This is some early-stage thinking about cultural alignment: I’m acutely aware that I have no evidence to back this up, and am therefore writing largely from instinct and observation, the last tools of the desperate. So take this as it is: #WorkingOutLoud as I explore a new idea, as I try to draw together some strands of work around the formation of tribes, around organisational culture, and around change.
My central premise is this: when you join an organisation, you don’t simply go through one degree of cultural alignment, you go through multiple ones. I think there is a primary cultural alignment which is formed by dominant influences within the first few hours, to the first few days. This is a truly tribal force, operating at the level of one-to-one, and one to a team. It’s the formation of local bonds of trust, and is governed by local rituals of engagement. You are given a desk, you learn the local coffee ritual, you tune into local vocabulary, you determine social patterns of behaviour et cetera. In other words, you become a local citizen.
There is a second level of cultural alignment, one which takes much longer to form. If pressed, I would imagine that it can take several years: this secondary cultural alignment is about mastering complexity, it’s about the meta-tribal structure, the way that local tribes relate to national and global ones. And of course, they do so in complex and varied ways. If I were to describe it in one way, I would describe it is the ability to be an accomplished cultural navigator in the global context. This is almost certainly only built through experience, because the systems are opaque. I’m not sure that there is a shortcut.
Local cultural alignment, that primary force, almost certainly happens without any formal intervention. Effective secondary cultural alignment may require some structure, and indeed, that’s where I would focus my efforts around induction and on boarding. There may be almost no value in formalising the things that can be learnt through natural primary cultural alignment. Instead, we can create structured spaces in which to build the broad global trust networks that will allow us to be effective, globally.