Seven Core Layers of Culture
Influencers of our Interactions in an Organisational Context

Few concepts in the organisational world are as misunderstood as “culture”.

All too frequently, it is relegated to the sphere of … so-called “soft skills” … you know … those things that ‚don’t really matter in business‘. Still today, in the third decade of the 21st century, it is common to encounter the attitude that, „If we ask HR to organise a few training sessions for employees to improve understanding, we’ll be on the road to improving our culture, right?“

This kind of thinking could not be more WRONG!
It fails to address the root of the Question that governs how we … people … Human BEings … function and ultimately, how we add value for the organisation and … of course …ourselves.

Firstly, „soft skills“ do not exist. The notion is a fallacy. The quality of interaction (which of course, includes communication) among people directly effects results. This constitutes the outward observable expression, ie reflection, of the organisation’s culture and impacts business results directly. Interaction skills are hard business skills.
Secondly, we cannot „train“ communication skills. Individuals develop their communication skills. But this topic requires a space of its own.
Thirdly, HR needs to be considered as an internal business partner rather than a task performer and staffed accordingly. This too is a separate topic.

Fourthly, and most significantly, we need to understand the essence of culture in order to work with it.

Culture is the Soul of the Organisation. It lies at the core of the organisation’s identity, determining the life that management, employees, customers, suppliers, employees‘ family members, local communities and all others who associate with it (commonly referred to as stakeholders) experience. This is the reason we need to understand how culture impacts individuals and organisations, enabling us to leverage the inherent potential of all members, adding value for the organisation.

So … What is Culture?

Culture: The continuously evolving dynamic interaction of mindsets and gutsets of actors in the system(s).

It describes the standard patterns (norms) for attitude and behaviour in any one environment and/or group. Values … which are necessarily personal … form the foundation of an organisation’s culture, and at their core lie the beliefs of the individuals who work there.
Culture is a dynamic notion, as any changes within the environment result in shifts – and these changes occur continuously … which explains why it is unrealistic to say, „Culture is …“.

At both the individual and group level, culture reflects identity.
As the soul, it constitutes the spirit of the organisation.

Seven Core Layers of Culture
The core influencers of our Interactions in an Organisational Context

When people refer to „culture“, for most they are frequently referring to the notions of „nationality“ (a construct), „belief“ (frequently confused with the construct of „religion“) and „ethnicity“ (a construct and frequently undefinable). Culture is much more.
In organisational life, the prevailing „Organisation Culture“ as well as „Professional Culture“ of employees are strong determinants of individuals‘ attitude and behaviour.
„Gender“ and „Age“ will always influence our interactions with one another, consciously or subconsciously.

Of course there are additional important influencers that form our identity and impact the manner of our interactions with others in any specific context. These include: the specific environment in which someone grew up, parental home, sexual orientation, social structure of interest groups to which someone belongs … and more.

In organisational life the seven layers constitute the core. And, like culture itself the manner in which they influence changes continuously.

Conversations about culture, and especially so-called „training courses“ on the theme of culture, frequently ignore one essential: it is always individuals who interact with one another, not cultures.
Cultures can’t interact; … culture is merely a notion. … People interact!!!

We do not encounter and engage with each other as representatives of a specific cultural group.
We engage in a context, as individual whole beings: humans, with our personal history, experiences, intrinsic motivators … our lives.

What does this mean in practice for Change and Integration Initiatives in Organisations?
What does this mean in practice for our interactions with people from a different background?

  • We need to enable people to align while focusing on their „business“.
  • We need to enable people to talk WITH each other … rather than ABOUT each other.
  • We need to learn to LISTEN to others … to listen deeply, enabling us to recognise alternative perspectives of the world, and so … expand our world view.
  • We need to learn to ASK QUESTIONS, rather than presenting answers (often to the wrong Questions).
  • We need to generate conversations that facilitate genuine discovery.

…  all of which are prerequisites for Generative Change Initiatives …

For a deeper dive into the fascinating notion of culture, please visit …
Organisation Culture Alive
Culture and Change through Multiple Changing Lenses

If you would like to work with cultureQs, you can find further information here: about cultureQs.

Original text: 2013.
Edited and updated: 2022.