A year or so ago, I had the chance to collaborate with a close group of colleagues (who are also very close friends) who would periodically gather to explore and discuss the concept of organizational climate. For clarity, the concept of climate has its roots in social psychology and reflects the way organizational influences – such as the tone of routine communication or the perceived level of support from superiors and peers – affect an individual’s motivation and behavior. Climate exists whenever two or more individuals interact. It’s not a description of the individuals’ skills or competencies in an interaction. Rather, climate is the expression of those skills and competencies.
We make an important distinction between culture and climate. Culture reflects peoples’ shared attitudes and beliefs independent of the actual organizational infrastructure, while climate reflects their perceptions of existing policies, practices and procedures—both formal and informal. Culture is the way we do things around here. Climate is how we feel about the way things are done.
So, this group gathered to talk climate.
Originally, we set out to write a book on climate leadership. We ended up educating ourselves and have pulled those lessons through our work time and again. I thought I would share an excerpt of our thinking/writing which I recently revisited:
Every climate is reflective of a pattern of behavior. Outside our organizational worlds, a specific pattern of behavior is contributing to global climate change. And, specific climatic patterns create dry, arid deserts. Patterns arise from base principles—simple rules that drive core behaviors that are then copied and reflected as they expand broader. The desert’s heat exposure and water supply (simple rules) forced construction of air conditioned communities and vast regional waterways (patterns of behaviors) in order to live in a naturally inhospitable region. What early inhabitants learn is passed on, copied, and reflected as populations grow. If you look closely, the core behaviors of people living in Tucson are the same as those 50 years ago—limit exposure to the sun and drink plenty of water. Any variations are simply the freedom of expression, introduction of technology that enables ease of these behaviors.
We focus on organizational design because we have come to realize how blind we can be to the natural order within our organizations.
The behaviors of people living in Tucson follow a basic roadmap. There are simple rules. Those rules dictate core behaviors which are then reflected the further the population expands outward. Within our organizations, we should expect to see a similar natural pattern. The existence of simple rules for work, interactions, and decisions result in core behaviors demonstrated by its leaders—the center of the organizational pattern. We should expect behaviors to show up at every level that are reflective of what is happening at its core.
Obviously, if a group of organizational leaders are unaware of their simple rules, they should fully expect to see fragmented behaviors throughout the organizational system.
Let’s go a little further and consider that as a climate becomes more complex and unpredictable, it is naturally understood that people must develop adaptive and transformative capabilities. Put another way, new capabilities create unique paths of evolution. This basic idea is thoroughly intriguing to us. An organization’s evolution—it’s growth and expansion—is built on complexity and unpredictability. People are forced to adapt and transform on a new, unique path.
What leader would not ask; are all paths going in the same direction?