Does corporate culture exist?

Last week I did a learning teleconf call with the Plexus Institute, It is "a not-for-profit organization that was formed in 2001 by a small group of people from diverse backgrounds who shared a vision of discovering the most beneficial uses for the insights from complexity science". Because as the site states "Clearly, we need a new way of looking at work and organizations of all types." And complexity science applications offer that new way.

The teleconf calls led by the Institute are described as follows:

PlexusCalls are designed to let you listen in to unrehearsed, spontaneous conversations among leading complexity scholars and practitioners from the comfort of your home or workplace. … The format is simple. The calls last an hour and are held on many Fridays on a conference line.

So the theme of my conference call was my new book Corporate Culture: Getting it Right and the topic was "Does Corporate Culture Exist." You can listen to the discussion by clicking on this link.

What was interesting for me was the questions. I didn't know in advance what they would be, so thinking on my feet around "What's the difference between a corporate persona and corporate culture?" or "why is it that people have to wield two swords?" was a good challenge. Not least because I realized that Sharon Benjamin, the interviewer had read my book closely and picked up on many of the pieces that I found most interesting to research and write about. The two swords question relates to an exercise in the book around cultural fluency adapted from Adapted from: Moran, R. , Harris, P. Moran, S. (2007) Managing Cultural Differences, Seventh Edition: Global Leadership Strategies for the 21st Century . Elsevier. It goes like this:

Miyamoto Musashi a seventeenth century Japanese Samurai, learned to handle two swords at one time. To be skillful, effective and successful in one's own culture by being assertive, quick, and to the point is one mode of behaviour. To be skillful, effective and successful in another culture by being unassertive, patient, and indirect is another mode entirely – like being able to handle two swords at one time. This exercise helps with such a situation.

Step 1: Ask individuals to read the list of adjectives, that could describe a manager, below and circle the ones that apply to them.

Assertive, energetic, decisive, ambitious, confident, quick, aggressive, competitive, impatient, impulsive, quick-tempered, intelligent, excitable, informal, versatile, persuasive, imaginative, witty, original, colourful, calm, easy-going, good-natured, tactful, forceful, unemotional, good listener, inhibited, shy, absent-minded, cautious, methodical, timid, lazy, procrastinator, enjoy responsibility, resourceful, individualist, broad interests, limited interests, good team worker, enjoy working alone, sociable, co-operative, quiet, easily distracted, serious, idealistic, sceptical, abrasive, cynical, conscientious, flexible, mature, dependable, honest, sincere, reliable, adaptable, curious.

Using these qualities skillfully is like handling one sword.

Step 2: Now ask individuals to think of a business trip to another country, or a meeting with a different department, and ask them to circle the qualities that they think the other people will be looking for in them.

Step 3: Discuss what individuals will have to do/learn to be able to wield the second sword successfully as they meet with people with different cultural expectations and norms.

When I've done the exercise with people it does open the discussion on the way culture and language are exhibited and interpreted. I'm not sure that this starts to answer the question 'does corporate culture exist' but it does illustrate the complexities involved in thinking of ways to 'change the culture' as so many leaders aspire to do.