Organizational Culture: Tune into Positives, Negatives, and Celebrations

Organizational Culture how well tuned is your radarI am fortunate that I currently work at a place that has a great culture.

And coming from past experience, a great culture doesn’t just happen. It’s certainly not the result of “Our Values” being etched on the glass in the lobby. It is the result of many little (and some big) things that fly thru our airspace every day.

Each one of us plays a part in this show, particularly our leaders. (And by leaders, I mean at every level. Not just the “C” suite, but also team leads, scrum masters, dominant voices in the room.) Their behaviors amplify and can promote a healthy culture; and on the same vein, the worst behavior a leader is willing to tolerate (or gasp, personally engage in) greatly influences the real culture of any organization. 

Tuning our Cultural Radar System

I recently had an opportunity to facilitate a retrospective with our Team Leads to deepen (and document) our collective understanding of what contributes to and detracts from our healthy organizational culture.

Since we are a highly distributed team I utilized as a collaboration platform as we explored the question:

What really makes our people happy, motivated, productive, and creative at work…?

First we did a divergent, silent brainstorm (15 minute time-box) looking thru the following lenses:

  • The Positives – Catalysts & Nourishers: These are things that directly or indirectly support progress and team morale
  • The Negative – Toxins & Inhibitors: They serve to impede or block progress or chip away at happiness.
  • Celebrations – Celebrations of success and progress are igniters of joy, engagement, creativity.


  • Positives: clear goals, honest feedback, regular progress, autonomy
  • Negatives: interruptions, disrespect, antagonism, confusion, command & control
  • Celebrations: genuine appreciation, tinypulse, all hands meeting, slack shoutouts

techleadscreenshotThe team leads came up with 125 ideas combined across the 3 categories!

Collectively, we then converged these by affinity (10 minute time-box) ending up with about 4 dozen clear themes.

Next, we rotated around our virtual circle giving each individual a chance to voice if there were any surprises (none jumped out for anyone) and to identify some next actions steps they saw for themselves, for their teams, for our organization:

  • What can I/we do (starting tomorrow or next week) to strengthen the catalysts / nourishers and provide any ones that are lacking?
  • What can I/we do (starting tomorrow or next week) to start eliminating inhibitors / toxins identified?
  • What can I/we do (starting tomorrow or next week) to celebrate progress on a regular basis?

Some really great ideas emerged – particularly around Celebrations… I don’t think its terrible important for me to share specifics here, as your mileage will vary.

An Image of Organizational Culture

Overall what emerged was a clear picture of what we can do as a regular practice to maintain and build upon what we’ve got… high levels of joy, engagement and creativity.

And a chance to tune our radar to those things that left unchecked could chip away at the great thing we’ve got going on.



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