How to assess your organization culture in one question

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I was doing an Enterprise 2.0 Masterclass to a group of technical national directors at INSEP (French national institute of sports) and one of the attendee asked me this question : “How can I quickly assess my organization culture ?”

It has just occurred to me that this can be carried out very easily, asking just one question, so I asked them :

What is the first question being asked when there is a problem ?

They all looked down and confessed : “Who the f**k has screwed up, again ?“. This is the blame shifting culture, a one many people tend to resign themselves to (including official Project Management experts institution). The type of organization where the same old remains the same old : nothing changes.

In what Steven J Spear calls the High Velocity organizations, the ones that learn fast, improve continuously and embrace change (the one I’ve always wanted to be part of), companies like Toyota, Southwest Airlines, Alcoa, Pratt & Whitney, the first question being asked is : “Why has this problem happened ? What is wrong with our system ? How interesting : what is there to be learned ? “.

The MIT Senior Lecturer explains to us that in this type of organizations, a problem is when the organizational system whispers to your hear “There is something you still don’t know about me but if you look carefully you will see“. It also is an opportunity to discover pockets of ignorance and transform them into nuggets of knowledge.

This is the High Trust / Low Fear organization Gary Hamel talks about. This is no day dreaming : but the key to performance and agility. No one pretends it is easy. But it is simple, deceiptively simple. It just takes courage and relentlessness.

So which type is your organization : a Who or a Why one ? How do you know ? How comfortable are you with that ? Which one would you like it to be ?


  1. In between the two, there’s a “how” culture — “How do we fix today’s crisis?” They don’t sit around blame-shifting, and they have a decent work ethic, but never learn — everyone is really good at plugging leaks and emptying buckets, but nobody thinks to replace the roof.

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