Beneath the lotus flower: discovering organisational cultures

Together with the concepts of ‘leadership’ and ‘strategy’, ‘organisational culture’ must surely be one of the most fascinating and infuriating objects of study in organisational life.

Beneath the lotus flower: discovering organisational cultures

On 13 September 2019, NIODA will hold its third symposium in Melbourne. This year’s theme is ‘building healthy and ethical organisational culture’. We will look now beneath the lotus flower: discovering organisational cultures.

Together with the concepts of ‘leadership’ and ‘strategy’, ‘organisational culture’ must surely be one of the most fascinating and infuriating objects of study in organisational life. Fascinating because, for most of us, it is difficult to describe, and yet we go to great lengths to do so. We often rely on metaphors to help us conceptualise it: for example, the behaviour that is hidden in the murky depths beneath the waterline, above which the obvious, exquisite lotus flower blooms.

Culture is infuriating because in our instrumentally-rational world we want something that we can lasso and send off to boot camp or give a makeover to. But ‘culture’, as we know (and I suspect, often to our disappointment) cannot be so easily nipped and tucked. Logically speaking, our attempts at measuring it are always only a real-time estimation and our actions always ultimately experimental. This is because we cannot ever escape the fact that culture is me, you and us (and also ‘them’), beings who are in a continual jostling with one other. We can never gain a complete picture of it, although we can often sense it when we walk into an office or a factory.

Dynamics in organisations can be perverse and destructive. They can also be amazingly creative and generative. We know the power of culture to drag an organisation down or help it rise. In recent times, many of us have been stupefied (and, perhaps, not surprised) at the systemic misconduct, wilful blindness and perversity in our banking, aged care and sporting domains. What is it that is so strongly out of our awareness, or to which we wish to remain blind that hinders our organisations so? How do we truly notice what is going on and discover how to strengthen that which serves an organisation well, and that which pulls it back?

Ultimately, the question is how we act to create the environments that best help an organisation achieve its purpose in accordance with the tenor of what we deem is important in its life – its values.

At the symposium next month, nine speakers will give papers and seminars in three streams throughout the day. In their own way, each will explore elements of organisational cultures. There will also be four keynote speakers and a facilitated reflective session. An optional dinner the evening before provides another opportunity for communing with like-minded people.

NIODA’s symposia are unique because they offer a space to truly think, reflect and share insights. This will be an opportunity to further your curiosity about what others are thinking when they work in, research or consult on the theme of culture in organisational life.

I hope to see you there.

Kristina Karlsson

discovering organisational cultures
NIODA 2019 Symposium committee ‘Building healthy and ethical organisational culture’

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