We began this series with an invitation to think about context in 3 dimensions:
We’ve already covered individual (personal) and interpersonal context. Here we will cover organizational context. (Note: Additional information may be found in Chapter 7 and Chapter 9 within Language and the Pursuit of Leadership Excellence).
In the most basic sense, organizational context may be understood as the “background” or “environment” (not physical, but very real) in which the organization operates. And when we speak of background or environment or atmosphere, we are pointing to organizational culture. So in simple terms, one way of thinking about organizational context involves thinking about organizational culture. And as Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast!”
Traditionally, as we know, organizational context is established when leaders
We claim that one of the most fundamental responsibilities of leadership is to consciously create and sustain organizational context.We claim that one of the most fundamental responsibilities of leadership is to consciously create and sustain organizational context. Click To Tweet
The following graphic is used to understand any and all organizations, no matter how simple or complex, large or small. It is used to clarify the relationship between this way of understanding context and our way of understanding content – the actual collaborative action that drives the organization forward day in, day out.
The “roof” and the “foundation” can be understood as the organizational context – who we are, where we’re going, why we’re going there and how we’re going to treat each other along the way. In the foundation, we find the organization’s “come from” – the solid purpose for being, the mission, the core values, the key standards, value propositions and roles and rules of engagement. And in the roof, we find the “go to” – the vision pulling us toward the desired future, the goals, the objectives and priorities.
And the middle of the house represents the organizational content – the human beings who are collaborating and communicating and coordinating with each other… and are doing so in a way that’s guided by the foundation and in service to the roof.
Declarations are one of what we understand as fundamental “speech acts.” Can you see that the roof and the foundation are literally declared into being? That they are brought forth and manifested and made real by leaders with authority, making declarations? You and/or your designated teams declare the mission, declare the values, declare the goals. You declare the standards, the norms, the vision, the priorities. And if you or those teams have the authority to make those declarations, and you make them – it is so.
As a leader, you speak the roof and the foundation into being. And then you go about the ongoing job of building shared understanding of these declarations. For leaders, this is crucial to see and understand.
Leaders are responsible for building and sustaining shared understanding of – and shared commitment to – the declarations that are the organizational “come from” and the organizational “go to.” There are many ways to accomplish this, of course, from the initial onboarding processes for new employees to regular performance management conversations, weekly staff meetings, monthly departmental meetings, quarterly retreats, bulletin boards in the break rooms, daily huddles, weekly email blasts, blogs, websites and corporate communications.
Shared understanding is the key. How far down does it go?
As a leader, you are a conversational architect and a conversational engine… and it is through these organizational conversations that the organizational context is created and sustained.
Context (or culture) impacts the degree to which organizations are able to have decentralized decision-making with strategic intent – and given the pace and scale of change today, as well as the impact of having those closest to the action being able to make sound decisions, this is not trivial. It represents a significant competitive advantage.
Think about the “house” drawing and a version of it that can represent your organization. Share these questions with your leadership team, and convene a conversation to start the new year in which you discuss: