As social creatures we spend the majority of our time in the company of others, either by choice with our friends or by default with our families and employers.
We like to see ourselves as free agents making our own choices and living authentically but the reality is that The Matrix has many layers and we are unaware that we are more enmeshed and ensnared than we realise.
We are, to a very large extent, governed by our conditioning and our hardwired cognitive biases. Group
culture is another one of those things that also has a very powerful
influence on our thought processes, decisions and behaviours.
Group culture is:
Group culture matters because it is the invisible software that determines individual behaviour in a group context.
It also matters because the fabric of your life, and the lives of everyone you interact with, consists of membership and participation in multiple groups. You move seamlessly from group to group everyday:
Each of these groups have their own cultures which to a significant degree influence and determine how you think and behave.
This is the invisible software that, to a surprising degree, rules your life.
The impact of group culture on communication, persuasion and change
This article is posted in the context of a series of articles on Communication Persuasion And Change and it is important to understand that:
A Reality Check and A Health Warning! I have used the templates and tools outlined in this article on many occasions in my business career, and they work very effectively. BUT, and this is big but, very few clients understood or were interested in group culture. There were a few who did and I used these processes overtly and as described in this article and in the attachments. But for the majority, all they wanted was results and frankly they didn't care how I did it as long as I got results, so I used these processes covertly. The greatest value in what I am sharing in this article is the insight and knowledge it will give you in understanding:
A Reality Check and A Health Warning!
I have used the templates and tools outlined in this article on many occasions in my business career, and they work very effectively.
BUT, and this is big but, very few clients understood or were interested in group culture.
There were a few who did and I used these processes overtly and as described in this article and in the attachments.
But for the majority, all they wanted was results and frankly they didn't care how I did it as long as I got results, so I used these processes covertly.
The greatest value in what I am sharing in this article is the insight and knowledge it will give you in understanding:
There are most likely several sub-cultures within a group culture.
These can exist within an entity as small as 2 or 3
people or a much larger group such as a department or functional group, or a whole organisation.
It usually evolves around and is focused on a specific function, or a strong personality or dominant individual, or it maybe an ethnic group or a group with shared interests and activities.
In this article I am sharing a simplified view of understanding group culture and therefore I don't cover this, but if you are interested in understanding the importance of sub-cultures in the dynamics of group culture, please see the full business version of this model and the real-life example.
How to change a group culture
To change a group culture, you need:
There are a number of cultural analysis models and a popular model is the Johnson and Scoles Cultural Web.
many years in management consultancy and interim management I developed
my own model which proved effective with many clients.
This is not a business seminar so I am going to present these ideas here in a simplified format.
Cultural Framework Template
 Culture Type
This is simple description of the type of group you are describing or analysing.
For example, is this group a family, a social group or a business etc?
N.B. In the business version of this model we go into this in more depth and identify:
 Summary Description
This is a brief description of the main characteristics of the culture - the look and feel of "how things really are".
It also describes the main focus of the key players in this group.
For example, in the case of a business:
 The Characteristics of the Culture
This can include things such as:
# Power Structure - Who exercises power? What are the sources of power? These structures can be formal – the CEO and Board of an organisation. Heads of Government and various Institutions of State. Or they can be informal – a religous leader, a parent or a person of strong influence [a pressure group] or in an organisational context perhaps a strong trades union leader
# Organisational structure: Defines how people are managed and how they interact. In an organisation there will always be a formal structure. But in social groupings the structure may be more informal and adhoc and be based around those with greatest social influence.
# Rewards & Incentives - these can be financial - such as salaries, bonuses, commissions and profits; or they can be non-financial such as approval, prestige, influence and social standing.
# Controls & Measurements - How are behaviours and outcomes measured and monitored? What are the standards and values?
# Communications - Who? What? When? How? Why?
# Environment - What are the working or regular routines? What is the style and atmosphere? What are the Myths, Symbols and Legends that encapsulate "who we are"?
 Key Actions and Behaviours That Show The Real Issues?
What are the observable behaviours and actions that provide evidence of the key issues that result from this culture?
What are the real [as opposed to the espoused or claimed] agendas of the key players in this entity?
 Major Areas of Focus - Areas of Impact
What are the major areas of impact arising from the key issues?
What receives the greatest focus in this culture?
change a group culture there are a number of simple but critical steps you need to undertake. You will need:
 Sponsorship, support and buyin
Regardless of the size of your group, you will be wasting your time unless you have the positive support of a group leader to mentor and sponsor your culture change initiative.
The existing group culture will be largely the product of the leadership style, personality and policies of the leader so it essential that you gain their support to provide the energy and momentum to get the rest of the group to take this seriously.
