaning-making lies in the vagueness of the actual meanings that are constructed by persons in uncertain situations” (Valsiner, 2007, p. 370). Again, this thought echoes and reinforces Weick, who eschews accuracy in favor of achieving sense and meaning.



Sensemaking is about the embellishment and elaboration of a single point of reference or extracted cue. Embellishment occurs when a cue is linked with a more general idea. Because “objects” have multiple meanings and significance, it is more crucial to get some interpretation to start with than to postpone until “the” interpretation surfaces. (Weick, 1995, p. 133)

In other words, both Weick and Valsiner recognize that the dynamic processes of sensemaking and meaningmaking rely increasingly on symbols and symbolic construction for their impact and effectiveness. What is the importance of this discussion beyond the theoretical and semantic? The context of this book is always about linking theory to the practice of working with culture and making conscious decisions about our actions as practitioners based on those theories. I have encountered situations where a group struggles with ideas that I expect will have important impacts on their emerging culture. When this occurs, I often ask participants what those ideas mean to them. The responses I usually get are significantly different than if I had asked them, “Does that make sense to you?” or “What do you make of that?” Inevitably, an individual will pause to consider the question before answering. The response will usually reflect how they consider themselves in some future state in relationship to the issue. It is often how they imagine the adoption of that new idea affecting their behavior. I have observed group exercises where the participants are asked to construct images of a future state. New ideas and behaviors are being formed and embodied so that the sense of commitment to ensuring the success of those enactments and the individuals’ sense of responsibility for the success becomes nearly palpable (see Chapter 9). The social energy and excitement generated by such activities often means that within a short period of time the implicit agreements people have made together around values and actions become assumed to be part of the vision for the future and the appropriate way to behave in the culture.

References Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K. D., & Oettingen, G. (2016). Pragmatic prospection: How and why people think about the future. Review of General Psychology, 20(1), 3. Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K. D., Aaker, J. L., & Garbinsky, E. N. (2013). Some key differences between a happy life and a meaningful life. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 8(6), 505–516.

50  J. MACQUEEN Cooperrider, D., Whitney, D. D., & Stavros, J. M. (2008). The appreciative inquiry handbook: For leaders of change. Oakland: Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Pearce, W. B. (2007). Making social worlds: A communication perspective. Malden, MA and Oxford: Blackwell. Smircich, L. (1985). Is the concept of culture a paradigm for understanding organizations and ourselves. In P. J. Frost, L. F. Moore, M. R. Louis, C. C. Lundberg, & J. Martin (Eds.), Organizational culture (pp. 55–72). Beverly Hills: Sage. Sortor, C. (2017). What do we mean by meaning. Retrieved from Valsiner, J. (2007). Culture in minds and societies: Foundations of cultural psychology. Psychology Studies (September 2009), 54, 238–239. Weick, K. E. (1995). Sensemaking in organizations (Vol. 3). Thousand Oaks: Sage. Weick, K. E., Sutcliffe, K. M., & Obstfeld, D. (2005). Organizing and the process of sensemaking. Organization Science, 16(4), 409–421.


Ontologies of Organizational Culture

In Chapter 2, we began looking at how culture is always being created in any group, especially an organization. By using a hypothetical community garden as an example, we saw that organizing begets culture and culture begets organizing. At this point, I think we can say that while it’s definitely true there is no culture without an organization, it’s also true that there is no organization without culture. I also introduced the idea of a culture perspective, a construct about keeping culture in mind as you deal with organizations. We will examine this further by looking at John Kotter’s well-known work on “Leading Change” and suggesting how each of the stages that he recommends have an effect on the culture of the organization on which you might be working. Chapters 2 and 3 introduced definitions of culture produced by some of the more influential figures in the culture literature. I introduced my own definition of culture so as to provide a point of reference as we move ahead. Now, I would like to return to my definition and explore the underlying theories that are suggested by it in more detail. In 1985, Linda Smircich wrote Can we stand back from organizations and see them differently? Can we see organizations not only as places where we gathered to get work done, but as symbolic expressions, as displays of meaning as well as representations of the search for meaning? (Smircich, 1985)

© The Author(s) 2020 J. MacQueen, The Flow of Organizational Culture,



I have used Smircich’s comment verbatim elsewhere in this book because of its importance to my overall thesis of the contribution of culture to making meaning in organizations (Chapter 4). My experience has been that we tend to ignore this aspect of organizational life. We tend to think of organizational life as different from our daily lives in general and in so doing ignore what is so important to all of us, the need to find meaning in what we do day-to-day. I also suspect that consultants, students, and scholars of organizational culture have tended to shy away from the symbolic aspect of culture because it may be considered too abstract and “touchy-feely” for many of our audience. However, you may recall that many of the artifacts (the physical manifestations) of organizational cultures are reflections and representations of the values and underlying assumptions about how to do things in those organizations. These include very tangible things like structure, hierarchy, accounting systems, and IT systems, or at least how we use those systems. As a quick reminder, my definition of organizational culture is, “A symbol rich system by which people in an organization construct and apply meaning about their work lives.” Something you should understand about this idea and the model that derives from this definition is that it is multi-ontological. I have hesitated to use the term because it seems to have been adopted by the software industry in reference to a great variety of search and registry functions. But Snowden rescues the word from this context stating that the IT profession misuses the term as “an elevated version of taxonomy and is in fact closer to onomastics than it is to ontology” (Snowden, 2005). Snowden further claims that the use of multiple ontologies (you might want to substitute the words paradigms or theories) is particularly helpful when you are trying to understand or make meaning of complex ideas (Snowden 2005). (Surely, there are few things that are more complex than human systems and what they produce.) Ontology is defined in the dictionary as: 1: a branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature and relations of being //Ontology deals with abstract entities. 2: a particular theory about the nature of being or the kinds of things that have existence. (“Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary,” 2008)



The function of an ontology is described as: • [Providing] a common background and understanding of a particular domain, or field, of study, and [ensuring] a common ground among those who study the information. • It is a way of organizing concepts, information, and ideas that is meant to be universal within the field, and allows for a common language to be spoken. • It is a structural framework that allows the concepts to be laid out in a way that makes sense. • It helps show the connections and relationships between concepts in a manner that is generally accepted by the field (, 2019). The ontologies that I reference and make use of in this book are the following: 1. Complexity theory and, especially, complex adaptive systems are related ideas about how elements of a system interact in a way that is complex and dynamic rather than mechanical and hierarchical. 2.  Social constructionism is an idea about how we perceive and understand reality and meaning. This theory centers on the notion that meanings are developed in coordination with others rather than separately within each individual. 3.  Embodied metaphor is the idea that metaphors have a function beyond that of a literary device. They are important ways of “understanding one thing in the place of another” (Lakoff & Johnson, 2003) through the neuro-processes of simulation (see Chapter 8). 4. Identity construction is the shaping of a person’s values, beliefs, practices, discourses, and knowledge, influenced both by cultural systems and by individual actions. In this case, we will be focused mostly on identity construction as a social function and activity in the process of developing organizational culture. 5.  I will also make extensive use, build on, and extend Schein’s (2016) ideas about the nature of organizational culture. 6. Finally, process metaphysics, with which this chapter is primarily concerned.


Process metaphysics is The worldview that sees processes, rather than substances, as the basic forms of the universe. (Whitehead, 1929; Bergson, 1946; James, 1909/1996). A process orientation prioritizes activity over product, change over persistence, novelty over continuity, and expression over determination. Becoming, change, flux as well as creativity, disruption and indeterminism are the main themes of a process worldview. (Langley & Tsoukas, 2010)

Ultimately, these ideas together represent a particular view of the universe and how it operates. Perhaps the oldest known proponent of process metaphysics was Heraclitus (whom I also reference in Chapter 1) when he said, “you can’t step in the same river twice.” This is because the water that constitutes the river is always changing. The water that rushes over your foot at one moment is not the same water that rushes over your foot in the next moment. As a matter fact, the process philosophers would say that the act of differentiating one moment from the next is illusory. In this context, all that truly exists is the water rushing over your foot. Obviously, this way of thinking creates definite problems with our concept of time. Within this ontology, time as we think about it conventionally does not exist. Only the experience of things changing has relevance or importance. From a consulting or management point of view, it becomes important to remember that the organization or the culture that you experienced yesterday, earlier today, an hour, or a second ago is not the same organization you’re experiencing now. This is not to say that what you learned about the organization yesterday, today, or an hour ago does not have meaning. It simply calls attention to the fact that you need to be aware of what you do, because applying what you learned previously may no longer be relevant in the same way. You should also note that when you stepped into that flowing water, you and your foot were also changed by the water flowing over it. The skin is probably colder than it was before you stepped in, traces of the water will continue to stay on your foot, and you will forever carry with you that experience and your memory of it. So, you cannot commit the action of stepping in the same stream twice. Making these ideas about process integral to how you work is not easy. If you choose to adopt a process orientation in your practice, your orientation toward the client organization will probably move toward



becoming much more spontaneous and improvisational. In addition, you should probably strive to adopt, build, and practice mindsets that derive from worldviews such as Taoism and Confucianism and their Japanese cousin, Zen. Process metaphysics encourages us to at least question many of our existing paradigms about how we interpret our experiences of the world, particularly with regard to time and permanence. For example, we tend to think of organizations as entities: things with substance that stay more or less the same over periods of time. At a minimum, we like to assume that the “organization” we left when we went to lunch will be more or less the same one that we come back to after lunch. The word organization, is a noun and is also a myth. If one looks for an organization one will not find it. What we will find is that there are events, linked together, that will transpire within concrete walls, and these sequences, their pathways, their timing, are the forms we erroneously make into substances we talk about as organizations. (Weick, 1995; Weick, Sutcliffe, & Obstfeld, 2005)

What Weick is suggesting is that these entities, these “things,” that we like to call organizations are really the relationships and the iterations of the moment to moment processes that make up our “over time” experiences of the organization. “What we think of as organization is what is left over as a trace memory of yesterday’s organizing… by the time we recognize the organization is no longer there. What is there is our transformation of it what makes it recognizable — re-cognizable — is precisely its no longer existing (Taylor and Van Every, 2000:163)” In other words, every night the organization dissolves back into airy nothingness that needs to be re-accomplished the next day, through conversations that convert textual traces back into shapes and locations. (Weick, 2010)

These are the streams in which we cannot step twice. There is, therefore, no such thing as an organization (or its culture), only the processes that make it up. Seeing process as fundamental, such an approach does not deny the existence of events, states, or entities but insists on unpacking them to reveal the complex activities and transactions that take place and contribute to their constitution. (Langley & Tsoukas, 2010)


So, “This all makes a kind of sense,” we may say in response, “but it seems terribly abstract and difficult to think of as having much of anything to do with reality.” I would argue that even our contemporary idea of reality is one of those paradigms I’m suggesting you may find yourself needing or wanting to question if you are going to develop the culture perspective I keep talking about. One of the obstacles we face in overcoming this way of thinking about the world is that many of us, as participants in European culture, find that the “classical Cartesian-Newtonian mechanistic worldview is so entrenched in our everyday thought” (Shotter, p. 76) that perceiving and thinking from a different paradigm seems at best difficult, if not impossible! The good news, however, is that the use of a paradigm is habitual and like other habits can be overcome, with effort. As we begin to work with this new idea, we begin to realize that one of the things the “scientific method” of observation has been doing for, and to, us is narrowing our focus. This is not altogether bad when what you want to do is to observe some object or phenomena out of its natural context. Many scientific advances have been made through this practice. But because organizations are complex systems, it makes no sense to try to examine a single element separate from others in their system or the processes in which they are engaged together. A process point of view invites us to acknowledge rather than reduce the complexity of the world it rests on a relational ontology, namely the recognition that everything that is has no existence apart from its relation to other things… Focusing on interactions is preferred to analyzing standing actions… Process method metaphysics regards change as endemic, indeed constitutive of the world. Every event reconfigures an already established pattern, thus altering its character. (Langley & Tsoukas, p. 3)

In other words, process metaphysics suggests that meaning and significance are only derived through the relationships that one element or individual has engaged with another through processes. This reminds me of the koan-like riddle the kids I grew up with used to ask each other as a way to demonstrate their intellectual superiority: “If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound if there’s nobody there to hear it?” That is, does the sound have reality if it is not heard by a human being? Another way to ask this question might be “does the sound have meaning or significance if it is not experienced?” This is important because, as we shall



see, a core function of the formation of culture is the meaning we derive from the events of our work lives. Meaning is located in the process itself; it is made in an ongoing present in which past experiences projected upon possible futures. Meaning is thus not received from stable concepts outside the process such as from norms, identity, or values, but rather is made within the process itself. This is what makes sense making central to processes and the making of meaning and ongoing activity central to understanding organization from a process perspective. (Hernes & Maitlis, 2010)

We can extend and clarify this idea through Gergen’s (2010, p. 61) observations that actions are only meaningful in the context of relationships—in the processes that incited them, and their interpretation by another person. In this context, we may need to fine-tune our understandings of the roles of individuals, especially in the context of producing/creating culture. As Robert Chia writes, Individuals themselves must likewise be understood as historical effects of social relations and event clustering’s; socio-cultural practices and relationships precede identity and individuality. An individual exists, not in order to experience but because of experience. Experience is trans-individual. The individual is not some prior constituted entity but an emergent property of experience itself thus an individual’s identity and characteristics are the “condensation of histories of growth and maturation within fields of social relations. (Ingold, 2000:3).” (Chia, 2010)

To be clear, Chia is suggesting that our experience of individuals— and especially individuals in organizations—is of their participation in the processes that have provoked the emergence of what we tend to refer to as an organization. Put another way, and put more firmly into the context of process, individuals beget action, and action begets individuals. If you get out of the habit of thinking in terms of entities, then everything is constituted by something else (often in a reciprocal way), though not necessarily in a physical way. What is a person without patterns of thought and personality? You should be considering this because every action does not have an equal and opposite reaction but multiple and multidimensional reactions (Chia, 2010).


Gergen offers further clarification of this idea and demonstrates how the meaning of individuals and their actions are produced because we don’t exist in vacuums. Instead we exist in social relationships where we coordinate our actions to give them meaning. I have found it first useful to focus on actions that are typically attributed to individual actors. We say, for example, that John is aggressive, Shirley is kind, Harold his deceitful, and so on. We have, then, what would appear to be meaningful units. However, let us ask whether one’s behavior is aggressive if others find it playful, or whether one is kind if others find one’s actions self-serving. Can the individual in himself possesses attributes; can a meaningful agent exist in a social vacuum? It seems far more adequate to locate the attribute in the relationships between actor and other. And if this is so than the identity of the unit — or the unitization — is a byproduct of ongoing relational processes. An individual’s actions begin to acquire attributes when another (or others) coordinate themselves to the action, that is, when they had some form of supplementary action (whether linguistic or otherwise). We may say that one’s identification as an independent actor depends on coordinated action. (Gergen, 2010)

So, if I am sitting in my office behind a closed door, muttering to myself so that no one can hear me, and I’m not writing anything down or otherwise recording what I say, muttering to myself has no meaning or impact on the organization. I am the tree falling in the forest. However, if Linda comes in and discovers me muttering about her, we are now engaged in a process together. If my muttering has something to do with her—say that it’s something I’m angry about, she might respond with her own angry remarks. This means that she has just coordinated her action to mine and very likely created with me an aspect of my identity as a nasty person. In addition, we probably instituted a process of argument, which unless one of us decides to embark on action that can be coordinated with the other to produce a different meaning for the two of us (or whoever else walks into the room in response to the noise). This process is likely to be seen as having some lasting impact in the organization. Most people will tend to look at these events and simply report, “Linda and I had an argument and she is really mad at me.” If I do this, I am reporting on the event rather than the process. When I do this, I lose much of the detail and the insight I or we might have gained if we had worked with what was going on as we went through the process



of co-creating a new version of ourselves that was about being in conflict. (W. Barnett Pearce, in his remarkable book, “Making Social Worlds: A Communication Perspective” (Pearce, 2007) very effectively demonstrates how these processes are working in our personal, professional, and public lives and offers a number of approaches for unpacking and intervening in those processes and the manifestations of those processes.) Chia likens process thinking to that which underlies the creation of certain forms of Asian art, particularly, Chinese calligraphy and its techniques. This continual contrast and tension between opposing tendencies “enables each successive stroke to attract in its wake the next line” so that “the dashes, the oblique strokes, the curves in the verticals, in all the twists and arabesques, are always determined by the propensity of the impulse of energy” (Julien, 1995:135). (Chia, 2010)

What is important here is the idea that the impulse to create the line, its manifestation on the paper, and its relationship to the next figure exists in such a way that one leads to, indeed creates, the next line. Similarly, if you’re working within the realm of process metaphysics with an organization, there are no separate events (calligraphic lines)—only the seamless flow of one process into another. We cannot conveniently bracket periods of time to include beginnings, middles, and ends. Processes are interconnected and tend to create each other in all directions. Many of us are trained as consultants to work in the scientific method largely based on Lewin’s techniques of action research (Lewin, 1947) or various methods of survey methodology to get a sense of what is going on with the client. The problem with this way of thinking is that such positivist approaches tend to distance the consultant from the client system. When we subscribe to this approach, we are encouraged implicitly or explicitly to stand outside the process with the accompanying narrowing of focus and loss of detail mentioned earlier (I will have more to say about this issue in Chapter 10). On the other hand, applying a process thinking mentality to our cultural perspective allows us to join the organization’s process and to experience it in a way that reminds me of having binocular vision. That is, the data that we are gathering does not fundamentally change. However, using a process approach, our experience and understanding of that data may be significantly enriched.


I recently injured my right eye and for a short period of time lost my ability to perceive depth. I immediately noticed that I was having trouble doing things like navigating stairs because the location of the edge of the stair and the distance from the top of one stair to the top of the next one was not clear to me. I generally felt less sure of my position in space. (This is a very common experience for people who are only able to see out of one eye.) But when my eye healed and I could once again see with both eyes, I had the experience of full binocular vision. It was a kind of revelation. I cannot say that I felt like I was taking in more visual data—seeing more actual detail—but I realized that the dimensionality of those details that I had been taking for granted most of my life was stunning. Edges appeared sharper, surfaces more textured; the arcs of curved objects appeared more distinctly round. My emotional experience of the phenomena was similar to the way I feel as I continue to practice looking at things from a process point of view: the experiences seem to me to be richer, fuller, and more nuanced. I was experiencing things in much greater dimensionality than I have before because I was observing and understanding it with both eyes and could act accordingly. There is no one picture of the whole that either succeeds or fails to represents the totality of the whole (as if there ever was a static pool standing still long enough to be pictured; rather the part of the whole exemplifies or instantiates it through its own process (by “the convergence of their action”.… Because the whole itself is not static either: is a process that can be instantiated in many kinds of examples, or better through the movement within and between many examples. (Mullarkey, 2010)

This is particularly true of organizational culture. It is, as Weick described above, as “airy nothing” that becomes named, and located in time, and is eventually reified—the sense of process being lost. Addressing process metaphysics is essentially an exercise in trying to figure out, “what is time?” in relation to organizations, people, and events—reconfiguring our ideas about how we recognize and apply the construct of time in our own thinking. In some ways, time is or can be whatever we want it to be to suit our purposes in a given process of understanding (Mullarkey, 2010). One of the principal difficulties we face in learning to apply process metaphysics in organizations and organizational cultures is that few of us



seem to have adequate forms of language to express or describe processes to one another. My own recent and very experimental solution in working with client groups to do this is to encourage the use of what I am calling “the language of becoming.” In this practice, I asked group members in workshops during their group debriefs to describe an interaction but to do it in the present tense. To help facilitate this, I asked them to use gerunds instead of the more typical past tense forms of verbs with which they are both more familiar and more comfortable. Usually, a group member might say something to the effect of, “I walked into the room and saw Roseann by the desk.” Instead, and usually with some initial coaching until they get the knack of it, they described the scene more in the following manner: “I’m pushing open the door open and stepping in. I am seeing Roseann standing on the right side of the desk. She is leaning on it with one hand and smiling. This is making me wonder, ‘Why is she smiling?.’” As you can see, this technique is slowing down the individual’s process of recalling the event. This in turn encourages them to pay more attention to the details of a given process than they might have otherwise. As we will discuss later, this becomes a great help in adding strength and depth to the sensemaking activity and thus to the construction of cultures. (We will discuss in detail the nature and processes of sensemaking in Chapter 7.) While the technique seems initially awkward and artificial (and it certainly can be when you first begin to practice), many groups report that they find it exciting to be more in touch with their experiences. Furthermore, they report that they are more able to stay in the process rather than standing apart and only observing it. Certainly, this has been increasingly true for me as I practice this technique with my clients. So, what does (or would) process organizational thinking look like? How do (or would) we recognize it? The quick answer to that question is first this: we must stop trying to recognize such thinking as if we actually knew what thinking itself is. Practice ignorance, or unknowing. But this is not to say that one should not apply philosophy at all to organizations, or even that one should be against every illustrative use of philosophy per se. It is rather to say that one should not allow any one philosophy to centralize what organizations are (that is, to want to ontologize them.). We need to converge all theories and avoid the essentialism offered by anyone — apply, or use, as many philosophies as possible. (Mullarkey, 2010, p. 49)


This takes us back to the beginning of this chapter and the reasons for reviewing the multiple ontologies that support the theory of a process system model (Chapter 3) in the development of a culture perspective. I hope you are doing better than I was when I first began reading about process metaphysics. Finding it difficult in its seeming complexity and the abstractions of its concepts and language, my head began to hurt as I confused the map with the territory. It is essential to recognize that abstractions are never present in the final state, but rather are perpetually in the process of becoming. Nothing can ever be as we perceive it nor can it become as we want it to be. Everything is in the process of becoming, perpetually. (Hernes, 2010)

References Chia, R. (2010). Rediscovering becoming: Insights from an oriental perspective on process organization studies. In T. Hernes (Ed.), Process, sensemaking, and organizing. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Gergen, K. J. (2010). Co-constitution, causality, and confluence: Organizing in a world without entities. In Process, sensemaking and organization. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Hernes, T. (2010). Actor-network theory, Callon’s Scallops and process-based organization studies. In Process, sensemaking and organizing (pp. 161–184). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Hernes, T., & Maitlis, S. (2010). Process, sensemaking, and organizing. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (2003). Metaphors we live by. Chicago, IL.: University of Chicago Press. Langley, A., & Tsoukas, H. (2010). Introducing “perspectives on process organization studies”. Process, sensemaking, and organizing, 1(9), 1–27. Lewin, K. (1947). Frontiers in group dynamics: Concept, method and reality in social science; social equilibria and social change. Human Relations, 1(1), 5–41. Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary. (2008) (Electronic Edition, Version: 4.7 ed.). Merriam-Webster, Fogware Publishing, Art Software Inc., Data Storage Research. Mullarkey, J. (2010). Stop making (philosophical) sense: Notes towards a process organizational-thinking beyond ‘Philosophy’. In Process, sensemaking, and organizing. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Pearce, W. B. (2007). Making social worlds: A communication perspective. Malden, MA and Oxford: Blackwell.



Schein, E. H. (2016). Organizational culture and leadership (5th ed.). Hoboken: Wiley. Smircich, L. (1985). Is the concept of culture a paradigm for understanding organizations and ourselves. In P. J. Frost, L. F. Moore, M. R. Louis, C. C. Lundberg, & J. Martin (Eds.), Organizational culture (pp. 55–72). Beverly Hills: Sage. Snowden, D. J. (2005). Multi-ontology sense making: A new simplicity in decision making. Journal of Innovation in Health Informatics, 13(1), 45–53. Weick, K. (2010). The poetics of process: Theorizing the ineffable in organization studies. In Process, sensemaking, and organizing (pp. 102–111). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Weick, K. E. (1995). Sensemaking in organizations (Vol. 3). Thousand Oaks: Sage. Weick, K. E., Sutcliffe, K. M., & Obstfeld, D. (2005). Organizing and the process of sensemaking. Organization Science, 16(4), 409–421. (2019). Ontology. Retrieved from


Culture and Organizational Change

Earlier in the book, I claimed that most organizational change fails because of a conflict between the proposed change and the existing culture. In addition, many change efforts do not achieve their objectives because of the tendency on the part of many managers and consultants to ignore cultural issues in the context of John Kotter’s Leading Change (1996), one of the most popular and enduring books in the field of change management. Before doing so, however, I want to be very clear. I don’t think Kotter’s ideas about changing an organization are in any way wrong. In fact, I think most of his overall strategy is spot on. It is only in his reluctance to address organizational culture as an integral part of the process and the organization that constitutes any kind of oversight at all. Kotter’s is a kind of cookbook approach to doing organizational change. In his book, he presents an eight-step model. The implications of this approach are, if you follow it carefully, it will make your efforts to change your organization much more successful than those who don’t follow it. Kotter’s model has been enormously popular probably because of this step-by-step approach. Still, it is not without its critics. The most difficult of these criticisms is that it is often lacking in the specifics of technique and approach (Appelbaum, Habashy, Malo, & Shafiq, 2012). This is particularly true when it comes to advice he provides on issues related to an organization’s culture. I am going to review each of the eight steps. In doing so, I will be looking at how bringing the culture perspective to each step enlarges one’s understanding of the overall © The Author(s) 2020 J. MacQueen, The Flow of Organizational Culture,



impact of each of them. I don’t want to claim that this assessment actually makes any improvement on Kotter. I simply want to point out that there are issues that pertain specifically to an organization’s culture that Kotter does not seem to be interested in demonstrating to his audience. The eight steps of Kotter’s model of change are: 1. Establishing a sense of urgency 2. Creating the guiding coalition 3. Developing a vision and strategy 4. Communicating the change vision 5. Empowering employees for broad-based action 6. Generating short-term wins 7. Consolidating gains and producing more change 8. Anchoring new approaches in the culture.

We begin with step one, “Establishing a Sense of Urgency” (Kotter, pp. 35–51). Kotter’s premise is that many organizations are complacent about the need for change. Certainly, that’s true more often than not. Otherwise, any organization in need of change would undoubtedly be addressing that need proactively. However, complacency is a cultural characteristic, an artifact, common to many organizations. I would suggest applying the principles of cultural diagnosis to this artifact by looking to understand the organization’s narratives regarding being complacent and asking, “How?” and “why?” Working to change a pervasive sense of complacency is an intervention in the culture. It should be addressed with an awareness of the fact that is what you are doing. My experience is that when the people in an organization tend toward complacency, the organization is one in which people feel or have been told they’ve been doing things right for a long time. Alternatively, they haven’t received feedback that they haven’t been doing things properly, and dissension from that view is discouraged within the organization. Burnes and Jackson (2011) state that this is one of several culture types that they have identified. Each one is defined by a differing set of values that will tend to shift as the demands of their environment and its impact on the organization shift over time. Of this one they say, “The management style is formal and autocratic and employees are compliant and conformist because they value uniformity and stability, they can also be highly resistant to change”.



In general, I am very cautious of organizational assessments built on any kind of typology. This is because they tend to lead people into believing that the stereotype is what they are dealing with rather than the organic reality of their organization. This can lead to neglect of particular details that are important for understanding and evaluating the organization that is actually in front of them in the moment. In this case, however, I think the general outlines of the type are valuable for recognizing certain kinds of behaviors that often look like complacency. Kotter makes a number of suggestions for tactics that may help to change the sense of complacency (1996, p. 44). Ultimately, he seems to land on the idea of creating a crisis as one of the more valuable tactics in a manager’s arsenal. This may indeed have real benefit because a crisis is by definition, a disruption to the usual flow of work. As Weick points out (Weick, 1995), a disruption creates a situation in which people must make sense of what’s going on, act on it, and make meaning of that action and the results. These are core processes that may create a new element of culture. What becomes important if one decides to take advantage of a manufactured crisis is to facilitate the sensemaking and problem-solving people are doing in response to the crisis. You should then encourage them to make meaning of the actions that they take. In doing this, you will then need to ensure those actions are in line with the culture the client is looking to create and thus become part of the new culture (see Chapter 7). One other note about creating a crisis. This is sometimes referred to as establishing a burning platform, a metaphor I find particular objectionable and one of which few people seem to know the origins. The image is derived from the story of an oil rig in the North Sea that exploded and caught fire in 1988. 163 crew members and rescuers lost their lives. Only 63 survived. Crew members had a choice to stay on the burning platform of the oil rig or jump into the frigid waters of the sea where, if not rescued, they could survive a maximum of about 20 minutes. Convincing people that they are facing a dilemma of organizational life or death unless they take some sort of unpleasant action can often result in cynicism when the targets of this approach learn that the stakes were not as high as initially thought and that they have been manipulated by their leadership. An unfortunate potential cultural artifact. The second step in Kotter’s model is “Creating the Guiding Coalition” (1996, pp. 51–66). Here, too, is a point where your culture perspective


should be especially activated. Any time a new group is being formed or new responsibilities added to what an existing group is doing, a change in the culture is being instigated. This is especially true if the coalition is formed for the purpose of developing and guiding the strategies for change. As we noted at the beginning of Chapter 2, any new group forms culture as part of the process of organizing. Even if this is an established group that is being directed to take on the task of guiding a change effort, their normal processes are being disrupted in a substantial way and, more importantly, their identities are changing because their roles are changing. Identity is an important element of culture. It is determined by an individual’s attachment to an organization and the role that person plays in the organization (Hatch & Schultz, 2002). Thus, the culture of this group is changed when individuals’ roles change. Simply forming the guiding coalition can be a very tricky business because of the implications for culture, in and of themselves. The qualities Kotter suggests for this team include: positional power, expertise, credibility, and leadership. In my experience, bringing these qualities together in any organization, especially in a relatively small group of people, can be a difficult task. This becomes even more difficult if you’re going to insist that these people be able to function as a team. Kotter’s basic recommendation is to employ teambuilding. Remember that there are particular cultures that produce and foster performing as a team better than others. For many people, teamwork does not come naturally—for any number of reasons. Teams get built through the experience of consistently performing successfully as a team and not through externally imposed exercises. The development of teamwork is supported by an existing or evolving culture in that group that supports collaborative action. The team we are talking about (the guiding coalition) may need your guidance for a time as they learn what it means to work together. From a culture perspective, I recommend helping them to create assumptions about what they are to accomplish and how they will go about it (mission and goals). You might employ some techniques that encourage pragmatic prospection (see this chapter) so that they are actually doing neuro-simulations of what they think might be some of their activities. (Neuro-simulation is a brain process in which the receptors for certain physical responses are stimulated. During neuro-simulation an individual may often have the sense of actually experiencing what is being simulated.) This also gets referred to as developing a vision but what I am suggesting is a vision that is much more personal and highly detailed than the usual organizational vision.



I once worked with a medium-sized organization in which most of the senior and mid-level managers (who were the obvious choices for membership in a change coalition) were all inappropriate for this task. All of these managers had been with the organization a very long time. During that time, they were working for different leadership and they had received very little feedback on their performance. One of the results was that they had generally come to the conclusion that what they had been doing was the “right way to do things.” At the same time, most of them had been promoted into their current positions with little or no training in how to be a manager. (This is unfortunately a very common practice in organizations where you are promoted because of your technical expertise, not necessarily because of your leadership or management skills.) In addition, the different units each of them led were highly siloed from the others. Allon Shevat, an Israeli OD consultant, has pointed out, “Siloism is the maximization of one set of goals to the detriment of a wider common good” (Shevat, 2016). One result of this was that, while these managers were all perfectly friendly and congenial, when it came to matters of consequence relative to the whole organization, they did not trust each other. I noticed that when they were in meetings together they often repeated themselves, had conversations that were circular in nature, and often asked for clarifications on topics that their leader thought had been thoroughly discussed previously. What I took away from this was, not only evidence that they didn’t trust each other at some very deep level, but that they believed when they were in meetings they were not being heard. All of this indicated that these managers had developed a culture among themselves, a subculture if you will, that made them very ill-suited to being the guiding coalition for a major change effort. The guiding coalition needs to be a collection of role models for the rest of the staff during transition. They are highly visible and are the embodiment of the values that are, or should be, at the core of the vision for change. The entire organization will be looking at them closely to see how their behavior represents the changes they are promoting. If the members of the coalition are not doing this, neither will the rank and file. Encouraging and modeling behaviors that would be critical to the success of the overall change was not going to be feasible for this group without substantial work on changing attitudes and beliefs. While there were good candidates from other places in the organization that could be brought onto this team, they lacked positional authority and leadership credibility with much of the rest of the organization.


