Fitnesswise: ‘Culture’ — the most misused word in high-performance organisations

From mottos to mindsets, the culture of high-performance organisations is one of the most crucial elements that define their success.

Published : May 06, 2024 18:54 IST - 5 MINS READ

Just talk: Clear communication with a consistent message is a key factor in any professional organisation, where most professionals expect clarity and coherence. 
Just talk: Clear communication with a consistent message is a key factor in any professional organisation, where most professionals expect clarity and coherence.  | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Just talk: Clear communication with a consistent message is a key factor in any professional organisation, where most professionals expect clarity and coherence.  | Photo Credit: Getty Images

“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team” — Phil Jackson

In any high-performance organisation worldwide, or in any sport, the term most frequently heard is — ‘culture’.

Often, it’s used by those outside the system to explain why certain teams consistently experience success or failure compared to others.

There are numerous definitions of ‘culture’, ranging from ideas, customs, goals, attitudes, ethics, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.

Regardless of these definitions, one thing is abundantly clear: when organisations have a poor culture, they are desperate for change, and when they have a very strong one, they want to ‘protect and preserve’ everything that contributes to its strength!

Clear communication with a consistent message is a key factor in any professional organisation, where most professionals expect clarity and coherence.

One of the primary attributes of organisations with a strong culture is clarity regarding acceptable behaviours, how people are treated, and the way individuals carry out their daily duties.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book,  David and Goliath, he emphasises the significance of clear communication from leaders. He suggests that people want to know whether:

1. Yesterday’s rules are the same today

2. The rules that apply to someone else are the same that apply to them

3. If the rules change, they want to be told!

When you step into any high-performance facility worldwide, the team’s motto will be prominently displayed on the wall. This motto is meant to describe the organisation’s structure, operations, and processes, and is ingrained into the fabric of the organisation. Often, this mantra permeates every aspect of the organisation, evident as soon as you enter the building and felt in interactions with staff and players. In contrast, organisations with a poor culture have a distinct smell — more of a stench. The signs of a poor culture are immediately apparent:

• Poor staff communication

• Gossip about team members

• Staff feeling marginalised

• Uncoordinated protocols

• Appearances over results

• Players cutting corners

• Branded attire over performance

• Disrespecting teammates/staff

• Style over substance

The issues mentioned above are merely the tip of the iceberg; deeper and more toxic issues remain hidden beneath the surface. It’s easy to point fingers at a single staff member or a specific individual in management.

Having said that, it’s possible that an individual with a toxic disposition, who holds significant decision-making power, may not align with the organisation’s culture.

While this individual may possess the requisite skills for the job, their abrasive personality can adversely impact the entire culture, setting unrealistic and unscalable standards over time for both the team and staff.

Is it right to blame the entire group for this downfall? Based on my personal experience, the answer is — NO. Every player aims to elevate their performance to the next level, but when presented with an easy option, they might go for it — it’s just human nature. Honest introspection is necessary to identify the individual who acts as the spoke on the wheel, disrupting the entire organisational culture.

One simple method for recruiting the right staff for the organisation is to assess personality and trust gut instinct. While someone may be competent and excel professionally in their domain, negative personality traits can destabilise the entire system. If an individual focuses more on “I” than “we”, it’s likely a red flag. The mindset required for a professional in an individual sport versus a team sport varies due to a load of factors. Being mindful of the need to recruit the right person can be a game-changer.

With the right people in right positions, the system can become robust, fostering progressive growth and performance across various factors, by reinforcing the organisation’s work culture — clarifying what it stands for and, equally importantly, what it does not stand for.

There’s a misnomer that all high-performance centres are truly high-performance centres, but unfortunately, they cut a sorry figure, merely functioning as organisations. Despite having plenty of staff, a flashy social media presence, designer uniforms, cutting-edge weight rooms and recovery facilities, these elements do not necessarily equate to high performance. How can these centres truly live up to the expectations of key stakeholders? This is indeed a million-dollar question, quite literally!

Each organisation will face specific problems, but by reflecting on these issues and engaging in honest, truthful conversations within the organisation, many issues can be resolved. This approach can help restore reputation and establish a winning culture.

Each organisation has its own unique and meaningful culture. There’s no fixed template for implementing a successful culture across all organisations. While the concept of ‘culture’ is complex within high-performance organisations, it essentially involves a set of guidelines and ethics that are embraced and followed, and how individuals within that culture adhere to them.

The motto — this is the way we set the process and protocols here — needs to be ingrained into the bloodstream. There’s no better place than an organisation with a robust culture and open lines of communication between staff and players, where the team members breathe and live by the same principles.

As a fellow professional, I would personally encourage each of you to examine the culture within your current organisation. What do you stand for? How do others perceive you and describe your contribution to the organisation? How would you describe your role in bringing about positive change within the organisation?

Answering these questions with honesty may ultimately determine whether your organisation is positioned for sustained success in the future.

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