We preach an awful lot about organizational culture, atmosphere and their importance. We try to tie them to the ground, to make them concrete and practical.
Sometimes we succeed , sometimes we don’t. Only when it comes to certain projects of truly brave organizations, do we dare to mention (#nofilter, you know...), that such thing as “culture” rarely exists. Instead, we have an endlessly fragmented something with some parts that look more or less like what we want. And there are some that we know are terrible, but we don’t dare to touch them, because the head of the given department, unit, branch, directorate, store, etc., casts such a shadow over their people like a weeping willow shadows the grass under it.
It’s always been like that, and it’ll stay like that forever. However, you’ve been able to walk out of thewillows shadow until now. You could walk in the cafeteria, to the water dispenser (whoever sold this idea first must have been a genius for sure), or to a partner department.
Then we moved home, and we no longer walk anywhere. No water dispenser, no cafeteria, no partner department.
We are stuck under the weeping willow.
To get out of this metaphor, let me say it with some big words: Our chances to repair our utterly fragmented organizational culture have deteriorated drastically.
This is what the common employee tends to express like you can read in the title: “For a year now, I haven’t seen anybody’s face other than my boss’. Thank God.” No communication, nothing soft comes from the partner department anymore. I don’t feel how people behave outside my own willow. If I do hear something about them, it’s because a project of ours is intertwined with theirs. That’s the only reason. I don’t know how Edward is getting on with his irritating juice diet and I have no idea what his willow, Frank thinks about it, either. Although I can’t put it into words why I’m missing these things so badly right now, but at least I can, with considerable difficulty, express the feeling that overwhelms me about it.
I’m alone under my willow.
And if I’m doing fine there, this COVID is not so bad after all. I’m getting on pretty well in my home office. But if I’m stuck under an ox (and now all my fellow right-brained people are visualizing a willow and an ox superimposed on one another), I have never felt so bad in my life.
Or maybe I have, in November.
But it’s been so bad here, and I’ve been hanging by a thread so long that I’m kind of happy I don’t have to look at other people’s stupid tree*. It’s quite enough to keep looking at a particular corner of
my boss’ living room from the exact same angle for 312 days, including the boss himself whose glasses, with their purple anti-reflective coating, allow me to see that he’s reading e-mails while the
seven of us are sitting there trying to talk to him. Pfft.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Khm.
Well, that’s the kind of situation which, if you experience it at more than one tree in your organization, you may as well forget such things as community initiatives, large-group, cross-functional programmes for the whole organization, online giga team building projects, town halls, all that stuff. And why?
Because while they might not be completely useless, but they are certainly not enough anymore.
Because these letters coming from the willow are no longer even opened, because HR drifted so far apart that we wouldn’t have thought in our worst nightmares. Because these hapless employees, who were already shadowed in a way, are now so far apart because of the distance between the willows that it doesn’t matter how you try to connect them. Not anymore. Or rather, not now.
This is because they no longer even try to get closer to each other, they don’t tray to transfer from one department to the other.
They just go somewhere else. To another company, another clearing.
What you can do is to try and keep them alive there in the small group, under their own tree. You can try to get close enough to them so you could at least hear if they don’t feel well. You
can’t bring the trees closer to each other overnight, but you can give the people a chance to develop as good a microclimate under their own little tree as they possibly can. You can help them to learn how to genuinely cooperate and give feedback down, to the side but even up, for the ox, the willow and the weeping willow, too.
You can help them to learn how to keep each other alive peer-to-peer as well as develop themselves and each other.
Of course, this type of group/department work should not have been avoided before, either. And no, they are not interchangeable with petting the organization as a whole. The latter will be very far from enough now, anyway. Because the people under the willows are running out of air.
* “Disgusting maggot, I’ll cut your tree down!"; Who said this to whom in the heat of an endlessly entertaining dispute in which book? The Józsa family is not allowed to play. Please submit your
answers to email@example.com, the winner’s team gets a free Microclimate development package with coaching and all that jazz. None of you know the answer, anyway. :)