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  • Writer's picturesabina strachan

How can I influence our culture so that it becomes more collaborative?

Cartoon: person with thinking bubble above them containing an open umbrella with groups of people underneath thinking “Collaboration works for us – how can it become the culture?”

If you are in a team or lead a unit or activity that is essentially a 'pocket' of collaborative working inside an organisational 'overcoat' where collaboration isn't a cultural norm, then your ability to influence that culture will depend on how open the leadership is to organisational change, how much of a stretch there is between the overarching culture and the subculture, and whether collaboration aligns with the stated organisational values.

Here we examine whether it's possible to influence the prevailing culture within organisations that have a hierarchical or pyramidal structure.

Is change possible?

  • If the subculture embodies the organisational values and if the leadership wants to change the culture, then being open about your way of working and being able to evidence its benefits are likely to be well received.

  • If the leadership believes that an alternative way of working is unnecessary or would be disruptive, then collaborative culture – even where it aligns with organisational values – is unlikely to get a sympathetic ear.

  • In some cases, leaders can feel threatened by subcultures that run counter to their own, even where they embody the stated organisational values. In this case a leader may try to suppress the subculture rather than embrace it or allowing it to flourish in at least part of the organisation.

So, what can you do where A. collaboration makes sense as a whole-organisation approach given its aims and values, and B. leaders may not be receptive to change?

How can I influence when there’s resistance to change?

1. Focus communications on the team’s outputs, outcomes and attitude – especially around cross-departmental and external projects – not on working methods or the subculture. Create a results-focused strategy to influence others.

2. Create a 'bridge' between the prevailing culture and the subculture, e.g. for centrally-administered processes like procurement and recruitment. This will prevent the different ways of working from becoming a barrier to effective collaboration and provide examples of how it can adapt to different structures.

3. Influence sideways, across the organisation. Be selective about where to start – the key here is to identify teams that are open to change, have a different function from your own, and are able to influence in different ways. A groundswell will have the potential to influence the future shape of the overarching culture.

4. Does the whole organisation need to have a collaborative culture? Perhaps moving to a more cooperative one is more suited to the organisational aims and would help to support collaborative working? If that’s the case, aim to influence on those terms instead.

Influencing when there is resistance to change takes conviction, determination and action, and is by no means easy. For collaboration to become the norm, it’s about changing habits that might have become ingrained and encouraging behaviours that may be far removed from what has been recognised and rewarded. If you need help with culture change and organisational development, message glu.

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