If cultural artefacts are what you see in an organisation, then patterns of behaviour are what you see people do.

As I mentioned in the previous blog, one organisation I knew had problems with avoidance behaviour – people would avoid making decisions, or taking responsibility for things.

This came out in any number of ways. Go to a meeting, and only some of the people would speak. When you asked for volunteers, the same hand or hands would go up. Decisions would get pushed up the organisation, usually to too high a level.

Hand in hand with these behaviours was playing the blame game – if something went wrong, you looked for you could blame for it, and how you could hide your own involvement. If you couldn’t find anyone to blame, you looked for somewhere to bury it.

If mistakes did come to light, then we looked for external issues (“it’s the market/regulator/competition/our customers”) and then just move quietly on.

All little things, seen at a personal level, every day. I’ll give you an example from when I managed a team. I had only been in charge for a few weeks, but really noticed these behaviours. No-one volunteered to take on anything. People did their job, but not much else. Nobody did anything wrong, as such, but nor did they do anything extra, anything above and beyond.

I had a chat with HR and they suggested doing some psychometrics. I suggested this to the team and got at best, a half-hearted agreement, and, at worst, downright refusal – “I’m not having a test that will go on my permanent record” was one response.

I backed away from the big test, and, at the end of a team meeting, asked people to fill in a quick little questionnaire, just ten questions, just a bit of fun. Two people didn’t fill them in, and another one ticked on the same side all the way down – “because it doesn’t matter how you answer them, these things are never wrong, are they?”

I needed to do something to change the behaviours in my team, I realised. And I still felt that getting the team to look at the types of people in the team would be a start – as well as helping with team-building.

Myers-Briggs, with its questionnaire and formality, was a non-starter, but then I went to a conference where a great speaker called Nigel Risner (have a look at http://www.nigelrisner.com, it’s well worth a look) did a piece about types, using hats with animals on them. 

He divided people up into Lions, Monkeys, Elephants and Dolphins, with hilarious consequences. I took this back to a team meeting, and we divided up the team – I was the self-important Lion, the caring, quiet woman was the dolphin, who put everyone else first, the person who struggled to finish things was the easily-distracted monkey, the fellow who out the same answer for everything was the plodding, change-resistant elephant.

I shared, we laughed, and the idea started to stick a bit. Eventually the team ran with it enough to do a full Myers-Briggs survey,and we did a session on preferences, and how these drove behaviours.

Once members of the team understood that each had different preferences for how they do things, they respected those differences, and took account of them in how they dealt with each other. I stopped trying to make the introvert do presentations, but because they were strong on organisation I gave them more responsibility on office management.

Over weeks and months, the behaviours shifted. People became more eager to volunteer. When we made mistakes, we owned up and, more importantly, though about how we could change things so we avoided them in the future.

This helped the team, and helped us perform more effectively, and I took these lessons and used them when, in later life, I was responsible for developing organisational cultural change.

So observe your people. See how they behave. Have a look in the team meetings – who speaks? Who doesn’t? Do you know why?

Have a look day to day – how do people interact? Are they polite? Friendly? Business-like? Formal? Rude?

How do people act when things go wrong? If you’re the boss, do you even know if things do go wrong? Does someone else get the blame? 

 What you are looking for is the patterns of behaviour. Look for positive ones, and encourage them. I find that works better than trying to punish negative ones – but make sure you don’t reward or celebrate less effective behaviour by rewarding or celebrating the people who are behaving that way.

 Spotting patterns of behaviour is just one of the things we do at Hermeneus Consulting. Give us a call if we can help you.

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