In addition to this there will be people of influence in your group whose buyin and support you need. Whilst they are are not part of the formal leadership structure of your group they carry weight and have considerable social influence, so they are worth having onside.
To repeat, this first step is critical because without it you can not succeed and you will be wasting your time.
 What do we look like now, and what do we want to look like in future?
Cultural Framework Template
Using and adapting the Cultural Framework Template above undertake a situation analysis to create a cultural framework for your group that clearly and accurately describes "Where we are now".
This template can be simplified or expanded depending on the size and complexity of your group. Also, feel free to amend and adapt it.
The point and purpose of a cultural framework template is to create a visual framework and language - supported with tangible evidence - to enable everyone involved to be able to communicate in an unemotional and non-confrontational manner.
This is undertaken through a series of facilitated sessions held with those who will be impacted by the proposed changes.
The objective is to reach a shared understanding of:
 Where are the gaps between where we are now and where we want to be?
With reference to the two cultural frameworks you have created, working with your team you need to identify all the gaps - all the things that will need to change - to enable you to create the desired culture.
This is all about specifics and tangibles.
The objective is to end up with a categorised list of all those things that will need to change.
Do not get hung up about the issues involved or the resistance you may encounter. These will be addressed thoroughly in the next stage.
Please note: The "Gap Map" above is a real-life illustration of a culture mapping exercise I conducted with an outsourcing consultancy. I have shown this for illustrative purposes only.
You do not have to create a gap map in this format to benefit from a gap analysis. All that matters is that you identify all the gaps and you represent them in a simple clear format that everyone in the group can recognise.
 Establishing a simple structured process to make the changes
The Progress And Issues Map
The typical approach to initiating any major change, whether in personal life as an individual or as an organisation, assumes that it can be treated as incremental change and accommodated within "business as usual".
But of course this approach assumes too much and overlooks basic success-critical steps.
I have created and successfully used a tool,
that I call a PI-MAP [Progress and Issues Map] which is visual reminder to undertake these steps and with each task to ask yourself [and your team if you are applying this to an organisation]:
What issues and impacts have to be resolved to successfully move on to the next task with confidence in a successful outcome for the whole initiative?
The whole process is described here:
This process is simple but powerful and is so often skipped in a rush to "get things done". You can apply this process to any and every situation where you have a series of important tasks to accomplish in the pursuit of a major goal. This applies in personal life as well as in organisations.
I am going to close this article with a brief reflection on something that has bothered me for quite a long time, and it is this: I am writing about my home country the UK, but from what I see on the other side of the pond, the US is very similar as are other most other societies that have espoused liberal tolerance and flexibility to minority beliefs and points of view.
Group Culture and The Tyranny Of The Intolerant Minority
I am going to close this article with a brief reflection on something that has bothered me for quite a long time, and it is this:
I am writing about my home country the UK, but from what I see on the other side of the pond, the US is very similar as are other most other societies that have espoused liberal tolerance and flexibility to minority beliefs and points of view.
The Minority Rule
In our analysis and consideration of group culture in this article I have repeatedly said that unless an initiative to change a group culture has the support and empowerment of the formal and informal leaders it is doomed to fail.
So perhaps this provides a clue as to how we have fallen prey to intolerant minorities.
At the societal level, tolerant, flexible and accommodating societies do not have strong formal or informal leaders controlling and enforcing the society's shared beliefs and values [because to do so would be intolerant and inflexible].
So when an intolerant minority is present in a society where the majority are flexible and accommodating, and have no strong values-based leadership, there is an asymmetry in choices.
This means that the flexible, tolerant majority accept the intolerant minority position but the intolerant minority do not reciprocate.
The outcome of this is that rather than the minority being assimilated into the flexible majority, the flexible majority become assimilated into the inflexible minority!
This, of course, does not happen in less flexible religious societies such as Islamic Malaysia and less flexible secular societies such as Singapore.
How complex systems theory provides a powerful counter to prevailing assumptions espoused by intolerant minorities
Unlike some of the theories that have come to prominence over the past 10-15 years and that have fueled intolerant minorities, complex systems theory is multidisciplinary and science based.
It provides an alternative paradigm to the simplicity and erroneous assumptions and extrapolations of reductionism.
Complex systems theory's primary focus is on understanding the dynamics and interactions of a system's parts and how these interactions give rise to the group's collective behaviours.
Nassim Taleb explains this succinctly [I paraphrase]:
This matters enormously because intolerant minorities cite examples of individual behaviour [often in unfortunate or tragic circumstances] that are promoted via mass media and social media as typical of society as a whole.
To be specific:
Return from "Getting From A to B" to: Communication Persuasion and Change
Or to: Walking The Talk
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