This meant they simply would not be good candidates for taking on the hero type work that is usually associated with people in this kind of role (Deal & Kennedy, 1982/2000). This meant that achieving the second step of Kotter’s model took much more time than anybody had anticipated in order to achieve the stated criteria for assembling a guiding coalition. It also required substantially more coaching, facilitation, and training activities than had been anticipated. These activities produced a sense of substantial delay while the corrections were being pursued and the coalition made several false starts. Ultimately the impact of the delay was generated by a failure to pay attention to one important aspect of the culture in the organization: the assumptions about what constituted effective leadership. Kotter’s third step is Developing a Vision and Strategy (Kotter, pp. 67–83). Vision and strategy are very important (vision without a plan of action is hardly useful) but in terms of developing your own culture perspective, it truly is at the core of paying attention to what’s going on in the culture. Vision refers to a picture of the future with some implicit or explicit commentary on why people should strive to create that future… By clarifying the general direction for change, by saying the corporate equivalent of “we need to be south of here in a few years instead of where we are today,” it simplifies hundreds or thousands of more detailed decisions.… It motivates people to take action in the right direction even if the initial steps are personally painful, and it helps coordinate the actions of different people even thousands and thousands of individuals in a remarkably fast and efficient way. (Kotter, p. 68)

What Kotter is saying is that vision creates a context, a container which, when coupled with strategy, allows people to take action with a certain amount of confidence that they are on the right track together. They do not have to be constantly checking in with each other especially on larger decisions. Take for example, Dr. Martin Luther King’s great, “I have a dream” speech. In it, he makes an outline with a few very telling details and metaphors that creates a desirable picture of the future for his audience. A good vision is aspirational. It is a set of ideas that suggests a future state in which everybody can see themselves and see themselves as doing better. Often, the is stated in metaphorical terms. This is what is usually



termed a generative metaphor (Bushe & Marshak, 2008; Schön, 1993). The role of metaphor is to help us understand and experience often very complex and abstract ideas in terms of something more concrete (Lakoff & Johnson, 2003). A generative metaphor is one that excites new ideas and leaves room for their further development either in concrete ways or using additional metaphors (Barrett & Cooperrider, 1990; Bushe & Marshak, 2008). From a cultural point of view, a good vision can begin to alter fundamental, taken for granted ideas about what the organization is and how we behave in that organization. Because metaphors are embodied, i.e., we experience them physically through neuro-simulation (Bergen, 2012; Lakoff & Johnson, 2003). When this is accomplished, our desire to inhabit the organization of the vision becomes enhanced. We become more willing to question and shift those cultural assumptions that are keeping the organization in place, that is, those underlying ideas that are the source for our organization’s complacency. As Kotter says, people need to be motivated to take action “even if the initial steps are personally painful” (1996, p. 69). Step 4 in Kotter’s model is “Communicating the Change Vision” (1996, pp. 85–101). Whether you are reading Kotter in parallel with this chapter or following along through memory, I want you to see this section as having substantial implications for culture. In doing the actual work, it presents a real opportunity to make a shift in the culture of an organization. Based on the problem statement regarding the alignment of change and culture, our goal is to help align the culture and the proposed change. Communicating the change vision is a critical element for achieving that particular goal. Recall too, that organizational culture is generated socially. It is an emergent product of the organizational system. That emergence happens when the elements of the system are communicating with each other on a regular basis (Olson & Eoyang, 2001). What the vision is and how it is communicated are critical. Kotter talks in some depth about why communicating the vision for change is so difficult and why it so often fails. He mostly chalks this up to lack of preparation on the part of the guiding coalition, underestimating the task, some lack of skill, and simple arrogance. So why do smart people behave this way? Partly the culprit is old-fashioned condescension. “I’m management. You’re labor. I don’t expect you to understand anyway.” But more important we don’t

72  J. MACQUEEN communicate because we can’t figure out a practical alternative: Put all 10,000 employees through the same exercise as the guiding coalition? Not likely. (Kotter, p. 88)

What needs to be done with communicating the vision for the change is to begin to shift the “fundamental, taken for granted, ideas about what the organization is and how we behave in that organization” (Schein, 1985). The guiding coalition did this for themselves probably over the course of weeks or months. While I do not believe asking the general population to go through the same process is necessary, applying some of the basic processes of constructing culture will be helpful to accomplish the desired cultural shift. This requires a fundamental shift in how we are thinking about communicating vision. Communicating something as intellectually and psychologically complex and impactful as a vision for change means that we need to pay attention to both what is being communicated and what the audience does with the information they are supposed to be receiving. They need to be given time, opportunity, and support for making sense of the information they have heard and begin to make meaning of its potential impacts on their work lives. Failing to do this means that the audience is often just getting the information about the change without allowing for people to experience or express their feelings about how their lives may be changing (see Chapters 3 and 7). The feelings are an important part of their understanding and need to be brought into the conversation to help ensure acceptance of the vision. I suggest inviting people to participate in groups small enough for individuals to communicate directly with each other. These meetings should be conducted with the support of a facilitator trained to handle these processes. When they have had some initial opportunity to do this, it can be helpful to ask people what they will personally take responsibility for doing to make the vision a reality. If the change will require acquisition of new skills, it can be very helpful to introduce some experiential training of those skills so that people can have some embodied understanding of what’s going to be required of them. These new ways of working might have to do with new processes, procedures or operating different equipment that will change the way they work together. You may not be able to do in-depth training on any of these. This may not be practical at this stage. However, the employees will need to have some idea of what they’ll be asked to commit to. They will need to



begin to envision what life will be like after the change has taken place. It is difficult to imagine something totally new, so they will need some experience in advance of what things might be like. They will need to have their own individual visions that fit into the larger vision with which they have been presented (I have found some of the process and techniques of appreciative inquiry, especially those outlined in “The Dream Phase” to be helpful with these processes.) (Cooperrider, Whitney, & Stavros, 2008). You and the leadership should prepare for instituting a program of coaching to be implemented by supervisors for those they supervise. They will need to begin reinforcing the commitments people made to make the vision a success. The structure for this activity needs to be built throughout the organization so middle managers coach supervisors and more senior managers coach the middle managers, etc. This coaching should happen at least every four to six weeks (as opposed to the annual review type of coaching which is seldom done soon enough or with enough regularity to be valuable to the organization.) I also suggest using the “Triple Impact Model” (Patwell & Seashore, 2006) as a basis for training those who will be coaches because it will help to emphasize people employing their own agency for initiating action and taking responsibility for that action. Two more truly important ideas about communicating and teaching that Kotter proposes in this section are, “Walk the talk, and lead by example” (Kotter, pp. 95–97), and “Listen and be listened to” (1996, pp. 99–100). It seems that, at this point, the first suggestion could almost go without saying. But as Deal and Kennedy point out, the effect of the leaders’ behavior on a culture cannot be underestimated (Deal & Kennedy, 1982/2000). Think of leaders walking the talk about change as a kind of disruption (see Chapter 7). When people observe this behavior in their leaders they will make meaning of what they observed and begin the process of incorporating that meaning into the culture by having conversations about what they have seen and eventually teaching it to others. Encouraging this behavior is not an easy task. It often involves making substantial inner changes around identity in terms of their roles and a willingness to engage in coaching as mentioned above. It will be important that you contract with leaders in the organization to do this, emphasizing the importance of how their individual modeling of appropriate behaviors plays into the success of the effort.


In like fashion, creating a practice of listening to others (what Schein talks about as “Humble Inquiry”) (Schein, 2013) sets up a pattern of walking the talk if the behaviors are properly supported with training and coaching. This has the potential for substantively altering the assumptions about good communication in your organization. If this is done during the change process, the activities will enhance the change process and might otherwise constitute a lost opportunity. The potential for seeing and using the culture perspective becomes especially acute in Step 5, “Empowering Employees for Broad-based Action” (pp. 101–115). We will begin this discussion where Kotter begins his discussion, that is, what is empowerment? If I hear the word empowerment one more time, “someone recently told me, “I think I’ll gag.… It’s become a politically correct mantra,” he said. “Empower, empower, empower. I ask people what they mean by that and they either become inarticulate or they look at me like I’m an idiot.” (1996, p. 101)

Kotter never provides us with a definition. However, one that I particularly like comes from the field of community psychology, “Empowerment is viewed as a process: the mechanism by which people, organizations, and communities gain mastery over their lives” (Block, 2009; Christens, 2012). My own definition is, “The ability to exercise one’s own agency,” personal agency being the mechanism of empowerment. I believe that we can never empower anyone else. They can only empower themselves. Unfortunately, we have numerous opportunities, and tend to be pretty good at, disempowering people by not encouraging or insisting that they exercise their own agency or removing the opportunities for choice about that exercise. Kotter delineates multiple ways in which we can effectively empower people. Major transformation rarely happens unless many people assist. Yet employees generally won’t help or can’t help if they feel relatively powerless hence the relevance of empowerment.… The purpose of stage 5 is to empower a broad base of people to take action by removing as many barriers to the implementation of the change vision as possible at this point in the process. (Kotter, 1996, p. 102)

Kotter’s list of potential solutions for empowering “a broad base of people” includes the following: removing structural barriers, providing



needed training, aligning systems to the vision (by which he means primarily HR systems), and dealing with troublesome supervisors. All of which can have substantial cultural implications, especially the last one. But Kotter has missed the most important of these barriers: lack of trust. Unless managers and supervisors believe they can and will trust employees to take appropriate action in implementing the change vision, they will not “empower,” encourage, or sometimes even allow employees to take the initiative to do so. This concept of empowerment is all about taking initiative and accepting responsibility for the actions that an individual takes out of their sense of agency and their desire to “gain mastery over their lives”. Likewise, if an employee does not trust that they can take initiative and act on it without support, censure, or punishment from their supervisor or manager when they stumble or fail, they simply won’t do it. When employees do not believe they can empower themselves, the tasks involved in creating and implementing organizational change fall to a select few. This, of course, undermines the purpose of this stage of Kotter’s model. Trust or lack of trust in an organization is definitely a cultural phenomenon, an artifact. It is something members of the organization learned through solving, or attempting to solve their problems of adaptation and integration. You’ve probably been in organizations where, while people did not seem to be overtly fearful of their bosses or colleagues, the conversations and discussions never seem to rise to the level of robust. Perhaps it was an organization in which deference to the hierarchy struck you as a little extreme, or certain topics simply were never discussed. You may have noticed there were common complaints about what amounts to micromanagement or lack of innovation and creativity. All of these are suggestions that taking risks is not a part of “the way we do things around here” simply because it does not feel safe to do so. This becomes further complicated because organizational change, especially structural change, tends to be corrosive of employees’ trust in managers. In reviewing the literature on trust, Morgan and Zeffane note, “empowerment is an ongoing interpersonal relationship that fosters mutual trust between employers and employees” (Morgan & Zeffane, 2003). Pay attention to the use of the idea of mutuality. In other words, if I realize at some level, that you don’t trust me, I probably won’t trust you. They state that there are five components of trust: integrity, competence, consistency/fairness, and openness. They also state, “trust


begins where prediction ends. …a trust focus is a key to change mastery” (Morgan & Zeffane, 2003). If you are like me, you might begin to feel a bit overwhelmed by the cultural tasks associated with major change. However, you should take heart in realizing that many of those tasks will have been undertaken if you have been applying a culture perspective while following Kotter’s process. Doing so, will have you already working on various cultural issues to help effectively prepare the organization for the change. Because cultures are complex adaptive systems, a little push that you give a culture in one area results in changes in another, often in ways that seem unrelated even though they may end up producing similar emergent (though sometimes unexpected) results as in the Butterfly Effect (Varvoglis, 2014). How do we apply the culture perspective to Step 6, Generating ShortTerm Wins? (pp. 117–130). The answer is in the coaching suggestion Kotter makes on page 127. This is what we are trying to do and this is why it is important. Without these short-term wins, we could lose everything. All that we want to do for our customers, shareholders, employees, and communities becomes problematic. So, we have got to produce these results.

This is a strong values statement. Statements about values are always connected to the culture. If the employees are genuinely connected to these values, how to honor and fulfill them are powerful motivators as tools for coaching. By now, you’re probably putting together ideas about how culture is constructed and maintained in the narratives we tell each other and ourselves about “how we do things around here”. The narratives that most likely support the efforts to ensure short-term wins derive from the work that was done to overcome whatever it was in the culture that was driving and perpetuating the sense of complacency. It also, and perhaps more importantly, might have been done as a part of what became the vision. The vision of the change is inherently narrative. In the best of all possible worlds, it tells the story of why this change is necessary and how it’s going to happen. For that vision to become part of the culture of the guiding coalition and, hopefully, the larger organization, it needs to be repeated and continues to be repeated as the process goes forward. At the point when you are looking to establish those short-term wins, the



ideas in the vision may have become assumed: they are like wallpaper. They become part of the scenery and go unnoticed. An idea like, “Of course, we’re going to work extra hard to achieve those short-term wins. We’ve always said that we were going to do that. We’ve always known that it was important,” may need to be brought back to people’s attention. Assuming you were successful in making the vision part of the culture to begin with, this should not be difficult. It will be a case of helping people to remember more of the details of the vision and working with them to fine tune it. If the resistance to the effort is short-term, and based in fatigue, it is more easily overcome if the idea of short-term wins has been adopted in the vision. It may, however, be more closely tied to the idea that the change council, managers, and employees simply believe the organization cannot produce major change and achieve excellent short-term results. If that is the case, then your task at this stage is likely to be considerably more difficult. It will likely involve going back to steps five and six and taking corrective measures that involve revising the change vision and doing additional communication activities. This points out one of the important ideas about vision that Kotter made earlier in this chapter. [Vision] simplifies hundreds or thousands of more detailed decisions.… It motivates people to take action in the right direction even if the initial steps are personally painful. (Kotter, 1996, p. 168)

My addition to that is, vision creates a context which, when coupled with strategy, allows people to take action with a certain amount of confidence that they are on the right track. In this case, I want to reinforce the old admonition to “begin with the end in mind” (Covey, 2013). If the change vision has indeed been given the care and attention needed to make it part of the culture, everyone will keep it in mind for the duration of the project. In many ways, Step 7 “Consolidating Gains and Producing More Change” is the most culturally insightful section of the book. I say this because this section is all about interdependencies. Complex adaptive systems, a primary characteristic of organizational culture, are defined by the fact that the elements of a culture are interactive and interdependent. This might be a good time to remind you of one of my basic premises illustrated at the very beginning of Chapter 2: the processes of building


culture and building organization are inseparable. As I’m certain you are realizing, change and growth in organizations are dependent on change and growth in their cultures. The processes of cultural change interact continually with those of organizational change. The results of both processes often are mirror images of each other. Kotter’s description of interdependencies in the tangible world of a corporation reflects many, if not most, of the interdependencies in the cultures of the organizations: “What happens in the sales department has some effect on the manufacturing group. R&D’s work influences product development. Engineering specifications affect manufacturing” (Kotter, p. 134). Each one of these areas undoubtedly has its own subculture by virtue of the fact that each one of them deals with a different kind of task, probably different kinds of equipment, or at the least different kinds of software, different populations with different outlooks and different assumptions about, “how we do things around here”. Viewed from this perspective, transformational change can indeed seem overwhelming, especially because one implication of interdependence is that a change in one often triggers changes in others. Culturally, all will need some attention. For us, there are ways of addressing the cultural aspects of a change that cannot be accomplished in the same way you might address the more mechanical parts of an organizational change project, though both need to be addressed. For instance, you might be looking at the use of new equipment with the implementation of new procedures where following those procedures with some exactitude is important. These often may be addressed by training, though you will want to try to determine which aspects of the training people receive will need to touch on people’s behavior and beliefs. Where the change issues are as much about changed behavior and changed attitudes as they are about the use of new equipment, an understanding of those basic values, beliefs, and behaviors can be applied in different settings. Paying attention to the assumptions embedded in training for the new technology is important. You can help to ensure that those underlying assumptions do not contradict those in the cultures of the groups that will be employing them. Conversely, you should understand how you might help to shift those groups’ values and assumptions to match those required in the training. Technical training is often provided by a manufacturer and applied as one size fits all to the customer. The assumption that this can be done without repercussions may be false.



I once consulted to a manufacturing company that had implemented an Enterprise Reporting System (ERP) in the days when such things were relatively new. The consulting firm that had recommended and installed the new system, set it in motion and, for all intents and purposes, departed, assuming that the training that they had done was complete and robust. Not long afterward, however, senior management realized there were delays somewhere in the system that were resulting in delays in the times customers were receiving products. Tests of the ERP did not reveal any obvious problems so it was determined that the problems must rest with the employees. I was called into help and determined that the problem was to be found in the communication between fulfillment and logistics/shipping. I soon realized that the workers in fulfillment had somehow managed to hold on to their old computers. They were doing their work in the same ways they had always done it because the old way allowed for interactions among them that were precluded by using the new tools. They were then entering the results into the new computers with the ERP installed, thus causing the delay. It turns out that while they had been trained on the use of the new system and the new computers (hence their ability to manually move data from the old computers to the new) no one had ever explained to them why it was important to switch to the new equipment. No amount of “training” was likely to be sufficient to convince them to change the behavior they successfully had been using to do their jobs for years. So, the practice of moving the data manually was viewed by this staff as a success and incorporated into their subculture. This was a company that, to their credit, tried never to coerce their employees to do anything. So, it took the engagement of multiple managers and even the CEO to convince these employees that the new way of doing things was going to be best for the company. The anticipated or the actual implementation of some set of changes will serve as an interruption. One can then assist a group in making meaning of those changes, getting them to imaginatively apply those changes and their meanings to their own particular situations in suggesting that they make commitments to support and implement those changes and what those changes mean to them (see this chapter). The presence of the change or the organizational vision can be a powerful factor in creating behavioral consistency among individuals and groups. In my experience, it also will tend to make acceptance and integration of


new tasks easier. Also, I have found that putting individuals from different departments or divisions together for the assimilation activities can go a long way toward reducing siloism. What I have not addressed here is the question of celebrating successes with which Kotter opens this chapter. While I would agree that the lavish celebrations Kotter describes in the beginning of this section would definitely seem to be overkill for acknowledging “short-term wins,” the need for finding ways to acknowledge success in the passing of a milestone is important. Deal and Kennedy (1982/2000) describe a number of ways in which such practices become ritualized and produce generally positive results in particular cultures. Remembering that culture is constructed based on solving problems and the meaning that people make of that effort suggests the more effective use of this moment in the life cycle of a change is to take the time to do “lessons learned” so that those approaches can be as, Kotter (1996, p. 123) suggests, “driven into the culture”. Throughout this chapter on short-term wins, Kotter makes consistent reference to the importance of leadership’s role of relating tasks in projects to the overall vision. I want to take a moment and reinforce that advice. Not only does it serve the purpose of making everybody’s job a little easier, it also serves to build trust and increase the sense of empowerment in the organization. Finally, it has the potential of building a culture perspective so people will approach behaving in this way mindfully, which ultimately means that the behaviors can be repeated and if they’ve become part of the culture, will be repeated. Kotter’s Step 8 (1996, pp. 131–144) is one of the most culturally perceptive sections in the book. This is because it focuses on interdependence. Organizational culture is a complex adaptive system and is at least partially defined by the interconnection and interactivity of its diverse parts (Olson & Eoyang, 2001). There are two problems Kotter is trying to address in this section: the first is the effect of change practices on culture and the overall progress of the change project. “Until changed practices attain a new equilibrium and have been driven into the culture, they can be very fragile” (Kotter, 1996, p. 133). The second problem is the loss of momentum that organizations often face after initial wins in the first stages of change. Kotter ties problem two to problem one and identifies the increasingly complex, interdependent nature of a changing organization as a root cause of both. He is, of course, correct in this. Because it can be



difficult to identify tasks and procedures that end up being duplicated or made obsolete until later in the process. For example, the need for data or reports transmitted from one department to another may sometimes become obviated because of changes in structure or technology. However, it is not unusual to see the employees who previously put those reports together continuing to do so, and the managers who set up their production schedules based on those reports continuing to believe that the reports are needed. The resulting confusion and busywork can slow down both operations and the progress of implementing changes that were intended to produce greater efficiencies. One of Kotter’s solutions to the overall issue is to get the leaders out of the weeds. In other words, ensure the leaders are paying attention to the larger scope of their responsibilities and the bigger picture of the organization. That means they have to be willing to delegate responsibilities for details and the day-to-day work that represents progress on the change efforts to lower levels of management. There are two cultural issues lurking here. The first has to do with roles and identity. “The way we do things around here” may involve an assumption that senior managers and executives are responsible for and have a finger on everything that happens within their purview. This is a practice commonly known as micromanagement. If this is the case, micromanagement is an assumed way of functioning for managers at whatever level, it may be important to provide support for changing that piece of the culture. Day-to-day work may be restructured to support the new paradigm and managers’ identities may be tied to the idea that they effectively can and should manage at a higher level of detail. That change will initiate sensemaking processes and activities and your role as consultant is to help ensure those processes take place and maximum advantage is gained from the time and the effort expended on sensemaking (see Chapter 7). The second issue may also be trust and empowerment. This is a cultural issue because often lack of trust is not an isolated, individual phenomenon but an organizational one. Unfortunately, trust, or lack thereof, is seldom effectively dealt with in a training session. More often, the individuals on all sides of a trust issue will need help to work together toward a resolution. This is an especially resource-intensive activity and I have occasionally recruited volunteer coaches for this work. These are usually people from the organization who understand the vision and can successfully communicate and reinforce the vision with others.


Kotter’s final recommendation with regard to interdependencies is to eliminate those which are unnecessary. I certainly support this admonition. However, it can be difficult to determine which are unnecessary and which, if any, are beneficial. Obviously, some criteria may be in order. A key problem simply may be identifying what interdependencies, beneficial or not, exist. To this end, I suggest something that probably sounds counterintuitive in the context of Kotter’s thinking and his advice in this section. Because systems thrive and produce greater emergence in the presence of increased communication among the elements of the system, I recommend finding ways to increase contact among people in the changing organization. I suggest doing this by setting up a number of temporary interdepartmental groups and teams whose purpose is to generate increased communication throughout the organization especially with regard to redundant activities. The people on these teams are more likely to discover and report on those outmoded administrative types of interdependencies than higher-level managers. Beyond this, they may hear and tell others about successes in other departments that generally may not get communicated out to the broader organization. During change projects, this can be great for morale boosting. The presence of these teams can be particularly helpful in communicating “the big picture” at various levels and conversations about goals and values can be helpful in breaking down organizational silos. Thus, you and your client may not want to wait until Step 7 to institute these teams but get them going around Step 3. All of this can be helpful in keeping the momentum going in order to consolidate gains and produce more change. The discussion of the final stage of Kotter’s model, Step 8, Anchoring New Approaches in the Culture (1996, pp. 145–158) begins with a confirmation of a part of my thesis for this book. That is, most change fails because of poor alignment between culture and the change effort. When new practices made in a transformation effort are not compatible with the relevant cultures, they will always be subject to regression… Because the new approaches haven’t been anchored firmly in group norms and values. (Kotter, 1996, p. 148)

Why does Kotter leave this to the very end of his program? He observes an interesting dichotomy between the choice to construct new culture or pursue structural transformation. He notes that there are a



number of common ideas that the first step in a major transformation should be to alter the existing culture because the change effort then becomes easier and more likely to succeed. You might draw the conclusion that I subscribe to this theory. To the contrary, I do not and in a minute, I will tell you why. Kotter says, Culture changes only after you have successfully altered people’s actions, after the new behavior produces some group benefit for a period of time, and after people see the connection between the new actions and the performance improvement. Thus, most culture change happens in stage 8, not stage one. (Kotter, 1996 p. 156) (emphasis mine)

This sets up a polarity of ideas about timing that is inherently false. It is not that you do not work to change the culture in stage 1 or in stage 8. I have been suggesting that culture change is happening all the way along. The choice is whether you pay attention to it or not. You can opt to make your choices intentional and ensure you give them shape and direction, or not. There are two reasons for thinking this way. The first is, as a consultant or change agent, anything and everything you do, intentional or not, tends to provoke changes in the culture of an organization. It’s much better to stay aware of this fact and make your interventions consciously, mindfully, and intentionally. It is much better that you not turn around one day and say “Holy cow! What have we done?” when we have produced some unintentional and unexpected result in the culture. (Not that this is totally unavoidable, but you can at least not be taken completely by surprise.) I also agree with Kotter to a limited extent about seeing connections between new actions and performance improvement. Construction of culture is dependent on some disruption in social processes. There is a valid need for people to struggle with problems such as having to deal with new procedures, new structures, new equipment. Resulting changes in the culture are going to occur in real time, not after the fact of implementation when we’ve had time to see and assess results. It is better to take advantage of those disruptions as they occur, to plan for them rather than wait until you’re done introducing them into the organization and then work to reconstruct the cultures that were generated out of those efforts. I am sympathetic, too, because as Kotter observes by tracing the path of an individual through his or her indoctrination into the culture,

84  J. MACQUEEN Culture is powerful for three primary reasons: 1. Because individuals are selected and indoctrinated so well [into an organization]. 2. Because the culture exerts itself through the action of hundreds or thousands of people. 3. Because all of this happens without much conscious intent and thus is difficult to challenge or even discuss. (Kotter, 1996, pp. 150–151)

All of this relates back to “solving problems of inclusion and integration” (Schein, 1985) in ways that are largely outside of conscious perception. The lack of discussion around hiring and employee indoctrination to which Kotter refers by way of example makes it even more difficult to construct new culture mindfully, which happens through conversation and discussion. In my experience, these actions truly benefit from as much social and conscious consideration as possible when they are initially undertaken. When shared values are supported by the hiring of similar personalities into an organization, changing the culture may require changing people. Even when there is no personality incompatibility with a new vision, if shared values are the product of many of years of experience in a firm, years of a different kind of experience are often needed to create any change. And that is why cultural change comes at the end of the transformation not at the beginning. (Kotter, 1996, p. 155)

Many of us or perhaps even most of us have firsthand experience of people who have been with an organization so long and are so entrenched in the existing culture, that they seem to fight tooth and nail against anything that may be different from the way they have always done things. This is because what is new is probably in conflict with everything they have learned during all the time they’ve spent in the organization. I have worked with people whose so-called resistance was so entrenched that my own visceral response was, “Can’t we just get rid of them?”. For many organizations, this is not an option. Smaller organizations simply can’t afford that kind of action. Even when buyouts or early retirement packages are lucrative and generous, trying to alter culture by eliminating those who are carriers of the old culture is problematic. You may be able to shift the existing culture by getting rid of the more adamant supporters of that culture, but it probably will not be in the



way you may have imagined. Getting rid of people, even in the most humane way, tends to leave the rest of the population with a bad taste in their mouths. Based on my observations, the so-called survivors will tend to see these actions as being somehow retributive. Thoughts like, “the package was pretty good this time but what about next?” tend to be part of the conversation, the narrative that is building in the organization. The work that you put into building trust will rapidly be corroded and will become the new culture. The wonderful thing about constructing new cultures is that if you take pains to ensure that the process is not coercive in any way, there will be many people who are advocates of new ways of thinking and will in subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle ways, seek to bring in the people who otherwise are outliers. Trust the process. I can’t help but wonder if the language that Kotter has adopted when speaking of culture in this section has not gotten in his way. I want to make very sure it doesn’t get in ours. For example: The challenge is to graft the new practices onto the old roots while killing off the inconsistent pieces. (Kotter, 1996, p. 151) (emphasis mine) Even with all these efforts killing off the old culture and creating the new one was difficult to accomplish. (Kotter, 1996, p. 155) (emphasis mine) Culture is not something that you manipulate easily. Attempts to grab it and twist it into a new shape never work because you can’t grab it. (Kotter, 1996, p. 156) (emphasis mine)

All three of these statements make use of some very powerful metaphors. This is important because not only do we use metaphors to understand often very abstract concepts, we use them constantly to clarify meaning, so they often influence our thinking in subtle and yet profound ways (Lakoff & Johnson, 2003). In addition, recent neuroresearch has demonstrated that metaphors are often embodied (Bergen, 2012) which means that our brains simulate the physical experiences suggested by the metaphor in ways that feel very real. “Graft” suggests cutting one thing and inserting another into the cut—something rather surgical in nature. “Killing off” speaks for itself in terms of violence. “Grab and twist” suggests equally violent actions. “Manipulate” suggests a certain level of psychological violence as in


the following dictionary definition: “to control something or someone to your advantage, often unfairly or dishonestly, to change by artful or unfair means so as to serve one’s purpose” (“Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary,” 2008). These metaphors are antithetical to much of what I know about the life cycle of developing healthy cultures and the consultant’s role in supporting that life cycle. Let’s begin with the issue of manipulation. Much of what I practice and advocate for in developing new culture is based both in my experience and my study of Dialogic OD (Bushe, 2013). I know that it is common practice for many consultants working with the best of intentions to manipulate the groups they work with to come up with the results that are desired by the client. Often this is very difficult for the consultant not to do and often can happen unconsciously, especially when it comes to facilitating culture construction. Sometimes avoiding manipulation simply is finding and asking the questions that the group needs to work on. Many times, groups don’t easily come up with questions about their experiences let alone the meaning of those experiences on their own. However, with a great deal of thought and a little practice, consultants can find their way to asking questions that will help a group respond to disruption in their organization and will help them make sense and meaning of their experience. Consultants may also be helpful selecting and defining the metaphors that broaden those meanings without being manipulative or coercive. For now, I encourage you to think about Kotter’s use of the word manipulation in reference to culture with a certain amount of circumspection (“Culture is not something that you manipulate easily.”) (Kotter, 1996, p. 156). Likewise, the words “grab and twist” as ways of thinking about how you will deal with cultures in the future are difficult. While Kotter is quite right in saying you can’t grab culture (it has no substance) I know from my own experience and from talking extensively with other consultants, that it is easy to find oneself desiring to be able to grab and twist a culture into a particular shape. While you cannot literally twist a culture, the metaphor you use for how you address dealing with a culture you’d like to change is important. What and how we think about things has an unfortunate way of becoming a reality that we wouldn’t otherwise choose. This brings me to the metaphors “graft” and “kill off” as applied to organizational culture. As we’ve already discussed, culture exists as a



system (another metaphor) which suggests that at its essence it exists as processes and can only be experienced as flow. This in turn suggests that culture doesn’t change as much as it can be augmented through processes of emergence, accrual, and confluence. It is a bit like “trying to change the path of a flowing river or creek. It is done gradually and with the knowledge that processes must continue flowing on while the changes are being implemented” (Moore, 2018). So, while a group may be able to construct elements that add to a culture those elements come together with existing elements of a culture much in the same way that two rivers may come together. If you have seen pictures of places where two rivers join, sometimes you’ll see that one river has one color and the other river has another and for a while after they flow together those two colors remain separated in the river. But before too long both streams are mixed and you are no longer able to tell the difference between the water of one river in the water of the other. So, are those two rivers changed? Of course, they are, but it is not a process of grafting. Perhaps the better metaphor is mixing cultures but that doesn’t quite have the same sense, does it? Maybe blending cultures. I also don’t believe that it is possible to kill off a culture, much less a portion of a culture. This is for the very reasons that Kotter describes in this section. The assumptions and values that characterize any culture tend to be wonderfully persistent, even if none of the people who helped to create that culture or sustain it and teach it to others are still in the organization. So how does a culture die? Cultures “die” only when the attributes that were developed because of some successful project solving problems that are the source of a culture’s assumptions are no longer valid or useful. And then they may be replaced by others through some version of the processes that I will describe later in the book. Kotter’s final comments on Step 8, “Anchoring New Approaches in the Culture,” have to do with how ill-advised it can be to assign responsibility for a culture change to VPs of Human Resources. And he is right. That is, unless the VP of HR was a member of the original change coalition and is widely recognized and appreciated for her or his role there. This is not often the case and so it is not surprising that culture change attempted in this way so often fails. In the best-case scenario, supporting culture change along the way with the overall change was included in the original vision developed by the change coalition and will ensure that this happens.


