4 Ways to Steward Culture in Your Organization

Have you ever gotten the sense that you just don’t like the way things feel in your organization? You have a great team, worked hard on crafting a mission statement, recruited excellent team members, have really clear systems, and you’re implementing a well thought out strategy, but still something just doesn’t feel right? When you’re in a meeting, a gathering, an event, it’s nothing you can point to specifically but something just feels off.

You could have a culture problem.

Why Culture?

Many influential leaders consistently talk about the importance of culture when leading a team or organization. It’s been said that an organization is built around people, systems, and culture – and if the organization isn’t healthy and growing, there is a disconnect somewhere in those three areas.

  • People is about recruiting, developing, empowering, and placing the right people in the organization.
  • Systems are about the structures and processes in place to support, grow, and deliver the vision of the organization.
  • Culture is the overall feel, mood, norms, and environment of the organization.

I believe that though all are important and contribute to the success of the organization, culture trumps them all.

Your organization has a culture. Your job has a culture. Your team has a culture. Your home has a culture. Your culture is either working for you or against you. You can have culture either by decision or default.

And when it comes to culture there’s good news and bad news.

First the bad news.

The wrong culture can take years to change.

Now the good news.

You can change the wrong culture.

How to Be Intentional About Culture

Culture is the by-product of what we communicate, demonstrate, celebrate, and tolerate.

  • Communicate
    • Culture begins with what you say. Communicating the values you have and the values you aspire to have gives people language to move towards. You can’t just want a good culture - you have to “talk it.”
  • Demonstrate
    • Though it is important to “talk it,” it’s vital to walk it. Changing culture begins with the leader demonstrating the desired culture. People often emulate the culture modeled by their leadership. In whatever way you lead, your team and environment is often a mirror of your leadership. If you don’t like what you see in the mirror - getting a new mirror won’t fix anything.
  • Celebrate
    • This is bigger than you think. People will naturally gravitate towards what you celebrate. If you’re telling your organization, team, or family, that “this” is really important to us, but you’re always instead celebrating, “that,” then “that” is what is influencing your culture. For example you can’t say what you value most is everyone giving it their best when you only celebrate winning. People will put together their best doesn’t actually matter unless they bring in a win.
  • Tolerate
    • Whatever you tolerate will dominate. You can communicate, demonstrate, and celebrate the right stuff, but if you tolerate the wrong stuff it will always dominate the culture. If you tell everyone you value punctuality, you’re punctual yourself, and you even celebrate the punctual people but you never confront those few that always show up late - you will begin to undermine everything you’re building towards. When it comes to this, make sure you’ve been implementing the first three before you jump to this one. However, if you have been doing the first three well - you need to confront the outliers that divert from the norm.

Jesus Was Intentional About Culture

It’s important to see that the greatest man to have lived, Jesus, was intentional about building the right culture with his followers!

  • Communicate - Matthew 5-7; Jesus’ sermon on the mount teaching his followers what are the values and ways of the kingdom
  • Demonstrate - Mark 3:14; Jesus called the disciples to be with Him so they would see what He’s like, and He’d send them out to do the same
  • Celebrate - Luke 10:20; Jesus didn’t want His followers rejoicing in (celebrating) spiritual power which would have likely led to pride but celebrate their salvation which leads to humility
  • Tolerate - Matthew 16:23; Jesus wouldn’t allow even wrong mindsets in His disciples so He would deal with it sharply, knowing little problems cause big dysfunction over time

Core Values

So how can you make this practical?

One of the most effective ways to provide clarity around building the right culture is through core values. The core values themselves are not the culture necessarily, but provide accountability and clarity around where the culture should lie. Think of core values as buoys in the ocean or guardrails to a roadway – they mark boundaries and keep culture in check.

Core values can be both observational (things that are already happening and in place; you can observe them) and aspirational (things that you desire to be in place but aren’t yet; you aspire towards them)

Putting This Into Practice

Want to make this practical? To help build some values and move your team/ministry towards the right culture, answer the following questions.

  1. How would you describe the culture of your team?
  2. What would you say are the current values of your team? These can be a word (i.e. integrity) or a phrase (i.e. life of the party)
  3. What values are you lacking and/or weak in that you’d like to see a part of your team?
  4. Are you “tolerating” anything in your culture that is working against you? If so, what is it?
  5. Think about a brand new person joining your team/. What would you want them to feel by the time they left? Answer as brief or in-depth as you’d like.
  6. What’s your favorite thing about your team?

It All Begins With You

The big takeaway? Culture begins with you. The greatest tool you have for building the culture you want to feel is being the culture you want to build.