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Stop, Collaborate and Listen – 3 steps to start building an inclusive culture

The Management Centre

Have you been keeping an eye on culture in your team or organisation lately?

Admittedly for managers and leaders, there has been a lot to think about in the past eighteen months. Shifting to home working, locking down, unlocking, risk assessments, reallocating budgets, planning ahead, supporting wellbeing, making changes, introducing new ways of working. All important stuff of course. However, no matter how clear your strategy is, or how well thought through your operational plans are, culture can undermine you at every step.

Against the current

Culture is an invisible force. Culture dictates right from wrong, how people work, how people communicate, and what is valued or important within an organisation. Culture is the link between what you are setting out to achieve, and the behaviours, structures and controls that enable you to achieve – or not.

For example, let’s imagine your organisation has an ambitious strategy for next few years, whereby you want to completely change the lives of your beneficiaries. You are going to need an ambitious fundraising strategy to match, an on-point marketing strategy, some matrix or multi-disciplinary teamwork to create new ways of working, innovation and clear goals at every level, delegated authority and brilliant project governance. Your corresponding culture is going to need to encourage working across hierarchical structures, reward and recognise people in ways that help them to feel excited and engaged. You’ll need to have a set of values and competencies that honour risk and embrace failed experiments. There will need to be plenty of collaboration and shared power.  Otherwise you will not do it. If your culture to date has been one based on playing it safe, punishing failures, management control where everything has to be signed off at the highest level, low levels of trust and silos working away on their own thing – your ambition will not be met.

Right now, charities and not-for-profit organisations are feeling the pressure. In recent years there have been stories about toxic work cultures undermining great work. We’re not going to name names – they’ve all been shamed enough. Since the pandemic started there have been plenty of stories about the need to be innovative, to do things differently as the new normal sets in. There is also mounting pressure on our sector to do better when it comes to inclusion – on gender, on race, and on mental health.

Your people your culture

So how exactly do you go about building a better, more inclusive, more forward-focused culture? To get you started, think about your area of control: you and your team. Use the following questions to map and improve your culture:

  1. Stop – thinking everyone is the same as you and has the same needs as you. Inclusion may mean being uncomfortable and challenging yourself to do things differently. Take time to explore what other people need to feel included. Ask: what makes you feel included or excluded? What about everyone else? Analyse: what might you be doing to exclude people? How could you include people more?
  2. Collaborate – map out your interactions with other teams and the interdependencies between you and others. Ask: what do they need from you? What do you need from them? Analyse: How can you bring your teams together? How can you make people feel welcomed and valued from outside your usual set?
  3. Listen – what stories are you hearing? What narrative do your team use to describe others? What narratives do other people have of your team? Ask: What experiences are other people sharing? Analyse: What is this telling you to do differently? How can you create a more positive story?

These steps alone are not going to change your culture overnight. But they will point you in the right direction. Building culture takes time, and if you don’t like the one you have it also takes plenty of unpicking. Writing an ‘our culture’ presentation and emailing it to everyone isn’t going to cut it. It takes hard work. Organisations are systems, and within those systems are micro-cultures. Pull on one string and another will unravel. But if you can understand how culture in your patch is working and what you need to do differently, you can start to make a plan.

If you have found this interesting and want to talk to us about supporting your team culture to be more inclusive, visit our Learning & Development page, contact us online or call us on 020 7978 1516.

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Yvette Gyles

About Yvette Gyles

Yvette specialises in leadership, personal effectiveness, change and innovation. Before joining =mc, she worked in HR for several years in both the private and charity sector as an HR...