Ultimately, organizational culture and the power to change it rest with those who own it—the people of the organization. For any change in an organization to be successful and to produce effective results, one needs to exercise intentionality and have a plan for pursuing that change. This is why Kotter’s book has enjoyed so much deserved success. What I’m hoping to add is the particular emphasis on culture—the culture perspective—and with that, the idea that you change culture with the deep involvement and active participation of the organization’s population.

References Appelbaum, S. H., Habashy, S., Malo, J.-L., & Shafiq, H. (2012). Back to the future: Revisiting Kotter’s 1996 change model. Journal of Management Development, 31(8), 764–782. Barrett, F. J., & Cooperrider, D. L. (1990). Generative metaphor intervention: A new approach for working with systems divided by conflict and caught in defensive perception. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 26(2), 219–239. Bergen, B. K. (2012). Louder than words: The new science of how the mind makes meaning. New York: Basic Books. Block, P. (2009). Community: The structure of belonging. Easy read comfort edition. Burnes, B., & Jackson, P. (2011). Success and failure in organizational change: An exploration of the role of values. Journal of Change Management, 11(2), 133–162. Bushe, G. R. (2013). Dialogic OD: A theory of practice. OD Practitioner, 45(1), 11–17. Bushe, G., & Marshak, B. (2008). The postmodern turn in OD. OD Practitioner, 40(4), 10–12. Christens, B. D. (2012). Targeting empowerment in community development: A community psychology approach to enhancing local power and well-being. Community Development Journal, 47(4), 538–554. Cooperrider, D., Whitney, D. D., & Stavros, J. M. (2008). The appreciative inquiry handbook: For leaders of change. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Covey, S. R. (2013). The 7 habits of highly effective people: Powerful lessons in personal change. New York: Simon & Schuster. Deal, T. E., & Kennedy, A. A. (1982/2000). Corporate cultures: The rites and rituals of corporate life. New York: Basic Books. Hatch, M. J., & Schultz, M. (2002). The dynamics of organizational identity. Human Relations, 55(8), 989–1018.



Kotter, J. P. (1996). Leading change. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press. Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2002). The leadership challenge. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Lakoff, G. (2009). The neural theory of metaphor. Available at SSRN 1437794. Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (2003). Metaphors we live by. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary. (2008). Electronic ed., Version: 4.7 ed. Merriam-Webster, Fogware Publishing, Art Software Inc., Data Storage Research. Moore, J. (2018). Personal communication. Morgan, D., & Zeffane, R. (2003). Employee involvement, organizational change and trust in management. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 14(1), 55–75. Olson, E. E., & Eoyang, G. H. (2001). Facilitating organization change: Lessons from complexity science. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer. Patwell, B., & Seashore, E. W. (2006). Triple impact coaching: Use-of-self in the coaching process. Victoria, BC: BookBaby. Schein, E. H. (1985). Organizational culture and leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Schein, E. H. (2013). Humble inquiry: The gentle art of asking instead of telling. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Schön, D. A. (1993). Generative metaphor: A perspective on problem-setting in social policy. In A. Ortony (Ed.), Metaphor and thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Shevat, A. (2016). Brexit, siloism and tolerance. Retrieved from http://www. Varvoglis, H. (2014). Physics of the 20th century history and evolution of concepts in physics (pp. 105–119). Cham: Springer. Weick, K. E. (1995). Sensemaking in organizations. Thousand Oaks: Sage.


Creating Context: The Role of Sensemaking in Producing Culture

So, how do people in organizations actually go about creating this sometimes-mysterious set of assumptions about how to think, feel, behave, and generally interpret their environment? These assumptions we refer to as culture? If we examine in more detail what goes into answering questions and resolving issues of external adaptation and internal integration, what do we learn about the broader process? (Schein, 2016). This chapter is about how the process of sensemaking is critical to creating culture in groups and organizations. Karl Weick perhaps the world’s leading authority on sensemaking in organizations says, “Sensemaking… Involves identity, retrospect, enactment, social contact, ongoing events, cues, and plausibility.” This is a set of elements that are vital to the construction of culture as much as they are to organizing. As I indicated earlier in the book, the processes of organizing and constructing culture are so entwined and interdependent as to be virtually indistinguishable. Sensemaking is a process, an activity in which groups and individuals engage almost all the time. Whenever there is a change of interruption in the organization’s activities, no matter how tiny or isolated, members of the group will engage in sensemaking. That is, how will we adapt to or integrate what has happened? This is because any interruption to an individual’s or group’s flow of process means that we are required to make decisions about how we continue, or do not continue, with whatever it is we were doing. This often is a social activity because our individual identities are tightly bound with that of the group. Thus, changes © The Author(s) 2020 J. MacQueen, The Flow of Organizational Culture,



in a groups’ identity resulting from a change in the organization or its processes animate the need to confirm our own personal sense of identity in the face of that change. Expanding the concept of sensemaking beyond the realm of formal organizations, Snowden characterizes sensemaking as “the way that humans choose between multiple possible explanations of sensory and other input as they seek to conform the phenomenological with the real in order to act in such a way as to determine or respond to the world around them” Snowden (2005). Weick adds to this “To engage in Sensemaking is to construct, filter, frame, create facticity, and render the subjective into something more tangible” (1995, p. 14). Weick also notes that sensemaking is a process in which people construct cognitive maps of their world. In other words, when something happens we initially view the results as a kind of puzzle. We want to figure out what happened, why it happened, and what to do next. The details surrounding an event are often overwhelming in their number and are sometimes contradictory in their meaning. Thus, we need tools and methods that will help us figure out what details are relevant to understanding the context in which they occurred, and what is their impact on the environment in which we operate now. When it comes down to it, we are noticing that the circumstances in which we have been operating have changed and our actions may no longer make sense in the new context. It may be that the context is changed a little or great deal, it makes no difference. For example, I may have noticed that the set of activities which make up my morning routine before I get down to work have gradually expanded. Once, I was able to complete that routine and be at my desk working by 8:30 in the morning. Now, however, I don’t seem to be able to get to work until almost 10:30. In light of this, I will need to make some changes to how I do things before I get down to work in the mornings. In another example, you receive notice that you are being laid off and have a limited amount of time to find a new job. On a larger scale, your team has received word that it is being disbanded and that you will individually be reorganized into different groups responsible for different tasks and activities throughout our organization. Each of you, individually and as a group, needs to decide how you will handle the new situation and what those changes will mean for you. In each case, our context for action has been interrupted and because “interruption is a signal that important changes have occurred in the environment, that the world is no longer the way it was” (Weick, p. 46).



Our expectations of how we normally are to go about our business no longer make sense in the new context. In almost every instance, this presents an occasion for sensemaking. At this point, you may be saying to yourself, “This is all very well and good, but what does it have to do with organizational culture?” By way of explanation, I want to remind you of Schein’s definition of organizational culture: A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems. (Schein, 1992, 2016)

As you will see, sensemaking is a process of adding to the group’s assumptions and practices for solving problems “of external adaptation and internal integration” (which is pretty much everything, if you think about it). These assumptions are the context that a group uses for its work. The context enables a group to understand the environment and situations in which it is functioning collectively. In this way, the changes a group makes to its thinking during sensemaking, if they work “well enough to be considered valid” can be passed along to new members when similar disruptions occur and become a new element of culture. Because sensemaking is a nearly automatic response to any change or disruption, almost anything that gets done to or in an organization can become part of the culture. For example, suppose a manager attempts to impose a change on an organization and its members decide, based on the sense they have made of what the manager says she wants to do, that the best way to handle it is “keep our heads down and this, too shall pass.” If that approach is successful, “keeping our heads down” may become a cultural assumption—a part of the groups’ context about how to deal with certain types of change that will be repeated in similar situations and taught to new members over the course of time. Weick identifies seven properties that are key to sensemaking. We shall cover each of them in turn. These properties of sensemaking include: 1. It is grounded in identity construction; 2. Involves thinking retrospectively; 3. Is enactive of sensible environments; 4. Is a social activity;

94  J. MACQUEEN 5. Is ongoing; 6. Is focused on and by external cues; 7. And is driven by plausibility rather than accuracy. (Weick, 1995, p. 17)

In the best of all possible worlds, these seven properties might somehow link so that we could look at them as an ordered process in which one leads to the next. However, that is not the case. When a group is in the process of sensemaking, each one of these properties has a role to play, often at different times in different ways. Each may have a different level of importance as they are employed by a group to right itself after an interruption to the flow of its work. The above list of seven properties is meant to serve, “as a rough guideline for inquiry into sensemaking in the sense that they suggest what sensemaking is, how it works, and where it can fail” (Weick, 1995, p. 18). The importance to us as consultants as we strive to develop a culture perspective is to recognize each of these elements and their contribution to the creation of culture. We must recognize how each presents us with opportunities to support the group or organization as it constructs its cultures. We also should recognize that engagement in these properties represents systemic action. By this, I mean that the action and products of each property are interactive and interdependent with every other property on the list (see, for example, Chapter 3 for further illustration). An important addition to Weick’s seven properties is reflection. I am deliberately using this term to be in opposition to Weick’s original term for another of his properties, “retrospect.” Retrospection suggests remembering something in a conscious and focused way. Reflecting, while it may involve retrospection or remembering, connotes thinking about something in a more diffused fashion. Reflection, in addition to producing memory, may also produce other kinds of thoughts and insights. Reflection and its products need to take place before sensemaking can begin and often as sensemaking continues. Reflection involves not only recalling past experience, but can also kick off a second-order change in the conception of self or the ­seemingly tangential reframe of a problem “one has been stewing upon.” The “default network” of the brain is a set of regions (especially the medial prefrontal cortex, inferior parietal lobule, and lateral temporal cortex) that play a significant role in our ability to recall past experience, anticipate future experience, and experience identity, consciousness, and self-awareness (Buckner, 2012).



The default network activity has been identified through MRI scans and similar techniques and led Buckner (2012) to these conclusions about reflection. He found that the default network is spontaneously active during passive moments, or periods of reflection. Buckner suggests that the portions of the default network that become active during reflection include processes such as accessing information from longterm memory and “manipulation of this information for problem solving and planning mental images and thoughts” (Buckner, p. 4). Apparently, we organize these materials during times when the brain is not otherwise active solving problems that require longer-term thinking. As we proceed, it will be clear to you that the functions of the default network, activated during reflection, produce types of cognition that are critical to the process of sensemaking. 1. Grounded in Identity Construction. As we begin to go through the seven properties in detail, I want to point out that a primary process of all organizational cultures is the construction of identities. These include the identities of both the individuals and of the group as a whole (Hatch & Schultz, 1997, 2002). In terms of the individual (Weick, 1995), points out that identities are constituted out of the process of interaction. To shift among interactions is to shift among definitions of self. Thus, the sense maker is himself or herself an ongoing puzzle undergoing continual redefinition, coincident with presenting some self to others and trying to decide which self is appropriate. (1995, p. 20)

In other words, we, as group members, are continually and often subconsciously trying out ideas about our identities with others in the group until we come up with some collection of ideas about which we get good feedback and adopt as “this is who I am in this group”. At the same time, we are putting out ideas about the identity of the group until we achieve a similar consensus among the group members. As those ideas crystallize, we try them out with members of other groups. We collect feedback about those responses, and finally settle on something that seems to work among ourselves and with other groups, typically groups within our own organization, as well as managers, and stakeholders. This is a fluid and iterative process. New information about ourselves and our group is continually generated and gathered from the


environment which then needs to be incorporated in our definition of both group and individual identities. If this new information is deeply affective or especially surprising, its impact on the individuals may be profound. When this is the case our sense of ourselves may be seriously disrupted. As individuals, we may no longer have a sense of who we are in the context of the organization. We may, in fact, have lost track of our concept of who or what is this organization? At that point, we are likely to begin to engage in serious sensemaking. We begin to pursue the processes of identity construction by observing ourselves and others for cues about who they think they are and how they conceive of the organization. We look for cues in people’s behavior and in our memories of what it was like before. Eventually, we construct a new consensus about our collective identities. In other words, we have made a kind of sense about what happened to us as an organization in terms of identity and are ready once more to move ahead. A group’s identity and their individual personal identities are important pieces of context. Knowing who we are and who others think we are is the basis for how we perform many activities. Imagine what it would mean to not have that piece of context. People no longer know what is expected of them and, perhaps, what they should expect of others with regard to working together. Reporting relationships, for example, may now be seriously confused, depending on the degree of disruption. This is also a significant opportunity to employ our roles as consultants. We can work with groups to rediscover and reestablish their identities. We do this by facilitating inter-social conversational processes among individuals and among groups such as described by Barnet Pearce (2007). This will help people discover the cues, as well as note and sort the feedback they get as described above. We might also choose some more conventional and familiar approaches such as “visioning” that will help the group to achieve many of the same results. In doing so, we contribute to the construction of a group’s or an organization’s culture. 2. Retrospective. “What’s past is prologue.” Shakespeare (1623) has Antonio say this to Sebastian in Act II, Scene 1 of The Tempest. Antonio is working to justify a proposed murder of Alonso, the king of Naples and Sebastian’s father. In doing so, he is suggesting to Sebastian that Antonio’s own murder of his brother, Prospero, had been justified by the political success that Antonio has subsequently enjoyed. What Antonio is saying is that events of the past are predictors of the future and that the sources of current action are embedded in past events. While this



is important to our consideration of sensemaking with regard to what Weick calls cues, it is its implied reference to process metaphysics that will be of greatest interest to us here. In most cases, it is what we were doing immediately before the change or the interruption that is provoking our current engagement in sensemaking. It was part of a flow of ongoing action and events, each of which carried with it its own meaning based on what had gone on before. When our flow of context is interrupted, we need to reconstruct it, so that the actions we take moving forward have some connection to the past and make sense in the present. In order to make this reconstruction, we seek to remember details of what was happening, what we were doing, and what sense it made at the time. Weick (1995) would say that we are retrospectively collecting cues and placing them in cognitive and psychological frames (also retrospectively created) or actively collected from our existing environment in the present. People look back over their past experience to discover ‘similar’ events and what those previous events might suggest about the meaning of present events. Past events are reconstructed in the present as explanations, not because they look the same but because they feel the same. (Weick, p. 49)

As we shall see in the section on plausibility, the question of “feel the same” is critically important when we are reconstructing and making sense of a context. This is because most of our contexts are not closely observed in any way that might count as factual observation. A context is made up of thousands of details and stimuli, far too much for the conscious mind to be observing on an ongoing basis. In fact, what we are looking for in the process of retrospection is to extract cues, bits of memory and observations of the present, that we carry with us as impressions. These impressions serve as the building blocks we use to construct or reconstruct a context and develop a larger sense of what may be occurring and the impact of what has recently occurred in the present. We take these cues and organize them within frames so that we can begin to see the relationships among those cues from the past. Thus, we provide them sense and meaning for our understanding in the present. “Frames tend to be past moments of socialization and cues tend to be present moments of experience. If a person can construct a relation between these two moments, meaning is created” (Weick, p. 111).


For the consultant, this provides a sense of direction for facilitating the process IF the consultant can be centered and present enough in the group’s flow to understand the source and nature of those frames. The consultant needs to have developed sufficient trust with the group that she can suggest that they explore more possibilities than those frames they have so far selected if she feels doing so may be necessary and/or valuable. It is critical that the group experiences the consultant as being in the flow with them so as not to interrupt their current flow of activity. She must understand she is being invited into the activity of making choices around frames and cues and the group must have no cause to feel they are being manipulated. This is an extremely powerful and important intervention because the sense they make of what has happened to them, where they are now, and where they may need to go (their new context) will undoubtedly become a part of their new worldview—their culture—influencing the belief systems and activities not only of the group as it exists now but as it evolves in the future. It is important to realize there is more at stake here than putting up a plausible version of the past for use in the present. Our contexts also consist of ideas, or mental models, of the present and the future. With retrospection, we are always looking at things in the past. Everything in the tangible world is, to some extent, in the past. While we may acknowledge that everything exists in the flow of time, we mostly remember (or think we remember) things as events. An event is a story constructed with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Its details are included or excluded based on how we have constructed the story. We make sense of things based on how we have previously configured events. Therefore, all of our stories are likely to be incomplete in one way or another, altering their meaning. As Weick has it, we apparently organize our sensemaking around the projects in which we are currently engaged. These are likely the projects that were interrupted and ones to which we are anxious to return. Each project in our memory is made up of multiple events, each of which can have meaning attached to it. So, we find that “retrospective sense making is an activity in which many possible meanings may have to be synthesized, because many different projects are underway at the same time reflection takes place. The problem is that there are too many meanings, not too few” (Weick, 1995, p. 27). Weick suggests that what many people want in the situation is more information but that is not necessarily what they need.



Instead, they need values, priorities, and clarity about preferences to help them be clear about which projects matter. Clarity on values clarifies what is important in lapsed experience which finally gives some sense of what elapsed experience means. (1995, pp. 27–28)

But what if values related to the particular subject are part of what has been disrupted? Values are, after all, part of the context we use for making decisions and taking action. It seems reasonable that if the values available to us through retrospection are inadequate for the task of providing guidance, we will need to develop our context through some other means and construct values that can more specifically be applied to our situation. Weick’s near-exclusive focus on retrospection for sensemaking might benefit from some expansion. This is not to suggest that there is anything in anyway wrong with Weick’s theories, but there have been some recent advances in the areas of psychology and neuroscience which may further inform our understanding of sensemaking processes. Recent research in psychology has opened up newer fields of study, one of which is known as pragmatic prospection. These are studies regarding how people think about the future and use that thinking in the context of sensemaking. I believe our cultural contexts involve elements not only of the past, but the present, and the future. Many of the elements involved in pragmatic prospection are vital to the processes of sensemaking. This is not to suggest that I find anything wrong with Weick’s work. It is simply that prospection research is relatively new and I believe enhances what Weick has to offer. Psychology’s main theories explain human behavior by pointing to the past: childhood experiences socialization reinforcement history. … Yet recent evidence has suggested that people do not spend much time thinking about the past: remembering, replaying lessons or traumas, and so forth. The past may well be important and we do not intend to say that psychologists’ research focus on the past has been wasteful, but it misses a big part of mental life and psychological processes. According to recent data of our own (Baumeister, Hoffman, Somerville, and Vohs, 2016), people think about the future two or three times as much as the past. They also report that their thoughts about the past are more often because of its implications for the future. We have come to suspect that predicting the future is genuine human activity and a somewhat important one, is not the main goal of prospection. The more common and basic form of thinking about the future is anticipating what one will have to do, decide, perform. Prediction is real but secondary. (Baumeister & Vohs, 2016)


A key component of these processes is episodic memory. This is memory of events that have actually happened to you as opposed to those you may have read, heard about, or imagined (Schacter, Gilbert, & Wegner, 2011). What is particularly interesting to us here is the structure of episodic memory and how it is used by the brain. For example, your memory of your 12th birthday does not exist as a single, literal reproduction of that scene that takes place in your mind (Schacter & Addis, 2007). Instead, your brain constructs that scene from bits and pieces of recalled information (episodes) from various sources including, outputs of perceptual systems that analyze specific physical attributes of incoming information and interpretation of these attributes by conceptual or somatic systems. These constituent features of a memory are distributed widely across different parts of the brain, such that no single location contains a literal trace of engram that corresponds to a specific experience. (Schacter & Addis, p. 774)

This is a remarkable feat, especially considering that those component pieces of memory remain encoded and stored all over the brain and available for use in other situations such as thinking about the future as well as making sense of the present. Both imagining the future and considering the present, which we’ve already established as being important to our personal contexts and to the construction of our cultures, take advantage of episodic memory. Pay particular attention to the phrase above, “outputs of perceptual systems” because this is an important piece of what we do when we think about the future. The processes of episodic memory that we employ in thinking about the past are the same processes we use when thinking about the future. What this means is that when we think about the future and possible events in the future, we simulate them in our brains. For example, when I smell lilacs in the present, I am instantly reminded of my grandmother’s garden in Wyoming which was full of lilac bushes. In the spring, the air was redolent with that scent and when I catch a whiff of it, I am immediately in that garden in a way that feels almost physically real to me, at least for an instant. If I am imagining someplace that I would like to go in the future, I can summon that memory of lilacs to populate the simulation of that place I’d like to be and it becomes much more real to me. For example, if I wanted to visit Philadelphia, a place I’ve never been, I might



build a mental image based on photographs held in episodic memory. If I then supplement these photographs with my sense memory of lilacs, my mental simulation of that scene in Philadelphia could be quite vivid. Likewise, if I find myself thinking about work tomorrow, I can simulate a sense of what those events are going to look like using images of my office and perhaps what it will feel like to work on the kind of material I’m anticipating working with, or even the people with whom I expect to be working. If I’m going to be working with people that are new to me, I can summon the experiences that I’ve had working in a new group. What is it like working with somebody entirely new? Somewhere in my brain I have encoded the excitement, the anxiety, the physical and emotional discomfort I’ve felt working in a new group previously. Having simulated this experience, I can begin to make decisions about how I want to handle it this time around. This prospective thinking is now part of my context. The more my context has been changed by whatever the events are in my recent past (the ones that have disrupted my context and the flow of my work), the more important it is for me to make sense of where I am now and make decisions for the future based on it. In effect, because I’m using episodic memory, I am “remembering” the future. From the point of view of organizational culture, we are constructing these images of what we will be like in the future as a group. The tendency is for group members to share these constructions among themselves and to strive to enact them into the present. The more common term we apply to this kind of thinking and the simulations we make around them is constructing, or evolving, organizational vision (a recognized component of organizational culture). The strength of our visions, those simulations that help to guide our futures as groups by creating a context for how we make group and individual decisions for action are ultimately based in our use of episodic memory. Should you decide that a group would benefit from facilitation in support of this kind of effort, I have found that timing and choice of approach can be critical to success. In many cases, setting up a formal session devoted to this task is often quite successful. You might begin by asking the group to imagine events from their past and to state these events’ meaning(s). Then ask people to actively imagine some version of the future. You might consider asking them to draw pictures of that future or suggest that they are in that future state and a reporter has come to do a story on how the organization has changed.


I have found, however, that some groups raise significant objections to engaging in this kind of structured, preplanned, activity. These activities often require a certain level of playfulness of the group. Group members sometimes object to this because they believe that playfulness in their particular situation is inappropriate or may find it threatening because they may be asked to operate outside of their comfort zone. If this is the case, and I am sufficiently tuned into the flow of the group’s work, I will ask questions about the scenarios/simulations of the future that are being generated and encourage people to populate the simulations with more and more detail. Both approaches accomplish the same end. The increased detail in the simulation helps to make it more vivid and more meaningful for the group by adding more layers of episodic memory. This in turn makes this vision more useful, strengthening the emerging culture and the group sense of identity. One final aspect of the retrospective work of sensemaking to which we want to pay attention is people’s recollections of emotions. Specifically, the emotions they experienced as they went through whatever the interruption was that triggered the need to do sensemaking in the first place. Baumeister, Vohs, Nathan DeWall, and Zhang (2007) makes a compelling argument for emotions as a feedback system. Many people (including many psychologists) have long believed that emotions cause behavior. For example, fear and/or anger we may believe causes a fight or flight response in the individual or individuals experiencing those emotions. However, as Baumeister points out, we go to films that portray images and scenes that stimulate these same emotions. While we may feel anxious, excited, or angry, it is rare that we threaten other patrons of the theater with fisticuffs or bolt headlong toward the exits. Instead, we encode the images that we have seen and the sensations they stimulated in episodic memory to be assembled for future use in the event something like what we saw on the screen actually happens to us so we will know how to respond. This would not be so different from how we might use observing a similar incident at some distance in real life. Baumeister et al. (2007) found, Many emotions do not cause behavior… Instead, they facilitate learning lessons and forging new associations between affect and various behavioral responses. Emotional experiences operate to stimulate cognitive processing after some outcome or behavior. They facilitate learning lessons and forged new associations between affect and various behavioral responses



subsequently these associated affective traces may shape behavior without having to develop into fully fledged conscious emotion. Ultimately and critically people learn to anticipate outcomes and behave so as to pursue emotions they prefer. (p. 168)

In other words, we learn and apply approach and avoidance behaviors and lessons based on memories of past action. We apply these ideas prospectively to what we anticipate may come as a result of actions in which we may or may not choose to engage. That choice, when it is processed and agreed upon by a group, is often turned into a kind of principle that is applied to a particular action or class of actions more generally. This enables them to say, “because we know that such and such an activity results in a certain kind of outcome, on principle, we do not engage in that activity”. If this agreement persists in the group over time, we often refer to it as a “value” that is held by the group. Values are something that both practitioners and scholars refer to as key component pieces of organizational culture (Cameron & Quinn, 2011; Deal & Kennedy, 1982/2000; Hatch, 1993; Martin, 2002; Schein, 2017). What is important to note here is that values can and do arise from the spontaneous interactions of the group and are not necessarily dependent on their introduction and reinforcement by leaders. Not that values reinforcement by leaders are not important. It can be critically important for the development of a culture. But leadership, while important, is not the sole source of values in an organization. As we have just seen, values may be spontaneously generated out of a group’s experience. This is often the case for much of what comes to constitute an organization’s culture. For successful construction and shaping of culture, it is imperative that both leaders and consultants stay extremely aware of these kinds of activity and stand ready to reinforce or discourage them as may be desirable and necessary. 3. Enactive of Sensible Environments. The first of several questions to be answered in this section is, what does Weick mean by the heading, “Enactive of Sensible Environments”? Weick (1995) has anticipated this question, at least with regard to the idea of enactive: “I use the word enactment to preserve the fact that, in organizational life, people often produce part of the environment they face (Pondy & Mitroff, 1979, p. 17)” (Weick, p. 30). Weick provides several examples of what he might mean by invoking more common forms of the verb to enact. He talks about legislators enacting laws and managers who often apply or


enact policy. “Both groups construct reality through authoritative acts” (1995, p. 30). What this comes down to is the idea that we are creating, or constructing, our own realities through our ideas and actions. In this case, we do this by taking some idea that we have produced in the course of sensemaking, such as a vision, a plan, or a value, incorporating it into the mental model of our context and/or organization, and reifying it. (This is also known as social constructionism.) By “sensible,” I take him to be using a root form of the word which means that something is able to be perceived by the senses or the mind. Couple this with “environments” and what Weick is suggesting is that the activities of sensemaking are constructing a social environment (mental context) that is in some way tangible or perceivable. For example, the process of constructing a value which I described above produces a belief in the way something ought to be done. This belief (or assumption) can then be observed in the group’s activities. Another way to get at this may be through Shakespeare (1603) in a scene from Hamlet where Hamlet is in conversation with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: Hamlet. What have you, my good friends, deserved at the hands of fortune that she sends you to prison hither? Guildenstern. Prison, my Lord? Hamlet. Denmark’s a prison. Rosencrantz. Then is the world one. Hamlet. A goodly one; in which there are many confines, wards, and dungeons, Denmark being the worst. Rosencrantz. We think not so, my Lord. Hamlet. Why, then ‘tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison. (Hamlet, Act II, Scene ii)

It is interesting to note here that Hamlet’s father has recently died. It is therefore logical to assume, that in the wake of that shock, Hamlet is engaging in sensemaking and has chosen the metaphor of “Denmark is a prison” as a way of establishing a new context for himself. Given all that we know about Hamlet already in the play (and will soon learn about him), the question of how literally does he take this metaphor is certainly open to debate. But his statement, “To me it is a prison,” certainly suggests a psychological reality.



It is not necessary for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to accept Hamlet’s construct of Denmark as a prison as their own for Hamlet’s sensemaking to be enactive of a sensible environment. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are in a social relationship with Hamlet. Therefore, they are participants in whatever he believes regardless of the extent to which they accept it. (Another aspect of social constructionism.) If we had been given the opportunity to observe these three over time, we might observe them shifting their relationships as they discussed and argued about whether or not Denmark is a prison. During the course of those conversations, it could well happen that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern come around to Hamlet’s point of view, all three beginning to think of Denmark as a prison. In that event, not only would we more fully see Hamlet’s metaphor enacting a sensible environment, we would also witness the construction of an element of culture among these three individuals. As we shall see in the section on metaphor, metaphors stimulate physical as well as mental responses in individuals (Bergen, 2012; Lakoff & Johnson, 2003). 4. Social. We are looking at sensemaking in organizations because sensemaking is integral to understanding the construction of organizational culture. Organizational culture, its creation, its development, and how it is changed is, by definition, a social process. Weick notes, The word sensemaking tempts people to think in terms of an individual level of analysis which induces a blind spot we need to catch early on. When discussing sensemaking it is easy to forget that ‘human thinking and social functioning… [are] essential aspects of one another’ (Resnick, Levine, and Teasley, 1991, p. 3). (Weick, 1995, p. 38)

If we are using sensemaking to reestablish a context, that context is inherently social. It is made up of people and their interactions with us and with each other. We are constantly paying attention to these interactions in order to gather clues as to what will be appropriate behavior for us. We pay attention to the rules people follow which were established by other people (often managers and supervisors) by which we abide because of some consensus the group has reached both explicitly and implicitly. We are always on the lookout for the opinions other people hold of us and each other because those opinions impact the what’s and how’s of our behavior. In other words, the opinions of others are part of the context in which we make decisions about our behaviors. As Weick says:

106  J. MACQUEEN Sensemaking is never solitary because what a person does internally is contingent on others. Even monologues and one-way communications presume an audience. And the monologue changes as the audience changes. (1995, p. 42)

This is not to suggest that a requirement for successful sensemaking is a consciously arrived at set of “shared understandings” or the creation of a social construction. At its simplest, a group may simply be looking for shared experience through which they can strengthen their identities. This means that they can say and agree to the fact that, “we went to that meeting.” It does not mean that they necessarily have to agree on the meaning of that meeting. Although it may become necessary to have that agreement should a decision or course of action require the group have a sense of the context of that meeting. For the consultant, the implication is that she will need to encourage as many of the sensemaking processes as possible to be explicitly social and inclusive of as much of the group as possible. She should ensure that those who were not in attendance at a given event can meet with some members who were present to receive and understand first-hand what was discussed. When these conversations begin again, this helps the folks who missed the last meeting to be less disoriented when the group reconvenes (and those who were a part of that process may be less frustrated by those who were missing before). These events usually are the activities of a defined group and a part of the consultant’s job is helping the whole group participate in them. This should happen so that their sensemaking experience is uninterrupted and can proceed on-track with other group members. 5. Ongoing. Sensemaking is an activity that is part and parcel of every moment of organizational life. Our friends who were organizing the community garden found themselves engaged in sensemaking from the moment that they began to consider forming their organization. From the moment they began to think about engaging in that work, they were beginning to think about its impact on their identity which would be in some way different from the identity they had as individuals outside the group. Their way of doing things without the others would be disrupted. Sensemaking never starts. The reason it never starts is that pure duration never stops. People are always in the middle of things, which become things only when those same people focus on the past from some point



beyond it… To understand sensemaking is to be sensitive to the ways in which people chop moments out of continuous flows and extract cues from those moments. (Weick, 1995)

Part of what Weick is asking us to do, (and especially if we happen to be consultants), is to remember that time exists as a continuum. What I mean by this is that those pieces of time that we like to bracket and call “events” are not, in any reality, separated from those bits of time that bookend those “events.” (What Pearce calls punctuation [Pearce, 2007].) However, actions that take place within events are often made meaningful by separating them. In other words, placing them in the context of a discreet series of actions often feels helpful to the sensemakers. The issue that we may need to confront as consultants is, when we do this is, do we restrict the frame of the context in which we are assigning sense or meaning to an artificially limited span of actions and obstruct the groups sensemaking? The implications of doing so are that we may need to come back and reconsider the sense that we have made out of an event in order to make it useful to us in the present. Because we have foreshortened our definition of the duration of the event we are interpreting, we may have failed to include salient activities and interactions in our consideration. The consequence is, we may misinterpret the event’s meaning or implications. In other words, we may need to keep making sense of our sensemaking. The consultant’s job in this situation is to help the group pay attention to longer durations in the flow of time. That is, to try and make sure those “events” the group is bracketing off, or “punctuating,” are appropriately tied to other “events” that exist in a given duration. Another reason that sensemaking is ongoing is that we and our contexts all exist in time’s flow. An important implication of this idea is that we are always experiencing the processes of ongoing change. This means that what we are experiencing and doing is constantly being interrupted. Obviously, the severity and impact of these interruptions vary tremendously. When the interruption is experienced as less dramatic, people in the group may not feel the need to initiate sensemaking in any major way and may ignore the disruption of context completely. What I have observed is that the effects of these interruptions are often cumulative and tend to build one upon the other until the overall effect is such that those changes can no longer be ignored.


