What the Total Eclipse Taught Me About Culture

My home city was in the path of the August 2017 solar eclipse.  Because we were on course to experience 98% totality, I, like many fellow Charlotteans cleared my calendar to be able to take in the experience.  While disappointed to miss totality and the holy grail of the corona, watching even the partial phenomenon sparked an idea for me.

As the eclipse began, the black ball of the moon’s shadow crept slowly across the surface of the sun.  It was a stunning sight – but the best was yet to come.  Once the moon had fully eclipsed the sun and continued its movement, there appeared a narrow sliver of brilliant light.  As the moon continued to move the sliver became ever so slightly larger and larger until the sun was once again its full self.

So how does the recent eclipse relate to better understanding your company’s culture?  While trying to keep my eclipse glasses in place, it struck me that taking this ‘sliver of light’ approach would be a good way to examine the norms, entrenched behaviors and ways of doing things that are entrenched in your company’s mode of being.

Trying to absorb and assess the totality of your culture is overwhelming – just as the sight of the eclipse totality was described to me by those who viewed it.  But, by paying attention to your company’s culture one sliver at a time, it is much easier to get clarity on what’s going on in your environment and what’s keeping those patterns in place.

First, think of a short list of ‘culture slivers’ that are particularly important to your business.  These slivers could include things like:

  • Communication
  • Ability to adapt
  • How well people live out your stated values
  • Decision making
  • Development and growth/advancement
  • Collaboration

Then for a day or two (or three), start noticing what is happening relative to that respective sliver of your company’s culture.  Each morning, before your day gets cranking, pause and remind yourself to observe what is happening in your chosen culture sliver.  It may be helpful to make a note in your calendar or set a reminder alarm early in your workday to ‘pay attention to how decisions are getting made’ throughout that day. Also ask others about their experience of your chosen culture sliver.  Make some notes – details and/or general observations on whatever you’re noticing and/or hearing from others

Some important questions to consider:

  • What do you feel is helping to propel your business forward?
  • What is getting in the way of what you know is possible?
  • What do you still need to find out (or what new questions come up) before you move on to the next sliver?

I recently helped a client dig into a particular sliver.  This respective client expressed some concerns about how her company’s culture is taking shape during a time of significant growth. She wasn’t clear on exactly what areas were real strengths and which would pose some risk.  We talked with her about this idea of observing her company’s culture one sliver at a time.  She decided to start with a close look at communications.

We helped her brainstorm some questions to ask herself and others.

  • How/when are people sharing information?
  • What conversations are initiated and/or not initiated?
  • Are there any behaviors at the extremes that are causing stress in the system? (Example: Sharing information prematurely or sharing information that breaks confidence?)
  • Do people hold on to information or share openly?
  • Do people enter into or avoid important conversations?
  • What is motivating both the positive or negative behavior?

After several weeks and several slivers observed, you should have a solid assessment of the culture of your business, your team and your company.  You will have some clarity about not only where, when, and who you need to celebrate and encourage, but also and where, when, and with whom you need to invest energy in changing.

This look at culture one sliver at a time is a powerful strategy to implement heading into the last quarter of the calendar year; use your culture observations to help shape your personal and team leadership plan for 2018.   The results will be enlightened!

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