Seven Layers of Culture

7 layers of culture (NC)Few concepts in the organisational world are as misunderstood as “culture”.

All too frequently, it is relegated to the notion of “soft skills” … those things that ‘don’t really matter in business’. Well, apart from the fact that the notion of “soft skills” is a fallacy, culture does matter because it lies at the very core of our being: who we are, how we perceive the world (mindset and what I call gutset – how we feel) and therefore how we act and react in particular situations.

When people refer to “culture”, they more often than not are thinking in terms of “nationality” and “ethnicity”, sometimes also to belief. The notion is really far broader.

In our attempts to appear to include all, we may deny difference. Difference, i.e. diversity is a fact of life, therefore positive. Embracing it is therefore essential.

The nonsensical western-led notion of political correctness may also lead us to ignore the effect of differences for fear of upsetting somebody. Well, I’m not sure how intelligent it can be to ignore a natural state. Nature has a purpose, always.

We need to recognise what is: the first step to change.

Attempting to deny or ignore the influence of culture on our interactions, will not only result in us missing potential opportunities, we may also be laying the ground for unadulterated failure.

A Broader view of “Culture”

I initially developed this model in the 1990s while working to integrate a project team of about 50 people whose members crossed multiple boundaries, asking myself the question: “How can we remove the barriers in our minds that hinder cooperation?” The first step is to recognise, accept and embrace the differences.

The chart displays the 7 core layers of culture that influence our mindset, at least 5 of which are likely to be found within most Management Teams and Project Teams, both international and domestic, regardless of sector.

Of course there are additional influencers, e.g., the specific environment in which someone grew up, parental home, sexual orientation, social structure of interest groups to which someone belongs, etc etc. These 7 layers however are the keys. And, like culture itself, they are dynamic, they change.

At the core lies the individual with all his/her individual characteristics, conscious and sub-conscious experiences, that influence actions, reactions and decisions.

We interact with another person, not a culture.