At this point, people’s need to restore or build anew their context is significant. The degree of sensemaking in which they need to engage when this happens can be as disruptive as the sum of all the disruptions they were ignoring. What I have found useful in a way that encourages the development and management of culture is to create a practice that starts usually on a weekly basis and happens at longer intervals as the group develops proficiency. In this practice as it begins, the group reflects on the week’s events and identifies what they may have felt to be a disruption. They think about how and why it was a disruption and consider what cues they can use to reestablish their contexts. As they begin to look at longer periods of time, they may also want to consider what disruptions led to new context making (new sensemaking that furthers their intentions) and what disruptions took them seriously off track. With this ongoing use of sensemaking, a group can become more sensitized to and aware of disruptions in their environment, less anxious about changes, and better able to observe the continuity of flow of change in their environment. 6. Focused on and by Extracted Cues. If extracted cues are a focus of sensemaking, what are extracted cues? “Extracted cues are simple, familiar structures that are seeds from which people develop a larger sense of what may be occurring” (Weick 2005). These “seeds” can be anything: a recalled bit of conversation, a calendar appointment, a memo, the strategic plan, etc. What is important to realize is that once planted in a sensemaking process, they often take on a life of their own as they grow and stimulate new thinking not just about what has happened, but about the future. This probably is, in fact, another instance of pragmatic prospection (Baumeister, Vohs, & Oettingen, 2016). A principal difference here is that the thinking related to cues is not consciously directed by the individual(s). Instead, I believe the selection of cues occurs less as a result of consciously scanning the external environment, and more as a sub-conscious social function of selection and stitching together of episodic memories. This scanning and selection process activates the hippocampus and generates prospective simulations as part of the processes of constructive memory (Buckner, 2012; Gaesser, Spreng, McLelland, Addis, & Schacter, 2013; Schacter & Addis, 2007). These simulations can be quite vivid and become more so as individuals revisit and develop them more fully as a group. As a matter of fact, simulations represent the equivalent of rehearsals or practice for



an activity. The more that we practice what we are mentally simulating (adding detail to the mentally simulated scenes), the more real the simulation becomes in our minds. As this continues we become ready, and, in fact, consciously or unconsciously motivated to enact the content of the mental simulation. This enactment may resemble a self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, the idea or ideas contained in the seed of the cue contain and are developed as the prophecy; the simulation promotes the behavior of fulfilling it. As you can see, sensemaking and this use of extracted cues are crucial to the continued growth of an organization and its cultures. This is particularly true if the processes I have just described are nurtured as a social rather than an individual function. When these processes are engaged in by the group they become more meaningful (as described earlier) and add substantively to a group’s culture. People take pride in their imaginative achievement and their interpersonal relationships become stronger. This applies equally to their belief in their ability to repeat the process of learning, and their sense of identity as a group is strengthened. I do not see an active role for the consultant with regard to this activity other than modeling the leadership and the deliberate practice of learning. I do believe it is important for the consultant to be attentive to what cues the group is extracting in the course of its sensemaking. Depending on what you see developing from a given cue, you need to be prepared to support, and perhaps guide, whatever path that development takes. Of course, this is all dependent on your sense of what in the emerging culture will serve the organization. These “seeds” that are the cues the group is extracting may develop into beautiful plants or noxious weeds and even our evaluation as to whether it is a plant or a weed demonstrates bias of all kinds is built into all our contexts. This is particularly true of those seeds that become values and you need to stay alert to the form the cues the group is extracting appear to be taking. A particular word of caution: remember that culture is a system. Systems and their outputs/results are always unpredictable (Olson & Eoyang, 2001; Stroh, 2015). Anything that you influence in the group’s sensemaking may have surprising and unanticipated consequences. Consider your consultative actions with great care and be prepared to take corrective actions quickly if it appears that your influence is having any sort of effect that might be contrary to the health and overall good of the organization.


Weick uses a story to illustrate and “capture a truth about sensemaking.” I find the story compelling and revealing to the point that I want to use it here. The young lieutenant of a small Hungarian detachment in the Alps sent a reconnaissance unit into the icy wilderness. It began to snow immediately, snowed for two days, and the unit did not return. The lieutenant suffered, fearing that he had dispatched his own people to death. But on the third day the unit came back. Where had they been? How had they made their way? Yes, they said, we considered ourselves lost and waited for the end. And then one of us found a map in his pocket. That calmed us down. We pitched camp, lasted out the snowstorm, and then with the map we discovered our bearings. And here we are. The lieutenant borrowed this remarkable map and had a look at it. He discovered to his astonishment that it was not a map of the Alps, but a map of the Pyrenees. (Weick, 1995, p. 54)

Weick concludes the story with this comment: Strategic plans are a lot like maps. They animate and orient people. Once people begin to act (enactment), they generate tangible outcomes (cues) in some context (social), and this helps them discover (retrospect) what is occurring (ongoing), what needs to be explained (plausibility), and what should be done next (identity enhancement). (Weick, 1995, p. 55)

7. Driven by Plausibility Rather Than Accuracy. I want to remind you at this point, that we are looking at sensemaking because its processes are key to the construction of culture in organizations. As such, these processes tend to be social. We do them in groups. I also want to remind you that I have equated sensemaking with constructing, or reconstructing, people’s sense of context. This context is used for understanding their situation at any given time and choosing what action to undertake in that moment. When faced with this situation and having been through the processes of sensemaking, they often feel themselves on the horns of a dilemma as to whether developing accuracy or the plausibility of their conclusion is more important for supporting their decisions. Accuracy connotes that an idea is possessed of valid, provable, identifiable truths in all particulars of one’s analysis. So, if the interpretation one is constructing is to be considered accurate, the details of that context need to be demonstrably true. When it comes to creating an inter-social context in which people can understand what’s going on in their



environment, make decisions, and take actions, accuracy seems to me to be both unachievable an undesirable. It is unachievable because the primary building blocks are bits of episodic memory that we bind together in a constructive memory process. Several pieces of constructive memory can be stitched together in the brain to form an episode. The disparate features that constitute an episode must be linked or bound together at encoding; failure to adequately bind together appropriate features can result in a common phenomenon of source memory failure, where people retrieve fragments of an episode do not recollect, or miss recollect, how or when the fragments were acquired, resulting in various kinds of memory illusions and distortions. (Schacter & Addis, 2007)

This is the neurological basis for the unreliability of memory. Schachter goes on to note that it is equally common for people to store similar episodes in areas of the brain where they can overlap. When this happens, it is usual for people to recall general ideas common to several episodes but fail to remember specifics. This results in recall that gives us the gist of an idea but not specific details. In many cases, the gist is good enough or sometimes better when it comes to creating a context in which we need to make decisions. Groups make decisions based on some set of principles and in creating a context based on the gist of what we remember, most of those principles, though not the details, will be in evidence. In addition, remember that the organization and the people in it are constantly changing: My thoughts about what and how we should decide an issue and what action we should take will most likely be different today than they were yesterday. If the context in which I make those decisions is tied to some rigid idea of accuracy, I may feel compelled to adhere to that idea and restrict myself from considering other ideas. I may reject newer considerations that have evolved from the changing flow of different discussions or evolving events because they have not been verified as accurate. In this situation, accuracy (or perceived accuracy) may not be desirable. Ideas that are plausible—those that seem logical, reasonable, or workable— may be preferable. In the event that accuracy is deemed necessary over simple plausibility, documentary evidence is sometimes a good solution and may be able to be obtained, depending on the situation. This choice creates a whole


new round of issues for a team working to create a context. First, there will be the question of which documents to select and on what basis. Second, more consensus will be needed to be built around the meaning of those documents. If you’ve ever been part of processes like this, you’ll recognize that they can be very time-consuming. Your product will ultimately be just as subjective, in spite of the documents you are working with, as your collective memories are about the project. Third, by the time you have achieved accuracy, the problem and its context may have changed. If you are the consultant to this group, you may need to raise the question, “Is time of the essence here? If so, are we using it well?” In working to evaluate the accuracy versus the plausibility of the context you have been constructing, your group needs to remember that accuracy and plausibility exist along a continuum. It’s not all one thing or another. However, it’s also important to recall that many of the elements the group has been using to get to this point are not in and of themselves constant or consistent or, therefore, accurate. A significant amount of what has been concluded is based on cues, and we have already seen how the meaning of a cue may be utterly transformed by circumstances and people’s processing of it. Likewise, parts of the context we are forming are based in our individual, group, and organizational identities which shift according to the evolving contexts of our relationships as they are influenced by our environments. Weick makes the point that “sensemaking is about plausibility, coherence and reasonableness. Sensemaking is about accounts that are socially acceptable and credible” (1995, p. 57). To achieve this, we do a great deal of filtering information. In the course of this filtering, often in the pursuit of accuracy, it is possible that we will filter out and lose information that is important to creating what is the essence of sensemaking and context: a good story. What tends to be lost, and what may well be more helpful, …are the symbolic trappings of sensemaking, trappings such as myths, metaphors, platitudes, fables, epics, and paradigms. Each of these resources contains a good story. And a good story, like a workable cause map, shows patterns that may already exist in the puzzles an actor now faces, or patterns that could be created anew in the interest of more order and sense in the future. The stories are templates. They are products of previous efforts at sensemaking. They explain. And they energize. And those are two important properties of sensemaking that we remain attentive to when we look for plausibility instead of accuracy. (Weick, 1995, p. 61)



I want to add to this, those elements Weick identifies as “trappings” in the stories we construct for sensemaking are the very building blocks of culture. Once constructed, it is not uncommon for them to be used repeatedly because we have found them to have meaning and thus become important to our sense of “how we do things around here.” For you as a consultant, your task is probably no more than to raise the issue of accuracy versus plausibility and provide perspective. Speaking of perspective, I’m going to offer some perspective on Weick and sensemaking from the point of view of a more traditional OD approach to the issues that give rise to the sensemaking impulse. That is, the subject of change and transition and its effects on groups. For this, I am going to draw on the works of several well-known writers in the field: William Bridges (2007), Elizabeth Kübler-Ross (1971), Kurt Lewin (1951), and Virginia Satir and Banmen (1991). What follows is a synthesis of these authors’ works I originally produced a number of years ago and have since used in my practice and as a standalone presentation with consistent success. The drawing that I use to illustrate the concept (Fig. 7.1) was first suggested to me by Sam Kaner during a splendid lecture he gave on group dynamics sometime in the late 1980s. The Old Way

The New Way






Fig. 7.1  Organizational sensemaking and transitions


Lewin suggests that change in organizations is cyclical. He conceived of organizations as becoming frozen in the way they think about and practice doing certain kinds of things. Lewin’s cycle consists of unfreezing the way the organization has learned to do certain kinds of things, change how they conceive of and do these things, and refreeze those practices until the need for change arises again. Bridges points out that while it may be true that the tangible aspects of the organization have changed, the people in the organization go through internal, dynamic psychological transitions in response to those changes. I want to point out that all four authors tend to present change in organizations in terms of big changes, ones that produce major disruptions and significant emotional responses. On a personal level, these might include the death of a loved one (Kübler-Ross), a divorce, loss or change of a job (Bridges), or major shifts in the dynamic aspects of a family (Satir). Each of these suggests a shift from a “status quo ante” to a “status quo post,” what I have identified in the diagram as “The Old Way” and “The New Way.” Let us begin with “The Old Way.” As I have tried to indicate in the drawing, “The Old Way” is a time of relative stability in the organization. Things just kind of go bumping along: not exceptionally good, not exceptionally bad, but generally stable. This is prior to those events that precipitate what Weick refers to as the disruption and in this model, I call “The Change.” Here I am suggesting significant change that will disrupt the processes of an individual and/or an entire organization. On the individual level, these might include such things as getting a new job. For an organization this might include, the arrival of new staff members, assignment of new roles, new leaders, the imposition of new processes or technology, new procedures, or new expectations on the part of management. This list only scratches the surface of potential events for you to imagine. Following on the heels of “The Change” comes a phase, I have often referred to as “Vertigo” because it is a time when many people in the organization will be experiencing a good deal of emotion. This is represented by the jagged line, which I use to suggest the significant emotional ups and downs that people often go through in this period. The range of things that people may be experiencing include: shock, anger, anxiety, excitement, grieving the loss of what is familiar, disorientation, loss of identity, depression, and resistance to thinking about or doing things in a new way. In a given organization, different people may be experiencing different things at the same time. Individuals may even be



experiencing different, seemingly conflicting feelings simultaneously, such as depression and excitement. I call this phase “Vertigo” because people who are going through this phase sometimes tell me, “I can’t tell which way is up.” A pretty fitting metaphor. This sense of severe disorientation is exacerbated by the loss of context about which I have spoken extensively in this chapter. If you try to think imaginatively and empathetically about what goes on in this phase of the cycle, I’m certain you will better understand why people’s sense of context may become so fragile. Toward the end of the “Vertigo” phase, there comes a process that is almost universally termed, “letting go” or “letting go of the old.” This refers to the time when people as individuals or a group begin to relinquish their attachments to those aspects of “The Old Way” that have disappeared or are forever changed. Accomplishing this process is vitally important to people’s ability to continue through a transition cycle. Failing to achieve letting go of attachments to “The Old Way” means that people will continuously revisit the emotionalism of the “Vertigo” phase. Groups and individuals who have yet to accomplish “Letting Go of the Old” are often easy to spot. They are the people who seem stuck in the past, often expressing nostalgia and a sense of loss for “the good old days.” This can be extremely problematic in terms of both culture and productivity because these people will tend to become very disengaged from their work, and if there are enough of them and the attitude persists long enough, it is an emotional stance that can be taught to and emulated by new members of the organization. Imagine for a moment that you are running and take a great leap, like a broad jumper. Or perhaps you are standing on something with some height—a chair or the second rung of a ladder perhaps—and decide to step off to the ground or the floor. For a moment, while you are completely in the air, your body will experience a brief sense of vertigo. When you hit the ground, especially if you’ve done the broad jumping routine, you will very likely struggle for a moment to stay on your feet. In either case, you will work to find and maintain your balance. “Balancing” is what I am calling the phase represented by the wavy line at the bottom of the transition cycle. Bridges has called this phase “The Neutral Zone” and it is, in many ways, his primary contribution to the transition literature. He describes the neutral zone this way:

116  J. MACQUEEN This is the psychological no-man’s-land between the old reality and the new one. It is the limbo between the old sense of identity and the new. It is the time when the old way of doing things is gone but the new way doesn’t feel comfortable yet. (Bridges, 2007, p. 8)

I have called this phase “Balancing” because that is my sense of what people are doing during this time. They are working to reorient themselves to a changed situation and reestablish or create a new context from which they can operate. During this phase, people often experience a sense of inertia or difficulty moving forward, aimlessness, and/ or tentativeness. If you have been river rafting, you may recognize this as analogous to what your guide does after taking you down some relatively significant rapids. The guide may often find a pool or quiet spot at the end of the rapid where you can “eddy out,” rest, and recover as the water goes “round in a gentle, circular motion.” This is also the phase in which people often begin the activities of sensemaking. The psychological equivalent of “eddying out” is reflection which, as you will recall, requires enough quiet to activate the default network and start up the sensemaking processes. You might also recall that one of the key processes in sensemaking is what Baumeister et al. (2016) calls “pragmatic prospection” or thinking about the future in practical ways. Earlier, I tied the ideas of vision and visioning to this process. Satir (1991), in one of her more important contributions to describing transition talks about the necessity of finding or establishing a “New Vision.” This new vision (or visions) is critical because it establishes a framework or context for making decisions about how we will move into the future, make decisions, and act. Without it, groups and individuals tend to stay stuck in the neutral zone where expectations (and as a result motivations) are minimal. It becomes a space in which it can be okay to eddy out for a very long time. As the “New Vision” takes hold, people begin to move into the “Recovery” phase during which they will begin to enact the new vision. (In the diagram, I’ve indicated this phase with a wavy, upward line that I hope suggests that progress through the period is continuous though not always easy or constant.) The first thing you, as a consultant, are likely to notice is that the group displays new or renewed energy and enthusiasm for their work and activities. They may also display a great deal of creativity as they explore different ways of achieving the new vision. This gives way to experimenting with the alternative ideas and methods that they have generated for enactment of the vision. As the



group learns which are the most successful approaches to enactment, they practice those methods until they feel secure in the routine that it becomes. At this point, the new practices (and indeed the entire process of transition) have been assimilated and become part of the culture. When this happens, the group has created a status quo post or, as in the diagram, “The New Way.” People can now say, “When it comes to making changes to the organization, our processes, and practices, this is how we do things around here”. Important to this, of course, is that the consultant has taken the time to work with the employees and management to help them remember and articulate the processes they have been through and what they learned from the experience. The consultant also needs to remember that working with a group on going through transition also entails working with them on sensemaking. Helping the group to do these things will be an important part of ensuring that what they have learned becomes a part of the culture.

References Baumeister, R. F., & Vohs, K. D. (2016). Introduction to the special issue: The science of prospection. Review of General Psychology, 20(1), 1. Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K. D., Nathan DeWall, C., & Zhang, L. (2007). How emotion shapes behavior: Feedback, anticipation, and reflection, rather than direct causation. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 11(2), 167–203. Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K. D., & Oettingen, G. (2016). Pragmatic prospection: How and why people think about the future. Review of General Psychology, 20(1), 3. Bergen, B. K. (2012). Louder than words. Bridges, W. (2007). Managing transitions: Making the most of change (2nd ed.). New York: Gildan Media. Buckner, R. L. (2012). The serendipitous discovery of the brain’s default network. Neuroimage, 62(2), 1137–1145. Cameron, K. S., & Quinn, R. E. (2011). Diagnosing and changing organizational culture, based on the competing values approach (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Deal, T. E., & Kennedy, A. A. (1982/2000). Corporate cultures: The rites and rituals of corporate life. New York: Basic Books. Gaesser, B., Spreng, R. N., McLelland, V. C., Addis, D. R., & Schacter, D. L. (2013). Imagining the future: Evidence for a hippocampal contribution to constructive processing. Hippocampus, 23(12), 1150–1161.

118  J. MACQUEEN Hatch, M. J. (1993). The dynamics of organizational culture. Academy of Management Review, 18, 657–693. Hatch, M. J., & Schultz, M. (1997). Relations between organizational culture, identity and image. European Journal of Marketing, 31(5/6), 356–365. Hatch, M. J., & Schultz, M. (2002). The dynamics of organizational identity. Human Relations, 55(8), 989–1018. 2055008181. Kübler-Ross, E. (1971). On death and dying. New York: Macmillan. Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (2003). Metaphors we live by. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Lewin, K. (1951). Field theory in social science. New York: Harper & Brothers. Martin, J. (2002). Organizational culture: Mapping the Terrain. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Olson, E. E., & Eoyang, G. H. (2001). Facilitating organization change: Lessons from complexity science. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer. Pearce, W. B. (2007). Making social worlds: A communication perspective. Malden, MA and Oxford: Blackwell. Satir, V., & Banmen, J. (1991). The Satir model: Family therapy and beyond. Palo Alto: Science & Behavior Books. Schacter, D. L., & Addis, D. R. (2007). The cognitive neuroscience of constructive memory: Remembering the past and imagining the future. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 362(1481), 773–786. Schacter, D. L., Gilbert, D. T., & Wegner, D. M. (2011). Semantic and episodic memory. In Psychology (pp. 240–241). New York: Worth Publishing. Schein, E. (1992). Organisational culture and leadership (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Schein, E. H. (2016). Organizational culture and leadership (5th ed.). Hoboken: Wiley. Schein, E. H. (2017). Organization development: A Jossey-Bass reader. San Francisco: Wiley. Shakespeare, W. (1603). Hamlet. Shakespeare, W. (1623). The Tempest. Snowden, D. J. (2005). Multi-ontology sense making: A new simplicity in decision making. Journal of Innovation in Health Informatics, 13(1), 45–53. Stroh, D. P. (2015). Systems thinking for social change: A practical guide to solving complex problems, avoiding unintended consequences, and achieving lasting results. White River Junction: Chelsea Green Publishing. Weick, K. E. (1995). Sensemaking in organizations (Vol. 3). Thousand Oaks: Sage. Weick, K. E., Sutcliffe, K. M., & Obstfeld, D. (2005). Organizing and the process of sensemaking. Organization Science, 16(4), 409–421.


Metaphors: A Critical Culture Tool

Throughout this book, I have emphasized the social nature of these processes that combine and interact to produce organizational cultures. Since cultures and their contents are highly symbolic, as we discussed, their content and meanings tend to be abstract. How do people in an organization communicate their emerging, often intangible, and highly conceptual thinking to one another as they find their ways to greater and fuller levels of consensus? The short answer is that they use metaphors and a shared metaphorical vocabulary to communicate and further develop cultural concepts among themselves. Most dictionaries define metaphor as a figure of speech and figurative language (“Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary,” 2008). For many people, this is exactly how they think of metaphor—as a rhetorical device emanating from the poetic imagination. This understanding of metaphor implies that metaphors have a limited use and meaning. Professors George Lakoff and Mark Johnson revolutionized our understanding of metaphors with their book, Metaphors We Live By (1980a). They introduced a new understanding of how metaphors work with the idea that “the essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another” (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980a, p. 5) (emphasis mine). They demonstrated the use of metaphor is so common as to be pervasive in everyday life. Not only do we speak in metaphors, we think in them. When I conduct workshops on organizational culture, I often ask the participants to think of as many metaphors as possible based on a © The Author(s) 2020 J. MacQueen, The Flow of Organizational Culture,



particular scheme. For this exercise, the scheme works on the conceptual metaphor, “argument is war” (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980a, p. 4). I start the group off by giving some examples: “His criticisms were right on target.” “I’ve never won an argument with him.” “He shot down all my arguments.” These examples help people to understand how we often experience the act of arguing in terms of images associated with war and battle. I then ask people in groups of five to seven to generate lists of their own metaphors that describe arguing as war. By the end of three to five minutes, each group will be able to read out a list of at least six metaphors with relatively few duplications among all the participants. I then will ask the participants how they are feeling physically, emphasizing the word “physically”. People will inevitably talk about feeling tense and anxious. Many will clench their fists or fold their arms tightly around their chests as a demonstration of how they are feeling (note that gestures also qualify as metaphors, demonstrating through often generally understood movements and poses, what they are trying to express but for which they may not feel they have adequate words) (Cienki & Müller, 2008). Next, I tell the group I want them to come up with a new set of metaphors. This time, I ask them to base what they generate on the scheme “argument is dance”. I intentionally do not give them any examples because I want them to generate new metaphors for themselves. At first, the group is mostly silent as they try to wrap their minds around what is, for most of them, an alien concept. Slowly the conversation builds as people begin to get the gist and offer each other more and more ideas. I give them slightly more time than I did in the first round. When I ask for the results, they are fewer and offered more tentatively. This is because the group has been creating a new conceptual system on the spot. Most of them do not have much experience of creating a new conceptual system. Most of our conceptual systems are built up over many years. They appear to us to be ready-made because they are produced out of our own cultures, sometimes at the organizational level but more often at the level of national or regional culture. As members of the workshop share and write down their creations and discoveries, the mood is decidedly different. They have been finding examples of new metaphors such as, “we partnered in the argument,” “we danced around the argument,” “he stepped on the toes of my argument,” and “we argued in time to the music”. Many people find these new metaphors to be surprising and entertaining. In fact, some people



occasionally go so far as to spontaneously stand up and provide demonstrations of their metaphors. When I ask the group how they are feeling, especially in contrast to the first round of metaphor generation, people tell me they feel more relaxed, lighter, and more energized. If I have not done so already, I explain how one aspect of culture consists of shared assumptions about common and/or appropriate ways to think, feel, and talk about things in an organization. I ask people how many of the cultures in their own organizations seem to have the “argument is war” metaphor as a default assumption around how people think about arguing. I cannot remember a time when all of the hands in the room did not go up. I then ask people to think about their own organizational cultures and what it would mean for them if they could exchange the default way of how people think, talk, and act relative to conflict as expressed through the metaphor of argument is war, with a new default metaphor of argument is dance. I am most often met with a kind of stunned silence as people contemplate an almost unimaginable possibility. There are three points I take away from this demonstration. One, metaphors are powerful influences on the creation and communication of organizational culture. Two, as such, metaphors are important in determining how we think, feel, and act in our world. Three, metaphors are embodied: They come out of and exercise influence on our physical experience and interpretation of the world. We have been working with metaphors throughout this entire book. Most often we use them without an awareness that what we are doing is using a metaphor. We use them extensively every time we ask, “What Is organizational culture?” The authors I have cited throughout the book use metaphors and metaphorical constructs to define culture. Schein, for example, talks about “shared basic assumptions,” and “shared accumulated learning” (Schein, 2017). We understand the concepts of assumptions and shared learning because we have experience of them and can apply those concepts to Schein’s definition. (I will explain more about how we create language and especially metaphorical language out of our physical experience later in the chapter.) The same way of understanding complex and abstract ideas holds true for other definitions we have read in this book. Seel and I talk about culture as systems (Seel, 2000). Smircich talks about organizational culture in terms of symbols (Smircich, 1983). Hatch talks about culture in terms


of continuous cycles of action and meaning making (Hatch, 1993). We have talked about how some have described culture as an iceberg. Schein, in the sixth edition of his book (2016) talks about organizational culture as a pond. Each description is an idea of culture stated in terms of something else—the very definition of a metaphor. If it is difficult for us to define and describe the experience of an organizational culture from the outside, imagine how much more difficult it must be for people on the inside of an organization to describe its culture? This is especially true if they are constructing a new or modified culture and trying to talk about the nature of it to other people. The concept of culture and the concepts that are the emergent descriptions of cultural elements can all be very abstract and difficult to describe, let alone define. And so, we resort to metaphors because they allow us to understand abstract concepts in terms of concrete experiences (Bergen, 2012; Lakoff & Johnson, 1980a). For example, if you live in or have spent very much time in the United States, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “lost in the weeds”. It is an idiomatic expression applied to a person who is trying to solve a problem but is overcome by the details or complexity of the problem. You probably understand the meaning of this phrase because you have heard it often or picked up its meaning from the context of the conversation. But think for a moment. You have undoubtedly seen a patch of tangled weeds that were so thick and intertwined that the prospect of seeing through them to find some small object is impossible. Even worse, there was a situation in which you were actually in such a patch of weeds and had to crawl through them to find that small object and then find your way out again. This, by the way, is an example of a conceptual metaphor, where one concept is used to help explain another concept. It is one of three basic types of metaphor we will explore in this chapter. The others are embodied metaphors and generative metaphors. Embodied metaphors are ones that have their genesis in physical experience and which you can understand because you have had that physical experience. Generative metaphors are metaphors that have the ability to shift the frame through which we understand an idea. The fact that you can apply the memory of a physical experience imaginatively to a real situation begins to demonstrate the essence of metaphor, why it works, and why it is valuable as a tool for understanding complex ideas and abstract meanings. Ultimately, this will take us into an exploration of embodied metaphors, the processes that produce



them and how they work neurologically so that we can produce and understand metaphorical ideas. Before we go any further, I want to make it clear that this chapter is not intended as reading for members of a group who are themselves involved in shifting or creating organizational culture. Rather, this chapter is for you, the consultant, who may be faced with the challenge of helping people to clarify and communicate their versions of emerging culture. They will do this through the attempted construction of their own metaphors and may be coming up empty handed or simply not getting their ideas across to others. The more you understand how people create and use metaphors, the more likely you are to be able to assist with this task effectively. The use of metaphor is ubiquitous in our culture as well as most other cultures. People use metaphor to think with, to explain themselves to others, to organize their talk, and the choice of metaphor often reveals — not only their conceptualization — but also, and perhaps more importantly for human communication, their attitudes and values. (Cameron, 2008, p. 197)

You do not need to go further than a quick perusal of your local newspaper, a popular magazine, or even the social media to which you may subscribe to see evidence of the importance of metaphors in everyday communication. The following list is drawn from a Sunday edition of the New York Times (I have italicized the metaphors for emphasis): the researcher, a towering figure in the cancer world the development of breakthrough drugs did not follow financial disclosure rules put a positive spin on the result held secret meetings Basra has escaped the terrorist violence that has wracked the country for years sewing panic in the hills they have roughed up the guards are now gearing up for a top official ‘Obama care’ is toxic in West Virginia officials wrestle over what to do how Albany weighs down City Hall (New York Times, 2018)


As you begin to understand what constitutes a metaphor, you, too, will begin to see and hear them everywhere if you don’t already. What does this have to do with organizational cultures? At this point, I want to emphasize metaphors’ relationship to culture in general and by extension the organizational cultures. A short way back, I used the term conceptual system. The metaphors we use in everyday speech can be understood by most of the people with whom we communicate. This is because they are drawn from conceptual systems that exist in our larger meta-culture and are familiar to the people in social proximity to most of us. In turn, this allows us to communicate with each other using a common system of concepts and metaphors. This is the case with the list of metaphors from the newspaper. Most of us (at least in the United States) understand those metaphors because we share a common system of reference and understood meanings for them. With regard to metaphors, our conceptual system tends to group metaphors according to their implied meanings and functions. Lakeoff and Johnson (1980a) suggest that within the realm of conceptual metaphors, there are basically three subcategories of metaphors. The first are orientational metaphors, ones that structure non-metaphorical ideas in a linear fashion (for instance, more is up, good is up, and rational is up). Examples might include, “my income went down this year,” “her position is higher than mine,” “our quality of life has definitely gone up,” and “he rose above the emotionality of the argument”. Second, ontological metaphors are those that endow an idea, thing or substance with a status that it does not have on its own. Metaphors like this might include: Ideas are entities and words are containers, and the mind is a container. They also include, the mind is a machine, the mind is a brittle object, and vitality is a substance. Metaphors in these categories might include, “I can’t seem to get that idea across to her,” “you have to commit these dates to memory,” “their cogs are really churning trying to solve that problem,” “her mind fell apart under the pressure,” and “his energy seems to be running out”. Structural metaphors are the third. These metaphors involve using the structure of one kind of experience to express or understand another experience. These metaphors include, understanding is seeing and life is a gambling game. The first of these might be statements such as, “they need to have the big picture,” and the second, “they need to buy into what we’re doing and get some skin in the game”.



As a consultant facilitating this work, it may be essential that you understand both the theory of a conceptual system and the specifics of your client’s conceptual system as derived from their specific culture and expressed metaphorically. Also essential to our conceptual system (or even cognitive system) is that metaphors have entailments. In other words, there are consequential relationships implied in the metaphor. We see these in metaphors that include, time is money, (“I need to be careful how I spend my time”) time is a limited resource, (“I can’t afford to take the time off”) and time is a valuable commodity, (“This approach will save you a lot of time in the long run”). Important to understanding the human conceptual system and where our everyday metaphors come from is that they provide metaphorical definitions. Most of the ideas for which we use metaphors as definitions are abstract. The definitions they provide are usually partial, inconsistent, and overlapping. We are willing to accept these definitions because they are metaphorical and as humans we are satisfied and often happier with filling in whatever details are needed out of our own experience. Metaphorical definitions include many of the following for defining the concept of “ideas.” Ideas are organisms, especially with respect to life-and-death. Some examples include these that follow. Ideas have life spans: “The atomic bomb was born at Los Alamos.” Ideas are plants: “She grew the idea for the book from that lecture.” Ideas are products: “We can refine that idea to make it more usable.” Ideas are commodities: “I think you can sell that idea to the boss.” Ideas are resources: “I’ve got an idea that will get us out of this mess.” Ideas are money: “I think that idea is worth something.” Ideas are cutting instruments: “That’s a very sharp idea.” Ideas are food: “I need to chew on that idea for a while.” Ideas are fashions: “Her approach is really in style right now”. As you can see, none of the metaphorical definitions suggested above for the abstract concept of “idea” are complete or even consistent. It is likely, in the course of your work with groups shifting organizational cultures and producing new cultural assumptions, that you will be helping them to gain consensus around some very abstract ideas and concepts. It is extremely important to note that abstract concepts are defined in terms of the system of related metaphors in the conceptual system. The definitions are given for general concepts, not individual words. No lexicon for individual words and phrases will be adequate for definitions of this kind.

126  J. MACQUEEN Such definitions must be made in terms of metaphors on the conceptual level, and not in terms of words in the linguistic level. (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980b, p. 201)

Some of the content of a particular conceptual system can be drawn from the jargon used by a specific group. Some of it may be expressed in metaphors specific to that group. For example, I once had a client whose staff were housed in multiple buildings. Two of the buildings housing staff from different units of a single division were across the street from each other but joined on the second floor of each building by a pedestrian bridge. When people in the one building talked about ideas or work product generated by groups in the second building it was often referenced, somewhat disparagingly, as having come from “across the bridge”. Knowing and understanding some of the unique aspects of the client’s conceptual system and how metaphors derive from it will be invaluable to you for interpreting how things work in an organization. In my systems model of organizational culture (Chapter 4), you might remember the particular cycle of the interactions that include “meaning,” “identity,” and “metaphors/stories”. One of the implications of the inclusion of the processes I’ve labeled as metaphors and stories is the idea that metaphors and stories are working in at least two directions. One direction we might think of as outward facing: People make meaning, construct identities, and assumptions about how they are to perceive and act relative to their organization. Since those concepts are often abstract, they may need to make metaphors to convey those ideas to others. Cultural assumptions, values, and attitudes are not a conceptual overlay which we may or may not place upon experience as we choose. It would be more correct to say that all experience is cultural through and through, that we experience our world in such a way that our culture is already present in the very experience itself. (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980a, p. 57)

We might also think about the processes of metaphor construction as being inwardly directed in that the group may well be making new metaphors to make sense and give shape to their experiences in a way that conventional existing metaphors cannot do. Organizational culture is constructed of the physical experiences that we encounter in our organizations (Bergen, 2012). Because of the way our brains work, biological and linguistic experience is not



easily separated. While these experiences might sometimes be classified as imaginative or intellectual, we will see how their expression as metaphor is produced by the same sensory-motor system we use to interact with the world, hence embodied. We resort to metaphors when we are trying to create something new or beyond what we are certain of with others (Boucher, 2014). When group members are an integral part of the processes that are altering their organizational culture, new metaphors are generated for the purposes of communication and forging internal understanding. This is especially true as new cultural concepts increasingly become the sources for behavior. When new sources for behaviors are made explicit, the resulting descriptions are often developed in metaphors through the processes of embodiment. Embodiment is a term usually understood as indicating that something intangible has been made physical—or given a body. Part of the idea here is that metaphors, certainly intangible ideas, actually begin in the body. As Bergen says, “Embodiment [is] the idea that meaning might be something that isn’t just distilled away from our bodily experiences but is instead tightly bound by them” (Bergen, 2012, p. 12). To better explain this, we will draw on the Neural Theory of Thought and Language (NTTL) which helps explain what is happening as we produce metaphorical language from physical experience in that most important part of the body, the brain. “We think with our brains, that is, thought is physical and is carried out by functionalist neural circuitry” (Lakoff, 2012, p. 1). Brains are organs and thinking is a physical activity. Our brains work by taking in information from other connected organs: eyes, ears, muscles, skin, etc. Information (stimuli) is transmitted to our brains by nerves, otherwise known as our neural network. Our brains, in turn, interpret the stimuli they have received and send messages (stimuli) back to those organs so that we sense or experience the stimuli at what we perceive to be the source, that is, sight through the eyes, sound through the ears, smell through the nose, bodily movement through our muscles, or touch through our skin. This happens, even though the actual receptors of those sensations are in the brain. Memory of the sensations and the body’s responses to them are made and stored in the brain for later use, especially in the hippocampus. When those memories are recalled, the neurons that fired to create those experiences will fire again—stimulating those same sensations in


the organs in which we experienced the original/actual sensations (see Chapter 7 for more detailed accounts of these processes). In similar fashion, the neurons that we use to accomplish ­goal-related behaviors, such as grasping an object, fire in an integrated fashion to achieve that goal. This means the eyes see the object, the muscles in the hands and arms are directed to reach for it, and close the fingers around the object so that the goal is attained. These activities are coordinated in the parietal lobe which also controls a number of language functions (Schacter, Gilbert, & Wegner, 2009). Employing Hebbian learning where the repetition of the grasping activity produces strengthened synaptic pathways (“Neurons that fire together wire together,”) makes duplication of the grasping motion increasingly easy and familiar. A memory of what it looks and feels like to grasp something is formed. We, then, have something that can be simulated. That is, an experience that we might say is imagined, where the neurons that were involved in grasping the first time it was done fire to recreate a sense memory of that experience again (see Chapter 7). So, while the same sensory-motor system involved in the grasping action is activated and felt, it may not be at the same level that would cause actual movement of the arm of the hand. Taken together, the grasping activity and the ability to simulate that activity suggest that our brains have formed what we might now call a “concept,” that is, the singular complex idea of grasping a thing (Gallese & Lakoff, 2005). This “concept” may or may not have language associated with it. If there is a need for language to express “grasping,” people will often attach what they feel is appropriate language. There are some functions that control language that are located in this same area of the brain which helps to explain some of their accessibility to motor functions (Schacter et al., 2009). Two more classes of neurons are at work in this idea of neural conceptualization. They are mirror neurons and canonical neurons. Mirror neurons are motor cells in the brain that control muscle movement. These particular neurons are also stimulated to perform or simulate some movement by the sight of the same movement performed by others (Jarrett, 2013). In other words, Mirror neurons are a class of neuron that modulate their activity both when an individual executes a specific motor act and when they observe the same or similar act performed by another individual. (Kilner & Lemon, 2013, R1057)



Canonical neurons are a class of neurons that fire when we see an object with which we are familiar, when we reach for that object, or even when we hear the name of the object (Garbarini & Adenzato, 2004). For example, if the object in question is an apple, we not only recognize it as an apple, we also know that it is good to eat, and we can simulate reaching for that apple, grasping it, and eating it. What we have so far, is a relatively good description of how we produce language, and especially metaphorical language, from physical experience. The next question, however, has to do with understanding metaphors that we have not created personally so that we can discuss metaphorical ideas with others in the process of developing new organizational culture. If you have understood the processes we use to create embodied concepts and language, understanding the way we use those same processes to understand the metaphors of others is not difficult. We are simply using the same tools in reverse. This is true even if the idea we are working with is abstract (grasping a concept) as opposed to concrete (grasping an apple). The phrase we use activates the sensory-motor system neurons responsible for performing the similar action. We then mentally simulate that action substituting the metaphorical concept for the real object. Shortly after the soundwaves of spoken words hit our ears or the light of written characters hits our eyes, we engage our vision and motor systems to create the non-present visions and actions that are described. (Bergen, 2012, p. 223)

An important aspect of metaphorical communication we haven’t yet covered is the use of gesture. We often see gestures used to add emphasis to what is being said. For example, someone talking about the repetition of an event might use his or her hand to make a vertical loop indicating that an action or an event happened over and over (Cienki & Müller, 2008). These gestures stimulate the brain in very much the same way as written and oral metaphors. I was recently participating in a meeting where, as we approached the end of a presentation, the leader said, “It’s time to wrap up”. As she made the statement, she simultaneously made a circle in the air with her vertically extended forefinger. I immediately experienced the sensation of closing my notebook and straightening my papers, although I didn’t


do either of these things in the moment. What I had done was simulate the actions I associated with wrapping up a meeting as a response to her metaphorical gesture. So, what do these various theories of metaphor have to do with your role as a consultant working with groups to change organizational culture? As I have noted before, people going through the processes of generating new organizational culture often come up with numerous ideas that are both diverse and abstract. At various points within those processes, it is likely that they will want to converge around ideas such as organizational identities. For example, what assumptions are they generating regarding the organization? Or, what constitutes appropriate behavior within the organization? In order to come together and reach consensus, the group must understand these newly introduced concepts among themselves—and sometimes communicate them to others outside the group. On occasion, people will identify or generate a metaphor that has such resonance for the group working to express a cultural idea that your job is simply to get out of the way and let them settle on the meaning of the metaphor on their own. But in cases where the concept is particularly abstract and/or complex, the group may need help generating a metaphor that speaks to all. Finding something that is meaningful to each person in the group is important. Without unanimity and acceptance of the concept, how it is intended and meant, the new culture cannot be constructed. To ensure success in this work, a consultant should know enough about how embodied metaphors are produced to stimulate those processes in the group without participating in creating the content. Many times, the process is a relatively straightforward task of facilitating the group’s conversation. If this is the case, you may only need to keep the conversation going as new ideas emerge and a natural consensus involves. Often, this is simply asking questions to help the group go deeper into the meaning of whatever it is with which they are struggling: “What do you mean by that?” “Can you say more about that?” “Tom, what do you think Shelley has in mind when she says that?” “Emily, what does that idea (concept) remind you of?” “What would doing that feel like?” All of these are suggestions that may help to open up people’s imaginations and feelings around an idea. In the event that the group is trying to define too closely a concept they’ve been discussing, they may find themselves going around in circles. When this is the case, you will need to help them break out of the



tautological loop they have created trying to define something conceptual in concrete terms when the language they are employing is simply too limited (Bergen, 2012). Suggestions such as those above, especially what would do that feel like, can help them shift their thinking to a mode that is more experiential and thus more metaphorical. Other times, a more active, physically engaging approach may be needed. Involving the group in metaphorical games or improvisations can be helpful. I have found using or adapting the work of Virginia Satir, the great family systems therapist (Satir, 1988; Satir & Banmen, 1991), or Viola Spolin, the famous teacher and scholar of acting technique (Spolin & Sills, 1999), to be excellent source material for this kind of work (note, if you decide to employ exercises described in Satir’s work you should do so with great care. The feelings that may be generated might go beyond what was intended or needed for addressing the subject at hand). Storytelling can also be very effective and not as potentially precarious or daunting for the practitioner with less experience. For example, I worked for some time with the Board of Directors of a nonprofit group whose initial request was to do an organizational vision and mission. Their presenting issue was, “We seem to be stalled. We just can’t get over the hump with our fundraising”. I had deferred jumping into visioning work with them until I knew them better. The group originally had been part of a larger, international nonprofit serving communities in a number of South and Central American states. The group with which I was working split from the larger entity over disputes of where fiscal and people resources could most effectively be applied. The new organization was under the leadership of a well-known international scientist who wanted the organization to focus its efforts exclusively in Mexico. The new group had substantial initial success raising funds for this effort and had effectively financed a couple of projects in communities in Mexico. Over time their fund development efforts had stalled and they were experiencing internal conflict over the most effective ways to move forward. A further complication was that the scientist, the de facto founder of the new organization, would occasionally use the organization’s money to initiate new programs in remote locations. These were done solely at his initiative, without first obtaining consensus from the board for the effort or the expenditures. While most of the board approved of these programs once initiated and, in fact, displayed pride in the organization’s


achievements in conducting them, the fact that the programs had been planned and implemented without acquiring board approval was a sore spot. I began working with them in a relatively low-key, straightforward, standard organization development manner that focused on exploring the relationships among board members and the kind of tactical approaches they had taken to improve their fundraising efforts. During this time, they made a couple of attempts to create a new organizational vision for themselves but had been unsuccessful. After many months of with the working on group communications and decision-making skills, I could see both their interpersonal skills and tolerance for difference and ambiguity improving. It seemed to me that they might be ready to work on something that had the potential for significant cultural change. I offered to do a visioning retreat with them that was held off-site and scheduled for a full day. At the retreat, I first asked them to tell me the history of the group in detail. This was done in such a way that the entire group could participate. In a round-robin fashion, they identified as many events as they could think of that contributed to the history of how they had begun as an organization and how they had come to be in this room at this time. Events were often told out of order and the written record (done on large sheets of paper employing graphic facilitation techniques) often needed to be changed as different people recalled different events and sometimes remembered the same event differently. When this task was accomplished, the walls of the room were filled with a very complete chronicle of the group’s journey from past to present. To ensure the sense of what they had been through over time was clear in everybody’s mind, I asked for volunteers to read the history out loud and then asked the whole group if they were certain we had captured everything important. When no one could think of anything more to add, we were ready to move on to the next portion of the exercise. I told the group that the next task was to transform the history that they had just completed into the story of the group. To do this, they were going to have to consolidate some details, picking those events that were most important to developing a narrative flow. I suggested they do that by selecting those events that had the most influence on what actions people had taken to create that impact. Again, I suggested that they work in a kind of dialogic, round-robin fashion, but that anybody could suggest changes to what had already been put up while working to



build on what had been established. Interestingly, very few of these kinds of changes were made in the narrative/story version of the history. What they related this time was completed quite quickly. I asked for volunteers to “read” the graphic recording version of their narrative/story. I also asked if there were any additions or corrections to be added when this task was done. Once again, there were none. For the final portion of the day’s work, I asked the group once more to transform the story upon which they had been building. This time they were to extend from the same basic narrative but change it into some new kind of story. I told them it could be anything: a Western, a romance story, a gangster story, a fantasy with elves, whatever they chose. What they were to do was fit the narrative they constructed into the framework of this different kind of story and then tell the story into the future. I told them they would have 15 minutes to choose the kind of story with which they wanted to work, and then left the room so that they could be assured of making their decision without my influence. When I returned, I told them that they were to construct the story using the same method they had for the previous versions. They were to use the dialogic round-robin format and anyone was free to make changes or corrections when it came to be their turn. The following, in essence, is the story that they told: Once there was a merry band of outlaws who lived in the forest with their wise and brave leader. They had rebelled against a group that claimed to help people, but took more than they gave. Now, they stole from the rich and gave to the poor, and felt happy and successful. Sometimes, their leader rode off into the forest on his own. This left the merry band feeling lost and confused. When he returned, he told of the adventures he had and deeds he had done on his own. The merry band always found this troubling. Finally, they spoke to the leader and he agreed not to go on adventures by himself. They once again stole from the rich and gave to the poor. They were a happy and successful band ever after.

When they had finished, there was a very thoughtful silence in the room. As usual, I asked for a volunteer to retell the story using the graphic record and again asked if there were any additions or corrections that anyone wanted to make. They shook their heads no. I then asked them if they felt they had a new vision for themselves. Slowly, they all nodded yes. I then asked if anyone could tell me what their vision was


for themselves? One person raised her hand and said, “I think we’re supposed to be a band of happy outlaws taking from the rich and giving to the poor. Is that right?” She looked around the room and everybody nodded agreement with her. I paused for a moment and then asked, “So, do you think you came up with a new mission? And if so, can anybody tell me what it is?” The same person raised her hand and said, “help people help themselves?” She looked around the room. Another person offered tentatively, “In Mexico?” Another declared, “Yes! Help people help themselves in Mexico!” Suddenly, there was agreement all around the room and within a matter of moments, everybody was chanting in unison, “Help people help themselves in Mexico!” And a few were actually getting up and dancing to the rhythm of the chant. The shift in the organization’s mission and vision represented a substantial shift in the organization’s culture. The group seemed to have adopted an attitude of consistent good humor and goodwill in the course of doing business. They became more entrepreneurial in the way they went about planning and executing their fundraising activities, consistently willing to consider going against other, often taken for granted, established practices frequently seen in the greater fundraising community. This renewed energy and activity resulted in substantial increases in their fundraising over time. Why was this work successful? Efforts at creating organizational mission and vision are, at root, exercises in sense- and meaning making with an explicit emphasis on defining group identities. People are solving problems of external adaptation and internal integration by defining who they think they are as individuals and a group, and becoming comfortable sharing those identities among themselves and with people outside the group. I believe that at some time in this group’s past, probably when it split off from the original nonprofit, their organizational pattern had been disrupted in a significant way. That disruption was never effectively addressed. I do not believe the group had ever gone through any sensemaking as a group, and therefore had not been able to come to consensus about their identity. Consequently, new members also did not have a strong sense of the group’s identity. In encouraging the group to relate the details of their history, this was perhaps their first opportunity to identify cues for sensemaking as a social activity (see Chapter 7). When working on the history as narrative, they took the first steps needed to generate a metaphor for themselves based



on “telling a good story” (Weick, 1995). Telling the story of the merry band and its wandering leader created a metaphor through which they could address the leader’s behavior. They also could begin to describe and explain the nature of the cultural assumptions about their identities and the behavior they wanted to manifest and experience as an organization. When we see something like this happening, we begin to understand the role and power of metaphors in the development of an organizational culture. Before concluding our discussion of metaphors, there is a particular class of metaphor that Donald Schön refers to as generative metaphor (Schön, 1979) that will be valuable to our general understanding of metaphors and their value to the growth of organizational culture. Generative metaphors not only help us understand and experience one thing in terms of another, they can help us understand something in an entirely new way. This makes them especially useful when working with groups that are stuck solving a particular problem. In these cases, it is likely the group has only seen the problem in one way, defining the problem only in one frame (Barrett & Cooperrider, 1990). In similar fashion, groups often have trouble shifting a culture when they are trying to think about it head on. They have only the experience of their existing culture available to them as a frame of reference. It will be very difficult for them to make progress until they can see their existing culture in a new light. In other words, it is very difficult to change one’s cultural assumptions by examining and analyzing them as they are with no new context. Hence, the value of generative metaphors. Generative metaphors overcome these psychological obstacles because they are either new metaphors or new to the audience trying to use them and therefore reside outside of the existing conceptual system. You may recall the initial exercise I described in this chapter asking people in workshops to generate metaphors within the scheme of “argument is war”. When I changed the exercise and asked them to think of as many ideas as possible around the metaphorical scheme “argument is dance,” the group is often silent while they contemplate the task. For most of them, “argument is dance” does not have a place within their existing conceptual system. When they begin to imagine metaphors in this scheme, the results are often inventive, even remarkable. New metaphors have the ability to create a new reality. This can begin to happen when we start to comprehend our experience in terms of metaphor, and it becomes a deeper reality when we begin to act in terms of

136  J. MACQUEEN it. If a new metaphor enters a conceptual system upon which we base our actions, it will alter that perceptual system and the perceptions and actions that the system gives rise to. (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980b, p. 145)

In this case, the dance metaphors were not only new, they were generative. They helped the participants in the workshop see arguing in a whole new light. If, as I had suggested, the participants were able to install the “argument is dance” metaphors in their organizations, people might have begun to understand the nature of arguing in such a different way that their cultural assumptions about how to experience and behave in the face of arguments would have been transformed. In illustrating his idea of generative metaphors, Schön presents a more practical example. He describes a group of product development researchers who were working on a new paintbrush with synthetic bristles. They had not been pleased with the performance of this new brush because, relative to natural bristle brushes, the new brushes failed to apply paint in a way that was smooth and even. They had employed various approaches to improve the paint brushes. These included creating bristles that mimicked natural bristles by splitting the ends and experimenting with bristles that had different thicknesses. Nothing worked. At some point, one of the researchers noticed that when a paintbrush is pressed against the surface, paint flows through the spaces between the bristles onto the surface. The paint is made to flow through the “channels” formed by the brush. He noted that painters will sometimes vibrate a brush when applying paint to a surface, so as to facilitate the flow of paint. This led the researcher to compare the paintbrush to a pump. As others began to understand this idea, they were able to develop successfully a new product as a result of the “pump” metaphor. Thus, the metaphor of “paintbrush is a pump” led to commercial success by enabling the researchers to define the qualities of a paintbrush in a different way (Schön, 1979). Many times, you will experience generative metaphors emerging spontaneously from the group. When this is the case, your job is to stand back and allow it to happen. If this is not the case and you believe the use of generative metaphor might be helpful, and if your judgment is to encourage the emergence of the metaphor, you may need to prepare an environment in which that emergence can happen. This is what I did in the case of the “merry band of outlaws” metaphor. I helped the group to structure the telling of their history, making that history a narrative, and then changing that narrative into a metaphorical story. (This also mirrors the process of sensemaking. See above.)



It is important that you do not interfere beyond this laying of groundwork in the construction of such metaphors. You must assiduously avoid presenting the group with a metaphor for their use. To do so will tend to deprive them of their “ownership” of the metaphor. Also, through the neural processes that we have discussed, the social activity of generating that metaphor can create shared language and shared meanings that they will continue to use as they employ the metaphor as an element in their culture. In a case such as this, your work with people will be to understand the implications of the metaphor as they begin to apply it in their culture (Srivastva & Barrett, 1988). Not all generative metaphors will work this way. In the case of the paintbrush metaphor, Schön notes that it took time for the researchers to recognize the metaphor for what it was and, further, to recognize its generative qualities (Schön, 1979). If this is the case, it may be advisable for you, as the consultant, to very gently probe their understanding of what it is with which they are working. Again, it is very important that they come to that understanding on their own for the same reasons I cited above. There may, however, be times when the nature of the project on which you are working will require that you present the group with something that is, in fact, a generative metaphor needed to move the group toward seeing their culture differently. When this is the case you will need to employ some sort of physical experiences, the group can use for neuro-simulations to achieve the benefit of metaphorical understanding. In the next chapter, where I present my case study, I will explain methods for doing this and you will have the opportunity to see the practical application of much of what we have discussed in this book relative to guiding people toward shifting their organizational cultures.

References Barrett, F. J., & Cooperrider, D. L. (1990). Generative metaphor intervention: A new approach for working with systems divided by conflict and caught in defensive perception. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 26(2), 219–239. Bergen, B. K. (2012). Louder than words: The new science of how the mind makes meaning. New York: Basic Books. Boucher, R. H. (2014). Creative breakthrough emergence: A conversational accomplishment (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from http://search.

138  J. MACQUEEN 4E4586EDB0774871PQ/1. Cameron, L. (2008). Metaphor and talk. In R. W. Gibbs, Jr. (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of metaphor and thought (pp. 197–211). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Cienki, A., & Müller, C. (2008). Metaphor, gesture, and thought. In R. W. Gibbs, Jr. (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of metaphor and thought (pp. 483–501). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Gallese, V., & Lakoff, G. (2005). The brain’s concepts: The role of the sensory-motor system in conceptual knowledge. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 22(3– 4), 455–479. Garbarini, F., & Adenzato, M. (2004). At the root of embodied cognition: Cognitive science meets neurophysiology. Brain and Cognition, 56(1), 100–106. Hatch, M. J. (1993). The dynamics of organizational culture. The Academy of Management Review, 18(4), 657–693. Jarrett, C. (2013). A calm look at the most hyped concept in neuroscience— Mirror neurons. Science, 12, 13. Kilner, J. M., & Lemon, R. N. (2013). What we know currently about mirror neurons. Current Biology, 23(23), R1057–R1062. Lakoff, G. (2012). Explaining embodied cognition results. Topics in Cognitive Science, 4(4), 773–785. Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980a). Metaphor we live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980b). The metaphorical structure of the human conceptual system. Cognitive Science, 4(2), 195–208. Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary. (2008) (Electronic ed., Version: 4.7 ed.). Merriam-Webster, Fogware Publishing, Art Software Inc., Data Storage Research. Satir, V. (1988). The new peoplemaking. Mountain View: Science & Behavior Books. Satir, V., & Banmen, J. (1991). The Satir model: Family therapy and beyond. Palo Alto: Science & Behavior Books. Schacter, D. L., Gilbert, D. T., & Wegner, D. M. (2009). Introducing psychology. London: Macmillan. Schein, E. H. (2016). Organizational culture and leadership (5th ed.). Hoboken: Wiley. Schein, E. H. (2017). Organization development: A Jossey-Bass reader. Hoboken: Wiley. Schön, D. 1979. Generative metaphor: A perspective on problem setting in Social Policy. In A. Ortony (Ed.), Metaphor and Thought (pp. 254–283). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



Seel, R. (2000). Culture and complexity: New insights on organisational change. Organisations & People, 7(2), 2–9. Smircich, L. (1983). Concepts of culture and organizational analysis. Administrative Science Quarterly, 28(3), 339–358. Spolin, V., & Sills, P. (1999). Improvisation for the theater: A handbook of teaching and directing techniques. Evanston: Northwestern University Press. Srivastva, S., & Barrett, F. J. (1988). The transforming nature of metaphors in group development: A study in group theory. Human Relations, 41(1), 31–63. The New York Times. (2018, September 9). The New York Times. Weick, K. E. (1995). Sensemaking in organizations (Vol. 3). Thousand Oaks: Sage.


Using the Ideas and Approaches: A Case Study

Many books focusing on organizational behavior and all of its complexities, include case studies. I find them interesting because they often help describe the practical application of theories in ways that cannot be achieved by dialectical description on its own. They can be instrumental in illustrating the ideas and work being described. This is especially true when the study provides a relatively complete account of how the project was accomplished and evaluated. That is what I have tried to do with this chapter. The study presented here is a project that sought to implement a culture change in a hi-tech support organization. It is the story of how my client/partners and I designed the project process, ran the process, and subsequently assessed its success. Because this book is for scholar/ practitioners, I have chosen to include the study and its evaluation data even though the project was not an unqualified success, something, in my experience, not often published. The study is intended as a cautionary tale of what can happen when a client fails to follow through on their end of the agreements for which you have contracted and client agreements are taken for granted either by the client, the consultant, or, sometimes, both. I am presenting the study here in the hope that what you learn as scholar/practitioners will have an impact on your ability to practice, save you some of the pain I went through, and, most of all, help you to understand ways of learning from your experience. © The Author(s) 2020 J. MacQueen, The Flow of Organizational Culture,



I will present analyses of the quantitative and qualitative statistics gathered in a longitudinal study of the project which show that the theory and techniques employed seem to have been successful. Along the way, in examining efforts to influence the culture, I will devote time to describing what I understand to be some of the project’s impacts on the organization as well as some of the project’s impacts on me, the consultant. The entity within which the client in the study exists is a government-funded organization of about 20,000–30,000 employees. It has three principal levels of management. At the top level are the President and her staff. Within the institution, there are “divisions,” overseen by Vice Presidents. Within the divisions, there are “departments” whose managers have the title, Executive Director. The client organization in this study is a department with approximately 250 employees at the time the project and study commenced. It is situated within the Information Technology (IT) services division of the institution. The department provides and manages the institution’s IT infrastructure. It supplies, maintains, and manages its Internet, email, and telephone services for all the functional units within the institution. The department operates on a cost-recovery financial model. It is the only department in the institution that does so. The unit must recover all or most of its costs through fees charged to its clients and customers—other divisions and departments within the larger institution. Thus, the satisfaction and goodwill of its customers is as important to this department as it would clearly be to a commercial entity. While a small portion of its budget is provided through the institution’s budgeting system, relationships it has with customers who are not charged for services are just as, or more, important. This is because those customers who are not charged for the department’s services may also have a voice in what funding is provided directly to this department. Therefore, the department’s customer service relationships are equally important with both types of consumer. It should also be noted that the Vice President of the IT division for many years managed his division with a kind of benign neglect— employing “a hands-off” philosophy toward all the departments. This had significant implications for how this specific department was managed. In my initial engagement with this department, I was brought into facilitate and resolve a contentious issue that had come up with



several other divisions that were stakeholders in a major IT ­infrastructure project. The department was responsible for implementing the plan. Based on my success in that assignment, I was asked to assist a departmental communications team established specifically to support the rollout of the infrastructure project. No one in this communications team seemed to know exactly what they were supposed to communicate about this project—or to whom. The confusion derived in part, from the fact that there was another, previously established communications team whose leadership was located with the general IT division management. That group had a broader portfolio and seemed to believe they had been given the same charge. Not unexpectedly, I found the lack of direction for the departmental team produced a certain amount of confusion and low-level conflict between the two groups. I offered to facilitate the departmental communications team in the development of a team charter as a way to clarify for themselves, and their own management sponsors, what exactly their charge was to be. They then could negotiate directly with the division team to sort out purview. Given that the Executive Director of the department was in charge of the infrastructure project, this approach allowed them to negotiate directly with the division team to sort out purview. The offer was accepted. We went to work. I began by having them answer the usual questions of “how and to whom we will be accountable,” “how are we to structure ourselves?” and “to whom and how are we to communicate internally and externally?” Then, I recommended that they identify, more specifically, what their purpose or goal as a committee was to be. One of the senior leaders of the department provided us with an answer: The goal of the committee, and indeed the goal of the project, was to “reestablish communications technology as a strategic asset in direct support of [the larger organization’s] mission.” To say the least, I was very surprised, if not stunned by this idea. How could it be that communications technology was not already considered a strategic asset by the entire organization? Were there any functions in the organization that were not at least touched by these technologies if not dependent on them for their operations? In pursuing answers to this question, I learned that under a previous Executive Director’s administration, the organization had been managed in a very conservative, if not rigid, manner. For example, I was told about an incident where a team was doing an installation job that required some construction work. The site for the work, coincidentally,


was across the street from a hardware store. The team ran into a minor problem and needed some additional supplies for the job: a bucket of tar whose cost was under seven dollars. Rather than going across the street and purchasing the bucket of tar, the employees had to submit a revised work order and a purchase order then wait a week and half to two weeks while both were approved in several different departments at several different levels. Neither the customer nor the work crew were happy with this turn of events. These types of administrative procedures had been established to maintain what had been perceived at the time as being necessary for maintaining tight budget and project controls. They had become part of the culture and way of doing things. They generally went unquestioned except, perhaps, by people on work crews and project teams such as this one. Whenever anyone complained they were simply told, “these are the rules and this is the way we do things”. I learned that, over time, the internal narrative of the department had become, “We don’t do that. We can’t do that. We won’t do that”. Also, I learned that for a number of years, the department had developed a reputation for poor customer service because of the hoops customers and employees often had to go through to get even relatively simple tasks done. It eventually became known as “The Department of No”. These somewhat draconian rules and procedures represented elements of a culture that seemed particularly at odds with the department’s business needs. It was crucial that the department win and maintain the loyalty of its customers. While the department was the larger institution’s primary source for equipment and services of the type they provided, customers could also go to external vendors for many of those same services and equipment. This presented a potential threat to the department because it was quite conceivable that their very function could be outsourced. The situation represented a consulting opportunity to help the group make changes to its culture. Such a project would entail shifting some of the employee attitudes and behaviors that seemed less than customer friendly. Those shifts, in turn, could lay the groundwork for more structural changes in areas such as formal processes, procedures, and accounting, all of which are elements of an organization that I have elsewhere identified as cultural artifacts. I believed that this could be accomplished through constructing and implementing a new internal department brand and using that brand as a generative metaphor (Schön, 1993) to stimulate the changes that needed to take place.



While working as a member of a branding consultancy, I learned that a brand is more than just a catchphrase or a logo. A brand is a promise regarding the unique experience audiences will have when they come into contact with the company. I have observed, by applying this idea in some very large companies, that for the brand to be effective, the promise needs to be kept consistently with customers and also with employees. You cannot have an effective brand that promises and delivers great service if the employees do not believe they can expect a similar level of responsiveness and concern when dealing with their management and peers. In other words, for customers and employees, what we do as an organization has to equal what we say—and what we say has to equal what we do on all levels. To be successful, the brand needs to be created from the top down and from the bottom up. While there has to be a strong push and support for such an effort from the top, that drive must also exist at a grassroots level from the initiation of the project. If, and when, support is seen, experienced, and recognized throughout the organization, there will be little resistance to adopting and implementing the brand. If, for example, the axiom “say equals do and do equals say” is built-in as an essential part of the brand’s foundation, accountability for supporting behavior at all levels is built-in, at least superficially. This is an especially empowering technique for shifting behaviors, and thus culture. If the group constructs the elements of the brand, as they did in this initiative, they themselves will put the ideas in place. People tend to be enthusiastic about the branding ideas and process because they own them. While the brand will demand changes in behavior, the “say equals do” construction can usually be applied broadly—allowing a particular group or individual to make choices about how they choose to implement those changes. People like the idea that they are doing something good for the organization, good for the customer, and good for themselves as individuals. And the opportunity to participate in forging their own destinies in an active and aboveboard way has great appeal. I proposed this idea to the Executive Director of the department, being careful to warn him that it would take a commitment of significant resources from the organization. It would include considerable amounts of his time as well as the time of his employees. I noted that the implementation would not be achieved speedily. I suggested it would take a minimum of two to three years to achieve observable, measurable results.


I recommended writing a customer satisfaction survey for the purpose of measuring those results. The Executive Director demurred, stating that they already had such instruments in-house and that he did not want to be bombarding his customers with surveys. We neglected to set a timetable for obtaining those data and so they were never collected. We negotiated fees for the work and an agreement to do longitudinal surveys of the organization to determine what results were being achieved internally as one measure of success. He agreed enthusiastically to the project and we moved forward. We went to work. Using the communications committee as a base, we expanded its membership to a somewhat larger though still manageable working group. The membership now included functional representation from throughout the department as well as a range of hierarchical roles. We had people whose jobs involved construction and pulling cable as well as administrative assistants, receptionists, programmers, and software engineers. We included project managers, people from the help desk, and departmental executives. My task was to facilitate the work of this group providing only as much structure to the content as I knew to be necessary to create a viable brand. The components of the brand were to include: • A positioning statement of how the department wanted to be viewed by its membership and by its stakeholders and customers; • A brand promise—a statement of the experience the department would deliver both internally and externally; • The brand character—attributes that people could expect to experience in the brand if it were a person. After several months of weekly and sometimes semiweekly meetings lasting at least two hours, the team produced all the basic statements along with explanations of the meaning of each statement. The document was presented to the Executive Director and his direct reports for approval, which was granted. The committee then asked one of the senior managers on the committee to organize and implement a rollout process that included a series of workshops to be presented to all eligible, full-time employees throughout the entire department. This constituted approximately 250 people.



The senior manager divided and scheduled the department into workshop groups. The groups had to be small enough so that people in each group could actually have discussions in which everyone in a particular session could be actively involved. To accomplish this, each workshop group numbered ten to twelve people. This way, each person could potentially directly engage everyone else in conversation when they were sitting in a circle. The structure further enabled participants easily to break out into smaller groups of three for more intimate work, based on Block’s idea that the true unit of transformation is the small group (Block, 2009). Within each of the workshop groups, individuals were chosen to be representative of the various units within the department. This was done to increase individuals’ familiarity and understanding of what the various groups did and so help to decrease siloing in the department. The “brand orientation sessions” were held once a week. Each workshop had to be long enough that the commitment of time was symbolically significant. Thus, the sessions were a day and a half in duration. The number of workshops allowed everyone in the department to be “touched” by the branding effort in meaningful ways. An important proviso was that the design, content, and facilitation methods of each meeting had to be essentially the same from session to session. I should also note, there was a hierarchical and functional mix in each workshop designed to demonstrate that the brand was going to apply to everybody in the organization. The functional mix was created to combat the siloing already existing in the organization and demonstrate that the brand was meant to be adopted by all. To that end, the Executive Director committed himself to attend the beginning of each workshop to welcome people and kick off the discussion. The “rollout” programs were to be followed some weeks later by the institution of a “coaching program,” which I will describe further on. This aspect of the overall program design was to provide critically necessary support for and reinforcement of the conceptual and behavioral concepts introduced in the brand orientation rollout. While preparing for the brand orientation workshops, we produced a seven-minute video featuring some general statements about the brand, how it had been constructed, and quick explanations of the brand elements. To demonstrate his commitment to the effort and reinforce his leadership role, the video’s narrator was the Executive Director. The


final version was placed on the departmental intranet, for viewing prior to coming to the workshop and for reference after the sessions. We also designed and printed posters which displayed the brand elements as well as other pertinent messages, such as the Paul Watzlawick quotation, “One cannot not communicate” (Watzlawick, Bavelas, & Jackson, 1967, p. 49). This, and some others, were included to reinforce the brand idea that communication is always occurring and all actions would be interpreted by individual customers and peers as saying something relevant to the fulfillment of the brand promise. During the workshops, these were displayed around the room and were used for reference during presentations and discussions. Ultimately, we presented more than 16 one-and-one-half-day workshops. Within the series, we included a pilot workshop and a refresher workshop presented for the departmental executives at the beginning and the end of the series, respectively. These were done to help ensure that the senior management team, which was demonstrating elements of their own subculture (Schein, 1993), had opportunity to experience the branding ideas and to make commitments to them. The workshops were held at a rate of about one per week. At this point, let us take a look at the inner workings of the workshops. Though some things might seem mundane, trivial, it is actually important to the understanding of the process. Each session began with a welcome delivered in person by the Executive Director. We then had a round of introductions. These were particularly important because many of the participants did not know each other nor had they worked together before—a result of internal siloing. Introductions were followed by a presentation of the brand elements as formulated and interpreted by the brand committee. The text of the slides we used is presented below. To gain the deepest possible initial understanding of the brand in a short period of time, participants were actively encouraged to ask questions and discuss the elements as we went along. All of the discussions were facilitated using dialogic techniques. Each participant was asked to speak “into the room,” sharing her own ideas or experience and to build on what people in the group were saying rather than get caught up in responding to someone’s specific comment. This form of dialogue in a meeting helps to create safety and focuses people on thinking about the issues rather than spending all their energy thinking about how they’re going to answer the person who spoke just before them (Schein, 1993).



Throughout the workshop processes, we referred to the posters I mentioned earlier. Mostly, these included statements of the brand elements. The following are adapted from slides used for the workshop presentation and are included here for reference:

Underlying concepts about a brand: “A brand IS — a set of concepts that are consistently applied throughout an organization to influence written materials, visual materials, behavior.”

“A brand is NOT — a logo, a tagline (though the effort might include these.) “A brand is a promise” that we make to customers, stakeholders and each other: a consistent experience every time at every touch point.”

We know that with this brand: Say = Do, and Do = Say This makes us highly and visibly accountable because “One cannot NOT communicate”

We are doing this because we want to make a shift: we want to be the department of “Let’s see.”

The brand position: “A strategic consulting resource creating long-term value with [the larger organization’s] community by applying expertise in communications technology.”


“Strategic means we want to support the long-term Success of our customers. Consulting means communications and collaboration with the customer as part of a work problem/solution. Don’t just fill a need — solve a problem.”

“Creating long-term value with [the larger organization’s] community means: — It’s a collaborative effort. — It’s more than just talk. — The solution we provide has lasting impact in supporting the work/business of our customers.”

“By applying expertise in communications technology means: — this is our sweet spot.”

The brand promise: “Let’s explore what’s possible together.”

The brand character: “Approachable.” “Plain spoken.” “Collaborative.”

“Approachable means we’re easy to reach; we’re easy to talk to (not intimidating with our expertise.)”

“Plain spoken means: we speak in non-technical terms whenever we can, we don’t use jargon. Other words that might go along with this idea are direct and respectful.”



“Collaborative means: we work with customers, partners, and colleagues toward the best possible outcome for everyone. We start by building shared understandings about problems, needs, constraints, and possibilities.”

At the end of this presentation, each person was asked, “What does the brand mean to you?” and their responses were discussed by the entire group. I did this specifically to prompt the sense/meaningmaking process. In this context, you might think of the introduction of the brand and workshops as the interruption discussed in Chapters 4 and 7. Other activities included in orientation sessions represent various elements suggested by my model and the sensemaking process. As we go along I will draw attention to, and highlight, how some of these activities are related to my model. In this section, you will see how the use of metaphors helps define and communicate the new emergent culture functions. I also hoped that the brand and its elements would represent a generative metaphor for the group (Schön, 1993). That is, it would stimulate thinking by pointing out the obvious problems of the present in a context that paves the way for more creative approaches to the future. In point of fact, the brand and the brand elements turned out to be quite successful stimulating this kind of thinking both in the workshops and afterward. This was demonstrated by the anecdotal feedback later provided by managers, supervisors, and the customers themselves. As the workshop progressed, we applied techniques adapted from those sometimes used in appreciative inquiry processes (Cooperrider, Whitney, & Stavros, 2008). These processes encouraged the participants to think about some of the practical implications of implementing the brand and what a future incorporating the brand and brand behavior might look like. They helped stimulate the use of metaphor and prospective simulation—processes identified as elements of sensemaking and meaningmaking in Chapter 7. In groups of three, participants interviewed each other about their history with the organization (a method to promote retrospection and help with identifying cues) and then encouraged their partners to tell their story into the future (prospective simulation). The results of the interviews were presented to all of the participants. Then, the entire


group collaborated on making a list of skills and strengths demonstrated by an individual’s story—providing useful knowledge on how a particular individual might contribute value to a collaborative task should they be invited to participate. Subsequently, and again in groups of three to five people, participants invented stories about what the organization might look like in five to ten years when the brand had been fully implemented and established. They were also asked to indicate what their activities and role would be in those scenarios. Each of the small groups then created a drawing to illustrate their story of the future and presented it to the full group. The pictures functioned as metaphors for vision and the newly formed identities people were building for themselves. Since the concept of the brand focuses a great deal on employees being consultative with customers and each other, we included some skills development work around consultation. It provided an experiential concept to help develop meaning for a key component of the brand (see Chapters 6 and 8). We emphasized repeatedly that these skills were being presented as ways to help people solve problems with each other and with customers because the brand presents an emphasis on being collaborative with both. But getting buy-into this segment of work was not as simple as one might think. Before beginning the workshops, we understood that there were many people in the organization who had negative responses to the words, “consultant” or “consulting.” For many participants, these terms were attached to external technical salespeople who were seen as pushy, and whose “consulting” activities were seen as adding little or no value to the organization’s goals or activities. Consultative skill building was the only “formal training” in the entire day-and-a-half session. The instruction was grounded in two interdependent ideas. One, active listening is critical for successful consultative problem-solving. Two, solutions to problems are most effective when they are discovered and implemented by the person with the problem. This is often true when using active listening, where a listener repeats back or paraphrases what one person says to another. Because the person with the problem is hearing themselves work out a difficulty aloud for the first time, they often come up with a solution on their own. I also included active listening because people in general, and particularly people in the workplace, seldom feel heard or that others are really listening to them (Burley-Allen, 1982; Kaner, 2014).



After a short demonstration of active listening techniques, people formed role-playing pairs and chose what role they wanted to play: Person A—the speaker with the problem, or Person B—the listener/consultant. Person A would choose a real problem, either a business or personal problem, and begin to describe it. Person B’s job was to practice active listening with Person A, meaning they would reflect back vocally what they were hearing the other person say, without asking questions. In the second round, Person B (now the listener) was encouraged to ask only clarifying questions about details she or he was hearing. In the third round, the listener could both ask clarifying questions and questions that encouraged the speaker to go more deeply into the nature of the problem and what Person A might be thinking of as a potential solution. Soon the pair had either come up with a solution or had made substantial progress toward solving the problem. At the end of the exercise, each pair reported on the problems they had been trying to solve, solutions they had generated, how they felt in either role, and what they saw as the exercise’s applicability to the concept of the brand. Most reported that they understood consulting as a way of not manipulating a client/customer and understanding what the customer’s real issues were rather than acting on their assumptions about that person’s needs when beginning the conversation. At the end of each rollout session, participants were asked what actions they would commit to in order to implement the brand in a collaborative fashion, and whom they might recruit to help them accomplish that goal. As each session closed, the participants were also asked what they liked and what they thought might be improved. Generally, they spoke about how surprised they were that the sessions had been substantive and productive. They had not expected the work to be as tangible and down-to-earth as it had been. Taken as a whole, the elements of the orientation sessions helped the participants open and outline a new identity for themselves that was closely linked to the identity that was being generated for the organization. I want you to understand this as another tie-into my model and the processes outlined in Chapter 5. That is, it encourages the participants to reflect, gather cues, make sense and meaning of their experiences; encourages the construction of new identity; and makes ample use of metaphors. We also see participants beginning to adopt new values and ways of doing things as recently adopted cultural assumptions.


Subsequent to the workshops, the next steps for all employees were to begin establishing performance goals with their supervisors around implementing the brand. The measure was put into effect during the next several months as the employees engaged in annual performance planning and reviews. What was not implemented, although agreed to by the Executive Director, was a planned series of workshops for all the supervisors and managers. These workshops would have provided follow through training and support for coaching their employees around meeting the brand-related performance goals that had been established by each of the employees. This proved to be a critical issue in the project, preventing it from reaching the goal of establishing a culture of “What if,” in place of the culture of “No.” The plan for this instruction was coaching training in coaching techniques based on Edie Seashore’s Triple Impact Coaching (Patwell & Seashore, 2006) and Charley Seashore’s book on giving and receiving feedback, What Did You Say? (Seashore, Seashore, & Weinberg, 1997). These books emphasize building trust through the verbal behavior of coaching. They build on the initiative and responsibility activated when the individual being coached is encouraged to employ their own agency for establishing and attaining goals. Why the whole plan, including the performance coaching, was not implemented was never made clear to me by the Executive Director. These were actions that were occurring in contradiction of the agreements we had worked out together at the initiation of the project. The implementation was delayed numerous times until finally the Executive Director simply quit responding to my inquiries and those of others. If the program had been carried out in its entirety as agreed, a number of activities would have been set into motion. Subsequent to the coaching training, the supervisors and managers were to meet with their direct reports for 15–30 minutes approximately once every four to six weeks. The “waterfall” pattern I had envisioned looked like this: The Executive Director would coach his direct reports, they would coach their direct reports (the managers), and the managers would coach the next level of personnel (supervisors and/or individual contributors) on the brand-related goals they had established. I was to take on coaching the Executive Director until arrangements for similar coaching could be made with one of his superiors or a peer in another unit who would agree to undergo the coaching training.



Finally, we implemented the longitudinal surveys to measure the extent to which our efforts had resulted in shifts in the culture. The details of the survey and results will be discussed below. Briefly, the surveys sought to capture a series of snapshots of how individuals, their peers, and their managers were responding to and implementing various elements of the brand in their everyday behavior. My hypothesis was that, over time, an overall rise in mean scores in response to the survey statements and questions and a decline in the standard deviations to the same questions would indicate success and having shifted the culture. My assumption was that more agreement with the ideas expressed by the brand ideas would be seen as increasing mean agreement scores and declining disagreement would show up in decreasing standard deviation scores. This in turn was based on the idea that culture is constituted by a common perception of “how we do things around here” (Bower, 1966). The following is a description and analysis of the quantitative data gathered in the surveys conducted after the rollout of the workshops. The survey was developed with the collaboration and support of Prof. James Hawdon of the Department of Sociology at the Virginia Polytechnic and State University. The survey design is relatively simple. We began with Schein’s idea that organizational culture is a “system of beliefs, values, and behavioral norms that come to be taken for granted as basic assumptions and eventually drop out of awareness” (Schein, 2016). These assumptions are about “the correct way to perceive, think, feel, and behave” (Schein, 2016) relative to solving certain kinds of problems in the organization. In this case, these are problems related to improving and maintaining relationships with the organization’s customers and among the organization’s employees. They are thus (as Schein might define them) problems of adaptation to the evolving customer service needs of the organization. Since these ideas, values, and the behaviors they represent are defined by the brand elements noted earlier in the chapter, we based the survey questions on those elements. They are: the brand promise, “Let’s explore what’s possible together,” (a consultative approach to addressing customer needs and problems), and the elements that make up the brand character, “Approachable, Plainspoken, and Collaborative.” In order to be experienced as effective, these brand elements need to be expressed as common or shared behaviors enacted by all or most members of the group. Therefore, we needed to understand to what extent


the group members saw their own behavior and that of their peers as consistent with the sentiments of the brand elements. The more they saw themselves and each other acting in ways that were congruent with the brand elements, the more agreement about those perceptions would be expressed among members of the department. We wanted to find out if the brand was becoming a part of the culture—a set of “shared assumptions about the correct way to perceive, think, feel, and behave” (Schein, 2016) with regard to how department personnel were treating customers and fellow employees. If this was the case, over time the survey would show the statistical means of the responses to statements about people’s perceived behaviors being compatible with particular Brand Elements, would be going up. At the same time, the standard deviation numbers would decline for each statement. I recognize that people often see others’ behavior as different from their own and that one’s relationship with a peer is often different from one’s relationship with a manager. Also, relationships with members of senior or upper management are often regarded differently from all the rest. I believe these differences can affect our perceptions of those behaviors. Therefore, I wrote statements with which the participant is asked to agree along a scale of 1–10 about each brand element to capture some of those differences without making the participants feel they were committing themselves to either/or observations and to lessen their sense of being judgmental as much as possible. For example: “I try to make myself approachable at work”; “I believe my coworkers explore what’s possible with others when solving problems”; “when my manager or supervisor is communicating with other people, I believe he/she takes the time to make sure that people without his/her expertise understand him/her”; and “upper management appears to work collaboratively with other people.” Instructions for filling out the survey were as follows: Using the scale below, please rate the following statements as they apply to your work experience at [name of the organization].

Almost Never      Almost Always 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8 – 9 – 10 The statements to which the participants were to respond were as follows:



(Brand element: Approachable) • I try to make myself approachable at work. • My coworkers are approachable at work. • My manager/supervisor is approachable at work. • People in upper management are approachable at work. (Brand element: Plain Spoken) • When I am communicating with other people (coworkers, customers, etc.), I take the time to make sure that people without my expertise understand me. • When my coworkers are communicating with other people, I believe they take the time to make sure that people without their expertise understand them. • When my manager or supervisor is communicating with other people, I believe he/she takes the time to make sure that people without his/her expertise understand him/her. • When people in upper management are communicating with other people, they take the time to make sure that people without their expertise understand him/her. (Brand element: Collaborative) • I try to work collaboratively with my coworkers. • My coworkers work collaboratively with me. • My manager/supervisor works collaboratively with me. • I try to work collaboratively with my manager/supervisor. • Upper management appears to work collaboratively with other people. (Brand element: Brand Promise: Let’s Explore What’s Possible Together) • I try to explore what’s possible with coworkers and/or customers when solving problems. • I believe my coworkers explore what’s possible with others when solving problems. • My manager/supervisor and I try to explore what’s possible with each other when we’re trying to solve a problem.


The survey was prepared and laid out for electronic distribution, and responses were collected and analyzed using Qualtrics© Survey Software System. Charts of the results used here were prepared by a professional data visualization designer. The survey was given in three events over four years. The first survey was sent out in late 2014 with the intention that subsequent surveys would be distributed at 12-month intervals. The second survey was delayed by several months at the client’s request because the department had, in the interim, designed and scheduled a departmental reorganization to take place in the same time period as distribution of the second survey. The Executive Director was concerned that the distribution of the survey would prove a distraction and so I agreed to delay it. I also agreed to include several questions about communications regarding the reorganization activities with the longitudinal survey. This was to try to avoid bombarding the population with survey tasks. These questions were limited to five totals and were clearly separated from questions related to the branding activities with a subheading and by placing them at the end of the survey. The third survey was distributed on schedule, approximately twelve months after survey number two. The response rate for survey number one was about 65%, which we judged as very good and even high for a group that historically did not respond well to surveys. As a result of the reorganization mentioned above, the total number of participants was smaller because the census of the organization was reduced by about a third due to layoffs and transfers of personnel to other departments. However, the response rate for the second survey remained approximately the same. In the third year of the survey, the population was again reduced though not as much as previously. I believe, however, because of a rise in the general level of cynicism regarding the branding project, the response rate dropped to 55%. This would seem to indicate that the remaining population may have had less enthusiasm for the branding effort. Also, among that group, fewer had direct exposure to the brand orientation activities and thus were less inclined to respond to a survey about those activities. Bear in mind, the survey’s reflection of the experience and opinions of this group are probably less accurate because the sample is smaller in terms of hard numbers and percentage of the group being surveyed. Thus, it may not constitute as precise a representation of the emergence of the new culture as the previous two surveys. Still the trends toward that emergence definitely appear to be there.



The results for the questions can be viewed in Fig.  9.1, and read year by year, statement by statement. In each of the charts, the results for the 2014 surveys are delineated by a red graph, those for 2016 by an orange graph, and those for 2017 are in blue. In each case, the values for the norm scores are in the upper half of each diagram and the standard deviation scores are in the lower half. Also, in each case the red bar

Fig. 9.1  Quantitative data charts


presents us with a base-line against which subsequent years’ changes may be compared. As we begin to examine the scores in more detail, remember, my hypothesis was: A rise in the mean score coupled with a decline in the standard deviations from year-to-year represents an indication of the growing strength of the new culture in this organization. For example, first-person assessments to the approachability statement (Q12_3), “I try to make myself approachable at work,” definitely show a trend toward this idea becoming a part of the culture for year two over year one. The same appears true in people’s assessments of coworkers, supervisors, and upper management. However, in year three, the year in which it must have become apparent that support for the initiative would not be reinstated and the year subsequent to the reorganization and downsizing, the assessment of approachability drops off dramatically for both supervisors and upper management. I suspect that there may have been several interdependent factors that contributed to this result. The first may have been a certain level of hostility directed at all levels of management and supervision in wake of the reorganization. People often resent the disruption and subsequent confusion they experience at such a time. Sensing and experiencing this hostility, supervisors and senior managers may well have isolated themselves from the rank-and-file employees, thus becoming less approachable. In addition, over the years I have witnessed managers who felt guilty about a reorganization and how it was handled. This, too, would have created a tendency for them to isolate themselves from the rank-and-file. In any case, the result ends up being the same. The practice of making oneself approachable and the experience of feeling the people one works with are approachable is diminished because of a reorganization and the methods by which it was handled, so it becomes less of “the way we do things around here” (Bower, 1966). For the “plainspoken” statements, the results are strikingly similar. The responses between year one and year two follow the same pattern with the exception of people’s assessments about upper management—this population seems never to have experienced upper management as plainspoken. This is reflective of attitudes voiced during the rollout sessions. People frequently expressed a lack of faith in upper management’s ability or willingness to follow through on any implementation of the brand values. I frequently reported to the Executive Director and members of his immediate staff that the rollout sessions and survey data demonstrated



perceptions of a lack of approachability and plain speaking on their part. They took no action to address these issues. A similar decline in relationships among individuals and their supervisors appears in the responses to the “approachable” statements and shows up again here. I believe that the causes may have been similar in this instance to what they were above. This is in addition to the possibly long-established attitudes related to trust on the part of members of the staff. The “collaborative” group of statements also shows strong progress toward the formation of a culture over the first two years of the study. However, again we see the results show a decline in the practice of collaboration among staff and supervisors in year three. Once more, it appears that upper management has never been viewed as being collaborative. This was also a phenomenon to which I called senior managers’ attention though none showed any interest or inclination in addressing it. The final set of statement responses presents a more complicated picture. Individual self-assessments of their ability to “explore what’s possible” with their peers and customers never appear to be very strong. However, people’s assessment of their coworker’s ability to carry on this same activity seems to improve markedly over all three surveys and indicate the growth of culture within this value. It is confusing, yet telling, that the participants do not appear to have confidence in themselves, though nonetheless recognize and observe it in their peers. It could be that from the beginning, the concept was not as clear as one might have hoped. Another interpretation might be that while they saw the success of the activity around them, they never felt like they were individually rewarded or recognized for carrying out that activity. It may also be that the responses are a product of false modesty common to many members of this organization. The assessments of supervisory personnel and those in upper management are similar in this area as they were in the previous assessments. Supervisors’ ability to fulfill the brand’s promise seems to drop off in the third year. Upper management’s willingness to fulfill a promise never seems to have existed in the eyes of the general staff. The qualitative analysis of the survey data continues many of the themes found in the quantitative analysis. That is, there are indications that the cultural values of the brand had taken root and were growing in the first two years of the study and then began to decline in year three. Additionally, the cynicism regarding the role of members of the department’s senior managers is reinforced in this data.


Let us stop here for a moment, because I want to remind you that the survey study was done as part of an effort to document and support a culture change/brand development project in this organization. During the course of the study, the organization went through a number of significant changes. These included downsizing and a major reorganization project affecting virtually all of the positions in the organization. In the survey, the staff were asked to respond to statements and questions designed to measure the responses to the culture change/branding effort, both quantitatively and qualitatively. In this section, we will be examining only the qualitative questions. In the survey, there were three open-ended qualitative questions. First, “What does the brand promise, ‘Let’s explore what’s possible together,’ mean to you?” Second, “In what ways have you seen the brand promise, ‘Let’s explore what’s possible together’, and the brand character ‘Approachable, Plainspoken, Collaborative’ become the organization’s way of doing things?” Third, “What additional thoughts about branding in this organization would you like to share?” To analyze this data, a set of criteria, or “tags,” were established for identifying and selecting responses to the questions that seemed to be common to each question and could be used across the three years of the study. Because each of the questions addresses different issues, some differing criteria were selected for each question. An effort was made to keep the criteria similar enough from question to question to allow for the identification of some trends among the questions and across the years of the study (see Fig.  9.2). When I began analysis of the data, I was particularly aware of the cynical nature of some of the comments showing up in response to Question 16. Indeed, some cynicism with regard to the overall effort had been expressed by certain participants from the very first days of the brand orientation process. This was especially true with regard to the department’s senior management and their willingness to actively support the branding effort. So, it was no surprise to see these sentiments showing up in the qualitative data. Because there are responses in the quantitative data relative to the managers’ behavior that could be interpreted as having similar psychological sources, I became interested in tracking whether or not there was a growth in the level of cynical comment through the multiyear process. Hence, the development of the “cynical” criterion or “tag”.



Fig. 9.2  Qualitative data chart—Question 16 (Question 16: What does the brand promise, “Let’s explore what’s possible together,” mean to you?)

For the sake of reference clarity, I offer the following definition of cynical: 1. Believing that people are motivated purely by self-interest; distrustful of human sincerity or integrity. 1.1 Doubtful as to whether something will happen whether it is worthwhile. 1.2 Contemptuous; mocking. 2. Concern only with one’s own interests and typically disregarding accepted standards in order to achieve them. (Oxford Dictionaries Online)

Comments, identified as “cynical responses,” were suggested prima facie by the very nature of their content. Trends in the quantitative data suggested a similar tendency in thinking as the survey process proceeded. As might be expected, the number of cynical responses fell during the


period when people in the group seemed to feel hopeful about the possibilities coming out of the branding effort and their implications for the organization, the organization’s performance both internally and externally, and their individual work lives (year two, 2016). As it became clear that support for behavioral implementation of the brand framework and its cultural assumptions would not be restored, the number of comments reflecting cynical/negative attitudes about adopting brand values and behavior increased to levels that were higher than those initially captured in the data (year three, 2017). While the numbers of these comments may seem relatively low as a percentage of all the responses, it is important to remember that people voicing negative comments in groups may be “carrying” those ideas for the rest of the group. They are also likely to influence those members not actively voicing these comments to adopt similar ways of thinking. The converse might also true. It is interesting to think about the potential effect an increase of the “meaningful” voices might have had on the group had support for the branding effort been provided on an ongoing basis. It does seem to suggest that support for the change in culture would have continued to grow if given the chance. The tag of “meaningful responses” was applied to comments suggesting the individuals had taken the branding ideas and made them meaningful in their work lives as described in Chapter 4. Nowhere was this more evident than in comments where the individual indicated how and/or why a particular idea might change someone’s work in a way that might be positive and meaningful. When the first survey was distributed, participants may not yet have had the time to begin sensemaking and generate this feeling of meaningfulness either individually or socially. The fact that the second survey was not administered until about eighteen months after the first because of other disruptions in the organization tends to point out how long these social processes can take before the group generates consensus. The relative quantity of these comments decreased, and the number of cynical comments increased, as management continued to fail to provide support for this effort. It is probably not surprising that a substantial number of people seem to have responded to this question about the brand promise as if it represented a test of their knowledge of the branding ideas rather than an inquiry into the meaning people might be making of their branding experiences. Undoubtedly, this is due to the fact that people in a training



exercise are often asked to fill out evaluation assessments after participating in training programs. A goal of these assessments is to understand and quantify what the participants learned and how much they enjoyed the experience as a way to measure the value of the course. Trainers often unconsciously adjust the training experience and sometimes the content to ensure that the participants respond to these assessments in ways that reinforce the value of the program to the sponsors. While this was not a goal with these surveys, that experience and expectation was likely what this population drew on for part of their responses. These types of comments I grouped into two subcategories: “got the right answer” and “got the concept.” The participants in the “got the concept” group tended to write in generalities about how people are supposed to act if they are being more or less compliant with the branding principles. They tend to veer away from and not make comments that are evaluative of the brand concepts. The “got the concept” responses were in this way different from those comments that were classified as cynical or meaningful. The other part of this group seemed primarily interested in providing the “right answer.” That is, they appeared to be trying to demonstrate that they have been paying attention to the branding content though they do not seem interested in exploring the implications of that content. These responses are often quite short using language that is exactly the same or closely approximates that of the original brand presentations. A very limited percentage of comments were categorized into the category, “missed the idea” which is meant to suggest that the individual did not understand the content to begin with. The second question was, “In what ways have you seen the brand promise (Let’s explore what’s possible together?) and the brand character (Approachable, Plainspoken, Collaborative) become the [Department’s] way of doing things?” This second qualitative question (Survey Question 17) is very different from the first. It is asking about participants’ sense of the organization’s progress with regard to adopting the values and assumptions of the new brand and enacting them as the default approach for doing things in the organization. Responses to this question are a potential indication of ways of thinking that suggest elements of a new culture are beginning to take hold. In evaluating these comments, six categories were developed for sorting these ideas. Two categories carried over from the first question. These were statements suggesting that the participant “Got the idea,” that is, they grasped it


and were able to articulate basic concepts of the brand, as well as “cynicism” statements expressing doubt, skepticism, and distrust about the brand and its implications. Comments of the type that were previously categorized as meaningful disappeared from the results. This may have happened because the question implies progress and therefore learning and acceptance of the prescribed ways of working on the part of the group as observed by the members of the group. The qualities implied in the categories that served to help identify the “meaningful” responses to the first qualitative question (Survey Question 16) are essentially expressed by ones used here; “Good progress” expresses some of the same optimism and creative energy previously expressed in the comments categorized as “meaningful” (see Fig.  9.3). Interestingly, this idea of “good progress” is the only category that does not follow the pattern shared by other categories over the three years. In those categories, the numbers go up in the second year and go down in the third. Here, the pattern is different. The “good progress”

Fig. 9.3  Qualitative data chart—Question 17 (Question 17: In what ways have you seen the brand promise (Let’s explore what’s possible together?) and the brand character (Approachable, Plainspoken, Collaborative) become the [Department’s] way of doing thing?)



number declines in the second year and recovers in the third year, though not to the level of year one. It may have to do with the implementation of the reorganization program which many staff did not seem to view as logical in its conception and for which communication from management was perceived as inadequate. These ideas were revealed by the addition of a very limited number of questions in survey number two included at management’s request. These questions had to do with the participants’ perception of communications made by the department’s management and the effectiveness of those efforts. The questions were carefully segregated from the rest of the survey by placing them at the end of the standard questions under a unique subheading. They were not repeated in the survey number three. The idea of inadequate communication was indicated by responses to the special questions. When viewed in the context of a brand where two of the brand characteristics were “open” and “plainspoken,” the level of communication demonstrated by management might well have seemed antithetical to the idea “good progress” on implementation. Therefore, execution of the brand was not being accomplished or maintained by upper management. We should pay attention to the fact that “poor communication” was occurring while the processes of sensemaking about the changes induced by the brand orientation workshops were likely still ongoing and developing. As a consequence, the cynical views were now being expressed during the three years at more or less the same rate of change shown for those people who saw little or no progress of the brand and the culture becoming the client organization’s “way of doing things around here.” They were both declining in more or less equal measure indicating that those who had begun expressing cynicism were now those indicating little or no progress (Fig. 9.4). Question 27 was included specifically to send the message to the participants that their voice and comments were important, no matter what they wanted to say and to offer an opportunity to express those comments if a place for doing so had not been provided elsewhere. In analyzing this data, I used the categorization scheme developed for the other questions while leaving open the possibility of adopting new categories depending on what was found in the comments as seemed appropriate. This proved to be useful with several sets’ subcategories. The cynical comments showed up at more or less the same rate as they had throughout the study. Comments in the “good progress” category


Fig. 9.4  Qualitative data chart—Question 27 (Question 27: What additional thoughts about branding at [the Department] would you like to share?)

showed up in more or less the same pattern for this question as did the “okay progress” and “little or no progress” in Question 17. In any survey with qualitative, open-ended questions requiring written answers, there are those who choose not to respond to these questions at all. This is probably because many people simply do not answer qualitative questions that require something written. Among those who did answer these questions, the largest single group of responses across all three years and growing significantly in the third year, are those comments that are identified as “process improvement.” These included ideas about everything from improving the quality of the seating in the workshops to the wording and structure of the surveys, to the need for executive “buy-in” for the branding effort. Also included are recommendations that we deal with the problems facing people in the “real world” when participants emerged from the brand orientation sessions. It was interesting, enlightening, and gratifying that some of these people were



still working to think constructively about the brand, the brand elements and values, and the techniques that had been used to implement the brand. As you can see, some of them were still actively considering the brand and branding issues as much as three years after the time it was originally introduced and a full two years after the time organizational support for its understanding and practice had been withdrawn. If we had been able to harness that energy, interest, and commitment, who knows what kind of results this group might have achieved. Certainly, I will value this material especially when I have the opportunity to pursue similar projects. From the time this work was proposed to the day I completed initial analysis of the data from the third survey, the project, took nearly six years to complete. The effort was not simply mine. Many others contributed, supported, and collaborated on the project. Not the least of which were the members of the client organization, colleagues, advisors, and friends. The good news, at this point, is the data gathered during the study suggests that the approaches applied during the project proved effective for supporting the opening of a culture change. What is not demonstrated is the sustainability of those changes. A concerted effort to reinforce participants’ thought and behavior through supportive activities, such as the coaching program originally envisioned for the project, was needed to fully implement and demonstrate full success of the program. Given the level of success as demonstrated by the data is somewhat limited, what do I know about the project’s impact on the organization beyond the changed attitudes captured in the study? My association with the department did not end with the completion of the Brand Orientation Workshops. I continued to have a number of rich relationships involving many frank and insightful conversations. These connections were sustained through the three years of the survey study. In some cases, they persist to this day. As a result, I can report anecdotally on some behavioral phenomena that emerged in the wake of the effort and, at this point, appear to be cultural or on their way to becoming cultural. At the top of this list is increased collaboration both within individual teams and among cross-functional and organizationally segregated teams throughout the department. Many people have attributed this to the vertical and functional mixing of participants in the workshop groups during the rollout. People also credit emphasis placed on enacting the brand character, which you will recall is described as “approachable,


plainspoken, and collaborative.” In fact, a certain amount of the evolution of this behavior is suggested by the data. Some of the behaviors appear to be situational, depending on who the supervisor or manager is for a particular group. Again, this emphasizes the importance of reinforcement by an authority figure for implementing and sustaining congruent brand/culture behavior as we might have seen in the coaching. A second impact shows up in anecdotal reports mentioned earlier of improved customer satisfaction. There are also a number of comments on improved collaboration that show up in the written responses to the qualitative questions. In addition, I know that efforts have been made to change many of the process and procedure issues that were reported as part of the rollout. Minor changes to a work order, requisition processes, billing procedures, and other practices that had made it difficult to do business with the department have been changed or streamlined using input from the employees who needed to implement the old ways of doing things. Another impact, reported to me mostly in confidential discussions with managers and supervisors, has been a heightened awareness of the role of trust in the organization. Certain managers and senior managers have reported increased efforts to expand their individual approachability and as a consequence the level of trust they enjoy with the staff. These activities include efforts to ensure that people who work for these managers feel welcome in their offices under any circumstances. In some instances, the managers are venturing outside their offices to talk to their staff in a more casual fashion. At this point, I do not know that these efforts are widespread enough to be considered cultural. However, should the trend continue and expand, it could reach the level of, “this is how we manage around here.” In the meantime, I am pleased to report that there are efforts to effect changes in manager-staff relationships that seem to have genesis in the brand/culture work. What do I understand as the project’s impact on me? I ask this question here because I believe that “conscious use of self” is a critical capability for any organization development consultant (Seashore, Shawver, Thompson, & Mattare, 2004). However, to take advantage of this skill, you must develop and maintain a good sense of what is going on with yourself psychologically and emotionally. You can then make conscious use of that information in decisions about all your consulting interactions. It is important that you realize that you are always affected by the



environment in which you are operating. Meaning, when you are consulting to an organization, you are always a part of that organization’s system whether you have made a conscious choice to join that system or not. As a matter of fact, you are at far greater risk of committing errors if your decisions about joining that system are made unconsciously. Staying with the theme of trust, in the latter stages of this project it became clear that the Executive Director was not going to honor his agreements to implement a coaching program to support the branding effort and the implementation of a new culture. As this occurred, my own level of trust in him declined, similar in ways to what had been implied in comments made during the rollout workshops. My efforts to restore trust between us by engaging in direct dialogue as well as efforts using written communication were unsuccessful and our relationship suffered. Eventually, I decided that I could no longer be effective because of the level of mistrust that had manifested in the relationship. It had also become clear that without the coaching program, changing the culture at the level we had envisioned could not be achieved. The new culture required sustained support and reinforcement to achieve the level of a set of basic, taken-for-granted assumptions about “the correct way to perceive, think act and feel” in relation to solving the problems faced by the organization (Schein, 2016). Nor did I have faith any longer in the Executive Director’s willingness to reinstate those activities or anything else that could achieve a similar result. Disillusioned, I withdrew from the project. However, I did not do so until quite late in the process—when it would have been almost impossible to recover the momentum we had lost. The gesture had little effect. Had I considered exiting earlier, which I failed to do because of my own personal investment and ego attachment to the project, I suspect that action or even the threat of that action would have significantly affected the work and influenced outcomes. Should I have anticipated and acted on what was happening in the consultant/client relationship earlier? In the early sessions of the Brand Orientation Workshops, I was receiving sufficient data about the trust issues between the staff and their managers to foresee the problems that eventually showed up earlier than I did. The fact is, I had convinced myself that what I was observing in those workshops was a phenomenon I thought I had seen many times before. That is, individuals displaying attitudes of generalized distrust


and disrespect toward their managers. It is a way of venting their frustrations at what they are experiencing as apathy and a lack of responsiveness on the part of their managers. It is a behavior that can be commonly observed in the perceived safety of the workshop environment. Witnessing these kinds of sentiments over the years, made by all sorts of people, resulted in my own failure to address peoples’ expressions of mistrust critically and specifically in the orientation workshops. In effect, I had come to stereotype the comments and the people categorizing them in terms of whining, leading me to unconsciously downplay vital information being shared with me. At the same time, I was seeing repeated evidence of the Executive Director’s interest and support in the work through his conversations with me and by the fact that he was unfailingly showing up to kick off each workshop session. However, by not paying attention to the unconscious decision to refrain from acting more directly on information I was receiving regarding trust in the organization, I left myself vulnerable to the consequences of ignoring warnings about the managers’ commitments and follow through as they shifted over time. There were several other errors that I made in the contracting process that you may have already spotted on your own. Chief among these was not being more insistent on including a measure for outcomes achieved by the project and their importance. In the design, it would have been more effective if some members of the organization had shared the facilitation responsibilities of the rollout, especially if this had been done with some of the senior management team as well as with supervisors and line staff. Such interfacing and collaboration would have strengthened overall commitment to the project and achieving its outcomes. I can only hope this discovery of these blind spots in dealing with this client will make me a better consultant as I strive to apply what I learned and stay more conscious of the decisions I make on a day-today basis. I also hope sharing this information with you, along with the entire description of the project and its assessment, will serve to help you improve your skills as well. I am looking forward to the opportunity to continue to practice, develop, and document this approach. I have great faith in both the theory and approach I used in this project and look forward to providing more complete evidence of the effectiveness of both. I welcome efforts by others to do similar work and would be happy to support and/or collaborate on such initiatives.



References Block, P. (2009). Community: The structure of belonging. Easy Read Comfort Edition. Bower, M. (1966). The will to manage: Corporate success through programmed management. New York: McGraw-Hill. Burley-Allen, M. (1982). Listening: The forgotten skill. New York: Dorling Kindersley. Cooperrider, D., Whitney, D. D., & Stavros, J. M. (2008). The appreciative inquiry handbook: For leaders of change. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kaner, S. (2014). Facilitator’s guide to participatory decision-making. San Francisco: Wiley. Oxford Dictionaries Online. Retrieved from definition/cynical. Patwell, B., & Seashore, E. W. (2006). Triple impact coaching: Use-of-self in the coaching process. Victoria, BC: BookBaby. Schein, E. H. (1993). On dialogue, culture, and organizational learning. Organizational Dynamics, 22(2), 40–52. Schein, E. H. (2016). Organizational culture and leadership (5th ed.). Hoboken: Wiley. Schön, D. A. (1993). Generative metaphor: A perspective on problem-setting in social policy. In A. Ortony (Ed.), Metaphor and thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Seashore, C., Shawver, M., Thompson, G., & Mattare, M. (2004). Doing good by knowing who you are. OD Practitioner, 36(3), 42–46. Seashore, C. N., Seashore, E. W., & Weinberg, G. M. (1997). What did you say? The art of giving and receiving feedback. Columbia, MD: Bingham House Books. Watzlawick, P., Bavelas, J. B., & Jackson, D. D. (1967). Pragmatics of human communication: A study of interactional patterns, pathologies and paradoxes. New York: W. W. Norton.


Working with Organizational Culture: Ideas About Consulting

There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. (Shakespeare, 1603, Hamlet, I.iv)

This book has been about working with you to develop your culture perspective. We began by looking at how organizational culture is first formed by following a group coming together to organize a community garden. We then looked at how the concept of organizational culture has been viewed historically. In Chapter 3, we began to think about various mental models of organizational culture. I described my own model of organizational culture as well as those of Mary Jo Hatch (1993), Edgar Schein (2016), and Richard Seel (2000). What all four of us have in common is that we each view organizational culture as dynamic, self-organizing systems. These models are also firmly grounded in Schein’s idea that organizational cultures are sets of assumptions formed around shared learning gained from solving problems as a group or organization. As a way of helping you to better understand the philosophies underlying organizational culture, I spent a chapter introducing you to some of them. These included those of Hernes, Mullarkey, and Shotter, among others. In particular, I focused on process metaphysics and some related philosophies relevant to organizational studies and culture because of the importance of process thinking to understanding complex adaptive systems.

© The Author(s) 2020 J. MacQueen, The Flow of Organizational Culture,



Since organization development (OD) is a practice that is largely understood as being oriented toward change in organizations, we examined one of the classic methodologies for changing organizations, John Kotter’s “Leading Change” (1996). We also looked at how issues around organizational culture are sometimes ignored and the kinds of problems that can produce. In subsequent chapters, the discussion turned to the processes involved in the actual creation and production of organizational culture. These processes include dynamic group and neural processes. They also include the communications processes people in groups use to build and communicate organizational culture, principally through metaphors and related ideas about neural cognition. We also examined a case study in which I attempted to develop new culture in a real organization. By now the cultural perspective you have been developing includes an appreciation for how organizational cultures are complex, complicated, and dynamic. As a consequence, you may be recognizing how perplexingly difficult working with organizational cultures can be from the consultant’s point of view. Along the way, I have been making suggestions for how to deal with the dynamic complexity of cultures. I will offer some additional specific examples of how I have done so later in this chapter. Cultures, because they are complex adaptive systems are in continuous flux. The people participating in those cultures who are working to change them, often exhibit significant anxiety and charged emotion. This is because a change in a culture is, by definition, a change in how people think about “How we do things around here” (Bower, 1966). The fact that producing new and/or modified culture often means constructing new personal and organizational identities along with attendant cultural artifacts such as organizational values, mission and vision adds to the volatility of the situation. It is for this reason, this final chapter will include an examination of the paradigms and the assumptions, that are active in most OD consulting processes and how they are likely to affect your ability to be effective when consulting to organizational issues related to organizational cultures. For many of us whose training is based in Lewin’s theories and related Lewinesque practices, our backgrounds represent a kind of world view of how organizations function at a dynamic level. This forms a particular orientation beyond which it is difficult to see. That view may leave us with biases that distort our views of reality and create certain blind spots that I will use this chapter to examine.



Many, if not most, of the ideas and practices that we talk about regarding organization development, are based in Lewin’s model of how organizations change and develop. This model is strikingly linear. What I mean by linear is that we go from the current state, engage in one or more interventions, and emerge into the (desired) future state. Lewin described this in terms of “unfreezing, moving, and refreezing” (Lewin, 1947). While Lewin does not state this specifically, the refrozen end state is viewed as a kind of terminus of the organization’s journey through change. In other words, nothing else is supposed to happen spontaneously. Organization development is viewed as a top-down process of organizational change. If it is not motivated, managed, or directed by people at the top (ODN, 2019), when the change is “finished,” it has reached a kind of stasis. Nothing more is required in terms of change except, perhaps, in response to changes in the external environment. (I should note here that, in general, when I speak about organization development (OD) I am generally speaking about the practices of OD and the ideas behind those practices and not the field of OD. Some sources such as the ODN Web site, cited above, do not make this distinction. I shall try and do so when necessary in this chapter.) Tuckman’s view of group development is also linear in nature. A group develops the beginning with forming, proceeds to the stage of storming, then to norming, and ultimately to performing (Tuckman, 1965). Performing seems to be a kind of endpoint for the group. No more development is needed or is perhaps possible, except when something external happens to the group and somehow reverses their progress. We should note that Lewin’s model is decidedly positivist in nature (Marshak, 1993). Much of what has followed and built on Lewin has also generally been classified as OD because OD is so firmly based in Lewin’s work. Most of these subsequently developed practices are based in Lewin’s paradigms. For many of you, this may raise a question: What does it mean to be positivist? And more generally, what is positivism? Positivism, in essence, is an epistemology that grew out of the thinking of Auguste Comte during the Enlightenment. Positivism privileges the empiricism of the scientific method over other forms of research. It also favors empirical, rational knowing, and learning over more intuitive ways of knowing and learning. It promotes a worldview that suggests “ethics, values, and politics have no rational basis, on the grounds


that they are not scientific.… [these practices and beliefs are] seen as the expression of irrational or nonrational emotion, will, instinct or arbitrary decision-making” (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998). Over the centuries, it has become a default way of thinking throughout the Western world. As a result, proposing or promoting alternative ways of thinking and doing are met with suspicion and resistance. I do not mean to suggest that the scientific thinking that is at the core of positivism is without value or merit. Much of what we think of as material progress is a direct result of the work of scientists applying scientific thinking and method to the discipline of their thinking. However, as Shakespeare points out, “there are more things in heaven and earth … than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” (In Shakespeare’s time, the term “philosophy” was the term applied to what we now call “science” or scientific thinking.) Positivism, in the realm of organization development, shows up as a key aspect of “OD culture.” It represents sets of assumptions about how practitioners should, “perceive, think, feel, and behave” (Schein, 2010) with regard to dealing with their clients and their clients’ issues. I have a fairly strong bias against many positivist elements that I perceive in the traditional OD culture and approach. I want to acknowledge the many successes and contributions traditional OD has as made to organizational studies and providing improvements to organizational behavior. However, I simply do not find a match between OD’s view of the world of organizations, how organizations behave, the responses of organizations to intervention, and my own experience. You need to be aware of this bias as you read this chapter. Thinking about organizational consulting anchored in a paradigm of systems and processes, the bases of organizational culture, suggests a number of interesting alternatives to traditional, standard OD practices. As I noted above, OD and traditional OD practitioners tend to view organizations and cultures as being linear. If you accept the idea that culture is a system (see Chapter 3), you will need to let go of the idea of culture as linear. Linear suggests that something has a beginning and an end and progresses along a particular path. If this were true, organizational cultures should be predictable. They should have identifiable endpoints at which a change to them comes to a clear conclusion rather than serving as a continuation of a system or perhaps something entirely new (emergence). If you subscribe to this traditional view of linearity, you (and your client, who very likely is operating within their own positivist



paradigm) would be reasonable in an expectation that you would know how and when the culture you are working with would arrive at such an endpoint. In addition, you should also be able to say with some certainty what it would look like once it has arrived. Cultures, and for that matter, organizations are not linear in nature. They are complex. As systems, they are subject to emergence which by definition is not predictable. Systems, therefore, often experience unanticipated changes to how they function and to their makeup or content. As a consultant, this means that you need to be constantly aware of subtle changes in the organization and whether or not you need to support those changes. Consider for a moment whether this matches your understanding and/ or your experience. If so, you may need to consider the level of detail at which you can plan. I am not suggesting that you stop planning but that you may need to reconsider how you operate within those plans and enact them. A key quality of an effective culture consultant is your adaptability and flexibility working within an environment that is always in flux. Another critical talent for you to cultivate will undoubtedly be your ability to communicate these uncertainties to your client populations, managers, and stakeholders. Many of these people come out of their own positivist backgrounds and cultures and may, therefore, regard you and your ideas on these subjects (if you are adopting these put forward in this book), as eccentric, to say the least. You will often find yourself explaining these ideas in terms of the positivist ones with which your client is more familiar. Ultimately you will need to do this without killing their intention to effect changes that matter to the businesses, to people’s dignity, and for needed business results. This will be particularly true when it comes to setting expectations not only around timelines but results. We will discuss this in more detail later. The heavy emphasis in positivist culture on data, logic, and rationality produces some ways of thinking that can be particularly tricky for a consultant. One of these is analytic thinking and another is dichotomous thinking. Let us take a look at both of these ways of thinking. “Analytic thinking, i.e., the separation of a whole into parts” (Marshak, 1993), is highly valued in most Western cultures. I do not want to imply that the ability to be analytical is necessarily bad. This book, and perhaps most books of this type, would not be in existence if not for the authors’ analytical abilities. However, if one’s default mode is to regard all aspects of the system in its component parts, the separation


of those parts results in what we typically refer to as data. We will then apply logic to those data, usually privileging some over others as certain pieces fit or disconfirm a particular model in order to understand or analyze them. We thus tend to adopt blinders when attempting to perceive a whole system. We often see parts rather than the whole. And, no matter how good we are at reconstructing the data we have gathered, something is inevitably lost. Those losses unavoidably imperil our understanding of the Gestalt of the system and our ability to deal with it as such. Dichotomous thinking is a related pattern of thought induced by the positivist analytical tendency to describe things and behaviors as existing in component parts. Perhaps the most prevalent form of dualistic (or dichotomous) thought is the either/or instruction. Notice how once you have applied the idea that a person, a thing or event is either one thing or another, it becomes difficult to consider their existence in any other way. For example, the idea that something could be both hot and cold at the same time seems impossible to grasp away from the paradox of the hot fudge sundae. The same applies to the attempt to consider an event or series of events is both beneficial and damaging. Another dichotomous or dualistic construction is that which we commonly apply to past and present. In the real world, there is no clear demarcation between what is past and what is present. Each is embedded in the other and our perception is based on how we view and understand the workings of a given system. We construct and separate what we see as its various impacts in the flow of process. We tend to bookend what we perceive as related events in a system rather than regard them as part of a continuous flow within that system. We often tend to apply the same kind of thinking to issues like cause and effect. The one thing does not exist without the other. For example, take a conversation that teammates Joan and Jesse might have. The conversation is about an argument that two other people, Tom and Chris, carried out regarding something that did not get done and whose responsibility it was to do it in the first place. The thing that did not get done will have some set of impacts within the system. Joan and Jesse’s conversation about the Tom and Chris argument might be overheard by Sam who reports on it to the manager. The manager then decides to take some action against Joan because of the way he interprets or misinterprets Sam’s reporting to her. Where in this is the cause? Is it the thing that did not get done? And why did that thing happen? Can we isolate the effects or responses that



we can observe in the string of events? Some things happen before the particular result and some things after that result. In fact, there often are no definitive beginnings and ends between the beginning of one action, its impacts, and how often that impact stimulates another action. The genesis of one is often embedded in some other preceding event. Engaging in cause and effect, past and present, either/or thinking and reasoning can seriously inhibit our ability to perceive and interpret a whole system of interrelated, interconnected processes and how they function. One aspect of the commonly held paradigms of organization development practice is that OD is about solving problems for an organization. This is generally interpreted to mean fixing whatever is wrong with the organization because “any method of organizing inevitably creates problems that require changes to how we organize” (Bushe, 2017). This often puts the consultant into the role of formulating, planning, and implementing a change. Doing these three things without collaboration from your client constitutes what Block calls, “pair of hands consulting” (Block, 1981). Block’s idea here is that when you take on these three tasks independently, you are doing things that the client can or should be able to do for themselves. Your job as a consultant should be simply advising. By contrast, the pair of hands approach not only lets the client off the hook for taking responsibility for the change. And it also disempowers them. (Engaging in the pair of hands approach was a part of the trap I let myself in for and discussed in Chapter 9’s case study.) In recent years, the pair of hands way of working as a consultant has gained increased acceptance, no doubt because managers find it much easier to deal with consultants who work in this mode. The genre has developed its own name: Change Management. “Change Management [can be] defined as implementing an organizational change into a population that has little say over the change” (Bushe, 2017, p. 2). There is some debate about whether or not Change Management should be considered a part of OD (there are, after all, separate certification programs and a professional association dedicated to Change Management—the Association of Change Management Professionals). The fact is, many Change Management practices mitigate against the development, evolution, or effective adoption of organizational culture. These practices tend to be quite directive. By comparison, the practices presented in this book are geared toward activating individuals’ empowerment and sense of responsibility. You want to ensure the experiences


leading to the creation of culture are those of the client so that the clients learn from these experiences in a way that is deep enough for them to build and apply meaning based on them. Another issue with the culture surrounding organization development is that it tends to assume that organizational problems can all be solved. The issue for consultants working with culture is that this attitude tends to deposit all “problems” into the same bucket. In fact, issues confronting organizations more often fall into at least two categories: “technical problems and adaptive issues” (Bushe, 2017, p. 8). Technical problems usually have their source in something that is essentially mechanical, a tool or tools, e.g., the accounting system, the information system or perhaps a process or procedure (the mechanics of how we hire someone). They are often complicated but not complex. They do not have a large number of dynamically interconnected, interrelated parts. “Technical problems can be solved in a top-down process through the application of analytical models and expertise” (Bushe, 2017, p. 8). They can, in fact, be solved. And once they are solved, they are likely to stay solved. One can solve, or fix, problems in the accounting system up to the point we discover that there are people/interpersonal issues in how it is being administered. Adaptive issues, on the other hand, are typically issues affecting how a system is functioning. They are usually cultural issues, often artifacts or products of the culture that are visible through some aspect of performance. For example, in an organization where there are tacit agreements about how extreme or rigid hierarchy is honored by a careful observance of and compliance with it, performance might be affected because of the necessity of communicating only through agreed-upon channels. This might be slowing performance. Adaptive challenges are so named because they require some adaptation within the cultural/organizational system. To improve the system’s performance, some aspect of the system will need to shift or adapt to better interact with a situation in order to mitigate the culture’s effect. They require the engagement of those with a stake in the challenge if they are to be managed and require inquiry experimentation and learning. Typically, they are never completely solved. (Bushe, 2017, p. 8)

Issues such as morale, infighting, blaming, not taking responsibility, and resistance to change are typically all adaptive challenges and related to culture. Thus, it is helpful that the consultant is aware enough to



understand that all problems are not the same and that not all problems can be solved. In other words, it is important that a consultant maintain their cultural perspective when being asked to “solve” the problem in an organization. An alternative version of the OD consultant’s job description might be about contributing her particular gifts along with other members of the group, toward resolution of the issue being addressed. Another aspect of the influence of positivism throughout Western society and many Western organizational cultures is a strong tendency to favor intellectual/scientific/data-oriented knowing and learning over the more intuitive experiential approaches to knowing and learning. These preferences are also often a part of traditional OD culture. Along with the humanistic idea that a person’s experiences should be taken seriously and are valid in and of themselves simply because they are that person’s experience(s), there is growing support for a research methodology and epistemology known as phenomenology. We often see phenomenology being used in many of the social sciences including organizational studies and some aspects of OD practice. We may occasionally see phenomenology or ethnomethodology being applied (though not necessarily consciously or with rigor) by OD practitioners who have decided to use interviewing research in their practices. Phenomenology is used to obtain knowledge about how we think and feel in the most direct ways. Its focus is what goes on within the person in an attempt to get to describe lived experience in all languages free from the constructs of the intellect and society as possible. At its root, the intent is to understand phenomena in their own terms– to provide a description of human experience as it is experienced by the person herself. (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998, p. 36)

Notice that this is radically different from, and in many ways opposed to, the more positivist assumptions about the proper, appropriate ways to gather data directly from people regarding their experience. Interviewers often ask people to abstract themselves from events and describe those events in actions with as little emotion as possible. Empirical and behaviorist sciences have even rejected the meaningfulness of a personal statement about internal states and, until very recently, denied the scientific usefulness of such information about feelings and memory. (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998, p. 99)


However, the use of this kind of phenomenological articulation by group members is often critical to a full expression of what they see and understand as the problems the group faces and how they may be trying to resolve them. The problem that arises when interviewing groups about their culture is that the language that people use to describe their individual experiences is often highly personal and imprecise. A result of the positivist influenced behavior is that people in these groups often self-sensor themselves and go so far as to disparage the phenomenological kinds of statements from others. These highly personal, vague, and metaphorical statements are not what is considered acceptable in the existing culture of many organizations. Nevertheless, the more a consultant can facilitate the personal expression of people’s feelings and experiences, the more individuals can recognize what is common among group members. They can then form a consensus that constitutes the shared understandings and learnings about the group that Schein sees as the foundation of organizational culture (Schein, 2016). It is not my intention to propose that OD culture consultants need to become rigorously skilled phenomenologist researchers. Rather, I want to suggest that they should remain sensitive to and aware of their own cultural biases and respond to their clients in positive, supportive ways when they find themselves engaging with clients in conversations about the clients’ newly forming culture. The tendency to privilege intellectual over intuitive expression can also be applied to how the group learns. That is, people are often encouraged consciously or unconsciously to interpret what they have learned or are learning exclusively in concrete terms. Learning is as essential to the process of consulting to organizational culture as it is to all OD consulting. Cultures form based on what the group has learned from solving problems (Schein, 2016). The consultant’s primary contribution to this process is pointing out that some sort of learning has been accomplished when an issue has reached resolution within the group. Beyond this, it is working with the group to help them articulate what was learned as well as describe what the process involved was like. Hence, not only what it was they learned but how they learned it. In this way, the outcome of what the group learned can be consciously incorporated into the culture. Thus, it is often important that you help the group make what people have learned and how they have learned it explicit.



This basic process is true whether the experience from which it was drawn was constructed or spontaneous. If you are working with building assumptions through the use of structured activities (formal training), you need to ensure that those activities are fundamentally experiential in nature, that people have a true experience of the skill they are being asked to learn. Fortunately, there seems to be an increasing trend toward these kinds of training design. From the consultant’s point of view, what will be important will be ensuring participants have the opportunity to carry out the same kinds of interpreting and clarifying work recommended above. People will need to struggle translating their intuitive impressions of the training experience into more conventionally articulated expressions of what they have been through. They need to do this just as they would if the issue on which the training is based had arisen spontaneously out of their environment in order to incorporate the learning they have done into their culture. For the true benefit of learning and the development and application of meaningfulness, it is vital that you do not short-circuit the process. You should support the groups’ struggle to be cognitively and culturally independent. As you do this, you should once again check-in with the group about how they understand what they have learned and how they have learned it so that they are more likely to do it again on their own the next time around. In classic OD, once one has heard and understood the presenting problem, the consultant often prepares a diagnosis. The scientific definition of a diagnosis for this situation is a process of determining by examination and analysis the circumstances that have led to the disease afflicting the organization. The first step in this is the development of a hypothesis about the basis for the problem. The hypothesis is usually directly related to the presenting problem. The next step is often to validate that hypothesis with the client and contract for initial services. These initial services typically include some sort of data gathering phase often based largely, and sometimes exclusively, on action research methodology. For many consultants, this means interviewing as many members of the group as possible, either individually or in small groups, depending on the size of the organization and perceived sensitivity of the issues involved. The next step is some form of data analysis. The data involved consists of pieces of information gleaned from the interviews as well as any other empirical data gathered in the process. The analysis of the data is often,


though not always, performed exclusively by the consultant or the consulting team. If the consultant is truly dedicated to the ideal of participative action research, the consultant may recruit members of the group to participate in the data analysis. The results of this analysis are applied to the construction of a diagnosis. Again, this is usually, though not always, done by the consultant. It is possible that the consultant will choose to collaborate with the group to produce the diagnosis. Although in my experience, this is rare because the content may be considered too sensitive to make it available to a client team. The diagnosis, once constructed, is presented to the client and her group as “data feedback,” which is often delivered with a recommendation for corrective action. Typically, this is a perceived needed organizational change and a plan for its implementation. It is not unusual for the proposal and the plan to be geared to solving the need implied in the presenting problem. My experience using this model many times over many years is that it seldom has done anything other than promote work for solving that presenting problem already implied in that problem. The exception has been those rare occasions when the data gathering and analysis turned up a problem significantly different from what had been presented to me initially. Almost always this has turned out to be a time when the information I received from people in the group indicated that the actual problem was the manager or executive of the organization. You will note, of course, this approach is modeled on and very firmly based in the scientific method. It is therefore, by definition, positivist. It suffers from many flaws that can be avoided through application of the systems/process paradigm. That is, understanding the organization as a system and how the effects of its processes are functioning and manifesting. I was taught that the true goal of this part of a consulting engagement is to gather information from as many sources as possible. Then, you move on to produce a full, unbiased, multidimensional picture of the organization that most of its members will accept as true and accurate. Having done this, it is likely that most of them will “buy-in” to participating in the proposed intervention based on the idea that the consultant has understood the whole organization and how it functions. I believe that more often than not this is the case. However, I believe that just as often, we as consultants have undoubtedly misled the client through our own belief in an approach that cannot deliver on the goals it promises to fulfill. Applying a system/process paradigm as a lens for critical evaluation, you can see why.



Using the presenting problem as the basis for constructing the hypothesis limits the range of inquiry. It automatically privileges certain questions and lines of inquiry and hides others from view. Without exceptional dedication to rigor, one tends to pursue those lines of questions that are most prominently suggested by the presenting problem. The consultant tends not to pursue what might otherwise be suggested by less prejudiced, more open descriptions of the processes one may or may not have developed in a hypothesis. These inherent biases most often emphasize “cause and effect” thinking and preclude the use of more complex systems orientations both in the description of and in the explanation of events. This mechanistic approach may also lead us to disregard culture as a source for behaviors and systems of interactions. An additional problem is that the entire approach tends to put the consultant at “the center of the action,” depriving her of input and insight from the whole system. The result is that the “diagnosis” of the organization constructed from a position that the consultant has likely created for themselves as being at the center of the activity, is likely not to be a full, unbiased, multidimensional picture of the organization. Rather it is a flawed, limited picture of the organization because of multiple unconscious biases the consultant is inherently unable to overcome. This limits the choices for intervention the consultant can imagine and present to the client. The consultant and their clients’ cultural assumptions and traditions, grounded in positivism, usually preclude intervention strategies that are not exclusively based on reason and logic. More intuitive, systems-oriented interventions where outcomes are less predictable are often missed or rejected by both consultant and the client. As often as not, this is because descriptions of the intervention and the reasons for its implementation cannot be delivered as simple sound bites. In my experience, systems-oriented interventions are often more effective because they do not rely on single, isolated impacts in the system that have direct relationships to “the problem.” Instead, they seek to imagine a series of actions and influences that will eventually have the desired impacts. I want to emphasize at this point that I do not totally reject all forms of diagnostic methodology. The practice has real value for developing relationships and establishing trust in instances where trust tends to be an issue. I would urge you, however, to pursue questions about how the system as a whole tends to work as well as explorations-related processes. I would further caution you to limit your claims and the expectations


you set regarding the ultimate impact of your interventions and what can reasonably be expected of them given the system/process point of view. An issue that can be particularly difficult for a system/process-oriented consultant is the question of measuring progress and/or success. As we have discussed previously, the point at which you can say the organizational problem for which you were called in has been solved often does not exist. “Because the implicit theme of most change effort is to move toward a more desired future state, ways to measure ‘progress’ become integral to the change process” (Marshak, 1993). Because the client is paying for the facilitation of some agreed-upon change, it is reasonable for them to want some indication of how that change is coming along. Given that cultures and their effects are often not tangible, it is difficult to apply specific metrics such as how much, how often, how fast, or how many to this kind of work. Remember, culture is about assumptions which are often not easily identifiable (let alone measurable). Assumptions can be identified, and changes more often quickly identified through shifts in attitudes and patterns of behavior. The suggestion, here, is that when you are negotiating and establishing outcomes with the client, you agree to specified shifts in behaviors as observed over particular periods of time as indicators of progress. This idea requires that you agree to descriptions of existing behaviors that you and the client would like to see changed. It further predicates that you have some relatively well-defined ideas of the kinds of behavior that you and the client want to see established in their place. Please note that I am suggesting kinds or types of behaviors. Unlike training courses that offer to produce specific behaviors, cultural assumptions may produce a range of behaviors, many of which will lead to the same (or sometimes only) similar outcomes. While these types of results are based on intuitive definitions and subjective observation and interpretation, it is possible that, with great care, you and the client can come to agreement on what types of behavior, and how often they are observed, will constitute progress. When it comes to systems and cultures, there can be no final or complete result. However, behavioral observations such as these should provide you, the consultant with an indication of when the desired behaviors are well enough established that it will be safe for you to begin withdrawing from the organization without threatening the collapse of the work. Be careful. These can be especially difficult conversations for a client not used to thinking in these terms. Plan your approaches carefully.



Before we move on, I want to remind you of some recommendations made by Pearce (1998) and by Tsoukas and Hatch (2001). These appeared in Chapter 3 and so I will not elaborate on them here. These experts suggest when you are working in complex adaptive systems, that you keep your relationships with those systems and the people involved as first person. Many consultants seem to feel that they somehow must keep those relationships at an impersonal distance. The thinking here appears to be they can maintain the appearance, and perhaps their own belief, that they have the ability to remain neutral and detached. I believe this attitude is yet another artifact of the positivist mindset. I do not believe that it is psychologically possible to maintain this distance from your clients and your fellow man. Certainly, this cannot be done authentically and not for any length of time. There are two problems with this. First, it will limit your ability to effectively empathize with the experience of the people in the group which you need to do to accurately judge what is going on. Second, your own lack of authenticity is likely to generate a diminished trust between you and your clients. Neither of these will be helpful to you in making yourself effective when working in organizations, especially on organizational culture, which as you will recall is all about people building their sense of how to relate to each other and how to go about their regular activities based on the experiences they have with each other. I am going to close this chapter by relating a couple of consulting stories that I hope will illustrate some of the points I want to make about consulting to an organization when the issue is about culture. Both of these stories are relatively short and lack the complexity of narrative and detail you saw in Chapter 9. They are here primarily to demonstrate how culture work is circular in nature, without clear beginnings or endings but can still achieve a desired outcome. The first is about working with the dynamic aspects of a culture in transition. With the second, I want to demonstrate how an organizational issue, not presented as requiring cultural work but as a “traditional organizational problem,” may be addressed when re-framed as a cultural issue. It will demonstrate how techniques you might use to shift organizational culture might be used to shift an organization. In my first story, in a major manufacturing and services company, corporate marketing had introduced a new company-wide brand. The new brand was initially popular and was showing success in terms of sales in


a number of divisions. In one division, however, the success of the yearlong effort seems to be slowing, even regressing. Corporate marketing concluded that the slowing of interest in the marketplace for the product was linked to staff resistance to the new brand. They initially wanted to go in, overcome the resistance, restructure and somehow re-energize the marketing operations in this particular division in an effort to get it back on track. I was concerned with this interpretation because resistance is a psychological interpretation of what is often an emergent systems issue. Overcoming resistance in groups is notoriously difficult and involves making individuals the target of the intervention based on blaming them for “the problem.” Systems interventions generally do not work well when framed as problem-solving. Instead, work on issues like this is most effective when it takes advantage of energy already in the system and seeks to move or redirect it. Implementing a new brand, as we saw in Chapter 9, requires shifts in personal as well as group identities, both of which are elements culture. These shifts, in turn, bring about changes in behavior based on different cultural assumptions. With this in mind, I suggested that my client, corporate marketing, give me an opportunity to visit the division and observe their operations in some detail. What I found were groups of people in various units of the division who had not resolved their organizational identity issues. There was no consensus about the new identities and their meaning for how the groups would pursue their work. These people were working very hard to define or redefine their identities to better fit what they perceived as the requirements of the new brand. To many people on the outside of this effort, this appeared to be resistance to the brand that was slowing down the desired results in marketing and sales in the United States. To me, it looked more like a diffusion of effort which was sucking energy out of the entire system. This interpretation of peoples’ behavior could be characterized as entropy (Ries, 1996). The individuals were working very hard to implement and establish a number of variations in the defined and approved corporate version of the company’s identity. They were trying to come up with a single answer to the question of overall identity, or, “who are we with this new brand?” The result of their well-meaning efforts was to create confusion and diffuse the efforts across the marketing function within the company. From a systems point of view, the processes of sensemaking involved in identity formation had failed to resolve these identity questions. As a



result, the cultural system in the division was experiencing disequilibrium, and the employees were unconsciously trying to bring it back into balance. These issues had been active in the division’s marketing offices for some time—since the implementation of the new brand. I suspected, after talking with members of the marketing staff, the more diffuse ways of doing things were on the verge of becoming a part of the culture. I approached corporate managers with an alternative to the more traditional approaches to rectifying the situation, that is, overcoming resistance and reorganizing staff. We arranged for the marketing staff from all the division offices to come together for a meeting. The meeting began with the executives explaining how they saw the current situation and its consequences. At my suggestion, they specifically did not ask that this group to try to come up with a solution. Instead, I asked the whole group to self-organize into small groups of around three to five people. The only caveat was that they not sit with anyone whom they already knew well or worked with on a regular basis. The goal of this arrangement was to get people working with individuals who represented a variety of offices and functions, ensuring communication among people with a variety of influences and experiences. I made this suggestion based on Olson and Eoyang’s observation (2001) that the more frequently elements of a system interact or communicate with each other, the more those elements are changed by those interactions. Because systems are interconnected and interdependent, the more the nature of the system is changed. This may result in emergence. In this case, the hoped-for emergence of new identity (see Chapter 5). I guided each groups’ conversations using approaches drawn from techniques suggested by Block (2009), Bushe (2013), and Owen (2008), encouraging people to converse using dialogue and avoid presenting solutions or conclusions but rather to make observations in the group about how the process seemed to be progressing. We arranged to do a number of these meetings over time working to create trust and open up communications among the individuals (Olson & Eoyang, 2001; Seel, 2000). I also periodically asked group members to be quiet and reflect, especially about how their work had been before the confusion began and how they wanted it to be now. This was an effort to stimulate sensemaking (see Chapter 7). Leaders from throughout the group’s hierarchy (who were active participants) were asked to stay alert for new ideas as they emerged and reinforce those that were most in line with the company’s original brand ideas.


Initial results were seen within a few months. The eventual result, after approximately two years of reinforcing this effort, was the emergence of a new version of the corporate identity which was still in alignment with the original version but to which the members of the local marketing organization were more fully committed, willing to enact and embody. I hope this story is effective in illustrating how organizational cultural systems are unpredictable and working with them does not always come to neat conclusions. The interventions used to develop the brand-influenced cultures in other divisions were essentially the same as those used here. But those cultures had remained more consistent and stable. In addressing the shifts that had taken place in this division, it was important to find approaches that would encourage the group to remain alive in their learning rather than assuming they had “solved” the problem rather than developing new assumptions about who they needed to be. Pay attention to how much effort was concerned with allowing sufficient communication to encourage dialogue and building informal consensus of the ideas that were generated by the group. These processes take time and are non-linear. They do not happen in a logical, predictable order. And as mentioned previously, they can be subtle, almost to the point of invisibility. A consensus achieved without manipulation is likely to be reached through bits and pieces of conversation that will be reflected back in terms of issues of identity and the meaning of the action the group takes: How do we see ourselves individually? Who do we think we are as a group? What do we think will be the likely result of the actions we are considering and their impacts? Remember that organizational culture lives in the narratives we tell ourselves and each other about our work lives. The system depends upon communication among its elements to stimulate growth and emergence. In the next story, my client was a human services provider. They were a for-profit corporation, exceptionally values driven and taking those values seriously in their relationships to clients and colleagues. They believed in developing their staff and living out their beliefs. Many in the group to which I was to consult had come into the organization as high school graduates. At the time of my entry as a consultant to this particular team, several had only recently completed their Associate degree (for which the corporation had paid). These people were proud of their education and deeply appreciative of the investment the company had made in them. Most of the staff were highly sensitive to the impact they were having on their clients.



The corporation was organized into multiple programs each serving specific geographic areas and sometimes specific populations with particular issue. Each program had an administrative manager and a professional services manager who were coequal in authority. The program to which I had been assigned consisted of the professional services and administrative managers, a couple of administrative personnel and about a dozen staff members who comprised the rest of the team. Most of the staff were young women of color. The management staff were older with professional degrees and white. This and the accompanying discrepancies in education set up a significant power differential between staff and management. The importance of this will become clear later as the issues come to a head. I was called in because the professional services manager and the administrative manager (who was recently hired) were in conflict. The conflict was principally about values and purview. Over a relatively brief time, the conflict had grown problematic and visible to the point that it was affecting the staff who were actively taking sides. There were accusations from the staff of unfair treatment by the managers, racism, and unethical treatment of the clients. The managers were as different in their world views, as they were in their management styles. The professional services manager had spent most of her career in this corporation. The administrative manager had recently left a similar, larger company where she had been highly successful and her hire here was considered a real coup. Corporate HR had investigated the accusations emanating from team members on both sides of the conflict. The results had been inconclusive. My charge was first, to help get things to settle down, and second, to heal the wounds of the conflict. I had previously done several consulting projects for the corporation. I had also been privately briefed by HR on the findings of the investigation. I decided to forego the formal ritual of diagnosis. Instead, I invited members of the staff to meet with me voluntarily to give me “their versions of the story.” I also wanted to begin forming relationships with those who chose to engage. They were free to meet with me individually or in groups of up to three individuals. Almost everyone, including the managers, took advantage of the invitation. Then, I asked the entire group to meet with me. In a conversational style, I shared what I had learned from my meetings. I then checked in with them to see if they thought my perceptions were fairly accurate. They all agreed that, with a few corrections of some minor details, I had


accurately described what was going on in the group. When I asked what they thought should be done about the situation, no one seemed to have any ideas. A few people stated they had already tried everything they could think of to improve the situation. No new ideas were brought forth. After I made some suggestions, the group and I decided to begin working with a fairly standard conflict management technique with which many of them were familiar. There were, however, some important differences between my methods and those with which the group members were familiar. The conflict management sessions would be held with only two or three people. Attendance at any given session was to be completely voluntary. An individual had to volunteer to be in a session but anyone could invite a second or third person to be in that session. That second or third person could be someone with whom the individual had no conflict, a little conflict, or a great deal of conflict—it made no difference. The idea was that they were there to talk and begin open conversation with another person. The potential attendance of the third person was available because group members had recognized a particular conflict might involve more than just two people. The conflict was happening in so many areas, had so many levels, and the sense of safety so limited, that nobody knew where to begin. My suggestion was “Let’s just begin and figure out who you as individuals want or need to talk to in order to be able to have a reasonable work life on this team.” These sessions were held in a neutral place away from the offices of the team. Everyone was asked to promise confidentiality about what went on in these sessions. A young woman who presented as very quiet was the first volunteer. She chose to invite someone with whom previously she had had an outand-out screaming argument about what was going on in the team. In this present meeting, the dialogue was carefully managed, each person taking their turn, each person acknowledging what the other had said, talking about how they perceived what the issues were, and what feelings they were experiencing. The session was remarkably successful. These two people did not come out of the session as best buddies. However, they did reach an appreciation for and insight into the other person. Shortly after that meeting, that first volunteer chose to invite another staff person and then another. Others then were volunteering to meet with me. Before long, I had worked with most of the staff in one configuration or another. As this was happening, there was a general sense of



the workplace becoming a calmer. Eventually I met with the two managers. Unfortunately, they were so entrenched in their positions that neither one was going to shift their thinking. As the individual sessions were going on, I attended and facilitated the weekly team meetings. These meetings included the two managers, their boss and members of the entire team. These were likewise carefully structured to help provide a sense of psychological safety among the members of the team. Each meeting began with a check-in then proceeded to discussions where, one at a time and in dialogic fashion, people talked about how they perceived the team was reacting to the conflict management sessions and how things might be changing. Then they had a bit of time to discuss the regular business of the team, again in dialogic fashion. No one was allowed to respond directly to another person but only to the issues that were being raised. The last part of each meeting was a “closing” in which there was no cross talk, no discussion, and each person was encouraged to say what was on their mind as they were leaving the meeting. Needless to say, the pace and rhythm of these meetings was totally foreign to what most of the group had experienced at any other time in their history. Before long some members began to voice dissatisfaction concerning the style of the meetings. However, when I or others pushed back on that challenge, many others in the group acknowledged that the perceived safety in the room was not yet at a level where they felt they could return to unstructured encounters. This pattern of meetings went on for a few more weeks. Occasionally, I would gently intervene to support some instance of sensemaking. Also, I and others, with my encouragement, would carefully interrupt to ask questions about how people might see things differently. How they were seeing things now. How things might be different in the future. Then, in one of the large group team meetings there was an unexpected outburst from the administrative manager: “This is S***! It is all S***!” The group sat in stunned silence for a long moment. Then the young woman who had been the first volunteer for a conflict management session volunteer, looked directly at the administrative manager and quietly but clearly said, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” The administrative manager abruptly stood and left the room, followed by her boss. After another moment of silence, I acknowledged that what we had just witnessed was, at the very least, surprising. After such an outbreak, I knew the group had to right itself. They needed to take back the


meeting. Most people said they wanted to discuss what had happened. I supported the idea as long as we stayed in dialogue mode and we focus on what people thought the “event” meant. In the following days, I learned that the administrative manager had resigned. The VP, who had been her boss and attended and participated in the staff meetings, asked if I believed it was necessary to continue my presence in those meetings given that a major source of the conflict had left the organization. In response, I requested the opportunity to continue to meet with the group to bring closure to the process. Within a few weeks, I announced we were coming to the end of our sessions. During this period, a great deal of work was accomplished. The group continued to discuss the meanings of the “event” they had witnessed as well as those leading up to it. During one of the final meetings, I posed two questions: “What did you learn?” and “What was going on with you that enabled you to learn whatever it was?” I also told them that I wanted to shift my role slightly to be a more conventional facilitator. In order to help clarify and record people’s insights so those insights would not get lost in the process. I asked if group members would agree to these proposals. They agreed unanimously. However, they insisted on the proviso that if signs of conflict began to reappear, I would intervene, and move them back into dialogue or otherwise contain the conversation. I agreed to their request, relying on Kaner’s facilitation methodology to achieve a consensus (Kaner, 2014). We proceeded to address the two questions. As anticipated, people often had trouble articulating their thoughts. I supported their efforts by drawing them out or asking them clarifying questions. I encouraged others to do the same. Throughout the session, I was impressed with the fluidity of the conversation and the level of cooperation demonstrated by the group. Remarks during the closing suggested that other group members were similarly impressed as well. For the final meeting, I continued the approach used in the last session though I wanted to add a question. The new question was, “Which of the things you identified as having learned, should you keep doing if you find yourself in conflict again?” Within about 90 minutes, they had agreed upon an answer: “Keep talking no matter what. Identify what’s most important, especially for clients. Don’t sweat the small stuff.” Based on reports from senior management, the group was soon demonstrating new elements to their culture and developed a reputation for being one of the most successful units in the organization. They also



developed a reputation for being one of the most adaptive and pleasant places to work in the company. Several members of the group went on to achieve management and leadership roles. Outcomes I attribute, in part, to the emergence of a new culture. Throughout this book, I have tried to demonstrate culture is not some separate part of an organizational system. I believe the characterization of organizational culture as something distinct from an organization represents more artifacts of positivist thinking. Organizational culture is an integral part of an organizational system. It is an element of every organization, dynamically interdependent and interconnected with all of that organization’s other elements. This chapter has endeavored to point out how fundamentally different the paradigm of culture as a system of processes is from many other models. I am hoping you will take to heart the shifts in your personal paradigms about consulting which may help to make you more effective in working with culture and, indeed, with organizations more broadly. I am well aware that most of these recommendations may have you swimming against the tide of contemporary trends in organizational consulting. You need not adopt all of my recommendations. Indeed, it may be wiser for you to try out a few at a time, testing your own level of comfort and experimenting with what you can make acceptable to your clients. As a close friend and colleague said to me, “This is not for the faint of heart.” Indeed, it is likely that you will, at times, straddle both the worlds of the practices I am suggesting and those of traditional approaches. I am confident, however, that in employing new approaches and marrying them to your cultural awareness, you can achieve rich and satisfying success.

References Bentz, V. M., & Shapiro, J. J. (1998). Mindful inquiry in social research. Thousand Oaks: Sage. Block, P. (1981). Flawless consulting: A guide to getting your expertise used. San Diego, CA: University Associates. Block, P. (2009). Community: The structure of belonging. Easy read comfort edition Bower, M. (1966). The will to manage: Corporate success through programmed management. New York: McGraw-Hill.

198  J. MACQUEEN Bushe, G. R. (2013). Dialogic OD: A theory of practice. OD Practitioner, 45(1), 11–17. Bushe, G. R. (2017). Wither organization development? Three short articles on the past and future of OD. Hatch, M. J. (1993). The dynamics of organizational culture. Academy of Management Review, 18, 657–693. Kaner, S. (2014). Facilitator’s guide to participatory decision-making. San Francisco: Wiley. Kotter, J. P. (1996). Leading change. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press. Lewin, K. (1947). Frontiers in group dynamics: Concept, method and reality in social science—Social equilibria and social change. Human Relations, 1(1), 5–41. Marshak, R. J. (1993). Lewin meets confucius: A review of the OD model of change. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 29(4), 393–415. ODN. (2019). Organization development network. Retrieved from https://www. Olson, E. E., & Eoyang, G. H. (2001). Facilitating organization change: Lessons from complexity science. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer. Owen, H. (2008). Open space technology: A user’s guide. San Francisco: BerrettKoehler Publishers. Pearce, W. B. (1998). Thinking about systems and thinking systemically (unpublished manuscript). Ries, A. (1996). Focus: The future of your company depends on it. New York: HarperCollins. Schein, E. H. (2010). Organizational culture and leadership (Vol. 2). Hoboken: Wiley. Schein, E. H. (2016). Organizational culture and leadership (5th ed.). Hoboken: Wiley. Seel, R. (2000). Culture and complexity: New insights on organisational change. Organisations and People, 7(2), 2–9. Shakespeare, W. (1603). Hamlet. Shotter, J. (2010). Adopting a process orientation… in practice: Chiasmic relations, language, and embodiment in a living world. In Process, sensemaking, and organizing (pp. 70–101). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Tsoukas, H., & Hatch, M. J. (2001). Complex thinking, complex practice: The case for a narrative approach to organizational complexity. Human Relations, 54(8), 979–1013. Tuckman, B. W. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63(6), 384–399.


A adaptive issues, 182 Alignment, 15, 71, 82, 192 analytic thinking, 179 annual review, 73 anthropology, 10, 11 Appelbaum, S.H., 65 Appreciative Inquiry, 47, 73, 151 Artifacts, 12, 20, 21, 26, 30, 31, 35, 52, 144, 176, 182, 197 B Barrett, F.J., 71, 135, 137 Baumeister, R.F., 45–48, 99, 102, 108, 116 Beer, M., 13 Bergen, B.K., 71, 85, 105, 122, 126, 127, 129, 131 binocular vision, 59, 60 Block, P., 74, 147, 181, 191 Bower, M., 8, 12, 15, 24, 155, 160, 176 brand, 144–149, 151–156, 158, 160–162, 164–169, 189–191

brand character, 146, 155, 162, 165, 167, 169 Brand promise, 146, 148, 155, 157, 162, 164–166 Burley-Allen, M., 152 Burnes, B., 15, 66 burning platform, 67 Bushe, G., 71, 86, 191 C Cameron, K.S., 11, 20, 103 Case study, 5, 38, 137, 176, 181 change, 3–5, 7, 13–15, 20, 21, 24, 25, 27, 33, 34, 37, 43, 54, 56, 59, 65–84, 86–88, 91–94, 97, 107, 108, 113, 114, 130, 132, 133, 135, 141, 164, 167, 169, 170, 176–178, 181, 182, 186, 188 change management, 4, 65, 181 Chia, R., 57, 59 Christens, B.D., 74 Client relationship, 171 coaching, 61, 70, 73, 74, 76, 147, 154, 169–171

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2020 J. MacQueen, The Flow of Organizational Culture,


200  Index cognitive dissonance, 15 Communications, 14, 18, 106, 132, 143, 146, 158, 167, 176, 191 community garden, 4, 7–9, 51, 106, 175 Complacency, 66, 67, 71, 76 Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS), 12, 18, 19, 27, 28, 32, 33, 37, 53, 76, 77, 80, 175, 176, 189 Conflict, 14, 15, 59, 65, 84, 121, 131, 143, 193–196 consensus, 8, 9, 25, 27, 28, 37, 95, 96, 105, 112, 119, 125, 130, 131, 134, 164, 184, 190, 192, 196 consulting, 2, 4, 22, 26, 28, 32, 37, 54, 79, 144, 152, 153, 170, 171, 176, 178, 181, 184, 186, 189, 193, 197 Context, 4, 5, 10, 11, 19, 22, 24, 44, 49, 52, 54, 56, 57, 65, 70, 77, 82, 92, 93, 96–99, 101, 104– 108, 110–112, 115, 116, 122, 135, 151, 167 Cooperrider, D., 47, 71, 73, 135, 151 Covey, S.R., 77 Cues, 22, 25, 44–46, 91, 94, 96–98, 108–110, 112, 134, 151, 153 cultural analysis, 21, 41, 42 Cultural issue, 4, 65, 76, 81, 182, 189 culture perspective, 4, 5, 10, 17, 51, 56, 62, 65, 67, 68, 70, 74, 76, 80, 88, 94, 175 Cynical, 162–165, 167

dichotomous thinking, 179, 180 Disruption, 3, 25, 34, 37, 54, 67, 73, 83, 86, 93, 96, 107, 108, 114, 134, 160, 164 Dynamic, 2, 5, 11, 12, 23, 27, 28, 30, 35, 46, 48, 49, 53, 113, 114, 175, 176, 189

D Deal, Terrence, 10, 13, 15, 20, 23, 70, 73, 80, 103 decision-making, 9, 132, 178 diagnosis, 66, 185–187, 193 dialogic technique, 148

H Habashy, S., 65 Harvard Business Review, 13 Hatch, M.J., 19, 20, 23, 28, 30–32, 35, 68, 95, 103, 121, 175, 189 Hernes, T., 57, 62, 175

E Eisenstat, R.A., 13 Embodied metaphor, 53, 122, 130 Emergent, 13, 18, 20, 27, 29, 31, 34, 57, 71, 76, 122, 151, 190 Empowerment, 74, 75, 80, 81, 181 entropy, 25, 190 Eoyang, G.H., 12, 18, 27, 71, 80, 109, 191 Epistemology, 177, 183 F Filters, 45, 92, 112 Flow, 3, 12, 22, 34, 44, 45, 59, 67, 87, 91, 94, 97, 98, 101, 102, 107, 108, 111, 132, 136, 180 Flux, 33, 176, 179 G generative metaphor, 122, 135–137, 144, 151 Gergen, K.J., 57, 58 Guiding Coalition, 66–72, 76


Heuristics, 45 Hughes, M., 13 Humble Inquiry, 74 hypothesis, 1, 51, 155, 160, 185, 187 I Identity construction, 53, 93, 95, 96 initiative and responsibility, 154 Interconnected, 13, 18, 32, 37, 48, 59, 181, 182, 191, 197 Interdependencies, 4, 18, 32, 37, 77, 78, 80, 82, 91, 94, 152, 160, 191, 197 intervention, 14, 18, 25, 66, 83, 98, 177, 178, 186–188, 190, 192 intuitive expression, 184 J Jackson, P., 15, 66 Johnson, Mark, 2, 22, 53, 71, 85, 119, 124 K Kaner, S., 8, 113, 152, 196 Kennedy, Alan, 10, 13, 15, 20, 23, 70, 73, 80, 103 King, Martin Luther, 70 knowing and learning, 177, 183 Kotter, J.P., 13, 14, 51, 65–68, 70–78, 80–88, 176 Kotter’s model of change management, 5 L Lakoff, George, 2, 22, 53, 71, 85, 105, 119, 120, 122, 124, 126–128


Langley, A., 54–56 the language of becoming, 61 Leadership, 14, 67–70, 73, 80, 103, 109, 131, 143, 147, 197 Learning, 9, 23, 36, 60, 109, 121, 128, 141, 166, 175, 183–185, 192 Lewin, Kurt, 1–3, 59, 113, 114, 176, 177 longitudinal survey, 146, 155, 158 M Maitlis, S., 57 Malo, J.-L., 65 manufactured crisis, 67 Marshak, B., 71 Marshak, R.J., 177, 179, 188 Mattare, M., 170 McGrath, 11, 13 meaningmaking, 44, 46–49 meta-cultures, 9, 124 Metaphor, 5, 22, 26, 27, 35, 53, 67, 71, 85–87, 104, 105, 115, 119– 127, 130, 134–137, 144, 151 methodology, 59, 183, 185, 187, 196 metrics, 188 modeling behavior, 69 model of organizational culture, 4, 13, 17, 20, 27, 28, 126, 175 Moore, J., 87 Morgan, D., 75, 76 Mullarkey, J., 60, 61, 175 multi-ontological, 52 N Narratives, 7, 13, 19–21, 45, 47, 48, 66, 76, 192 Neuroscience, 5, 9, 99

202  Index O Oettingen, G., 45, 108 Olson, E.E., 12, 18, 27, 71, 80, 109, 191 Ontology(ies), 4, 51–54, 56, 62 organizational culture, 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 9–13, 15, 17–20, 22, 23, 26–28, 31, 32, 36, 41, 43, 52, 53, 60, 65, 71, 77, 80, 86, 88, 93, 95, 101, 103, 105, 119, 121–127, 129, 130, 135, 137, 155, 175, 176, 178, 181, 183, 184, 189, 192, 197 construction, 53, 95, 101, 105, 126 definition, 10–13, 15, 17, 18, 20, 27, 41, 52, 93 Organization Development (OD), 1, 4, 13, 132, 170, 176–178, 181, 182 P paradigm, 11, 17, 56, 81, 178, 179, 186, 197 Patwell, B., 73 Pearce, W.B., 19, 42–44, 59, 96, 107, 189 Pettigrew, A.M., 10, 20, 23 Phenomenology, 183 pragmatic prospection, 45, 46, 68, 99, 108, 116 problems of inclusion and integration, 84 Problem solving, 11, 12, 25, 95, 152, 190 process, 3–5, 9, 11–13, 20, 22, 27, 29, 31, 32, 34–38, 44–47, 53–62, 65, 68, 72–74, 76, 81, 85, 87, 91–95, 97, 98, 104–106, 108, 109, 111, 115–117, 119, 129, 130, 136, 141, 145, 146, 148,

151, 162, 163, 170–172, 175, 177, 180, 182, 184–186, 188, 191, 196 Process Metaphysics, 60 process system model, 62 process thinking, 59, 175 progress, 9, 80, 81, 116, 135, 153, 161, 165–167, 177, 178, 188 Q qualitative statistics, 142 Qualitative survey, 161, 162, 168 quantitative statistics, 142 Quinn, R.E., 11, 13, 20, 103 R Resistance, 14, 15, 25, 77, 84, 114, 145, 178, 182, 190, 191 Ries, A., 25, 190 S Schein, Edgar, 2, 11–13, 20, 22–28, 30–32, 34 Schön, D.A., 71, 135–137, 144, 151 Schultz, M., 68, 95 Seashore, C., 170 Seashore, E.W., 73, 154 Seel, R., 18, 23, 27–29, 31, 32, 121, 175, 191 semiotic, 41, 42, 46, 48 Senge, P.M., 12, 17 sensemaking, 5, 22, 31, 34, 35, 44– 46, 48, 49, 61, 67, 81, 91–99, 102, 104–110, 112, 113, 116, 117, 134, 136, 151, 164, 167, 190, 191, 195 Shafiq, H., 65 shared basic assumptions, 11, 93, 121


shared values, 84 Shawver, M., 170 Shevat, A., 69 shifting behaviors, 145 Shotter, J., 56, 175 simulation, 53, 68, 100–102, 108, 109, 151 Smircich, L., 21, 41, 42, 51, 52, 121 Smith, M.E., 14 Snowden, D.J., 52, 92 Social Constructionism/social construction, 2, 13, 53, 104–106 social world, 43, 44 Sortor, C., 47, 48 Spector, B., 13 Stavros, J.M., 47, 73, 151 Stories, 7, 19, 20, 35, 45, 47, 98, 112, 113, 126, 152, 189 Stroh, D.P., 12, 109 Subculture, 36, 43, 69, 78, 79, 148 symbol/symbolic, 12, 13, 21, 22, 28, 30, 31, 35, 41, 42, 45, 49, 51, 52, 112, 119, 121, 147 systems thinking, 2, 12 T Tactics, 67 Teaching, 24, 32, 73 teambuilding, 68 Theory, 1, 2, 42, 49, 52, 53, 62, 83, 125, 142, 172 Thompson, G., 170 Training, 19, 69, 70, 72–75, 78, 79, 81, 154, 164, 165, 176, 185, 188


Transformation, 45, 55, 74, 78, 82, 84, 147 “Triple Impact Coaching”, 154 Triple Impact Model, 73 Trust, 14, 42, 75, 80, 81, 85, 98, 154, 161, 170–172, 187, 189, 191 Tsoukas, H., 19, 20, 54–56, 189 Typology, 21, 67 V Valsiner, J., 48, 49 Values, 9–11, 15, 18, 20, 21, 23, 26–28, 30, 31, 35, 36, 42, 49, 52, 53, 57, 66, 69, 76, 78, 82, 87, 99, 103, 109, 123, 126, 153, 155, 159–161, 164, 165, 169, 176, 177, 192, 193 Vohs, K.D., 45, 99, 108 W Watzlawic, P., 148 Weick, Karl, 2, 5, 19, 22, 25, 44, 45, 47–49, 55, 60, 67, 91–95, 97–99, 103–105, 107, 108, 110, 112–114, 135 “What Did You Say?”, 154 Whitney, D.D., 47, 73, 151 worldview, 43, 54–56, 98, 177 Z Zeffane, R., 75, 76