How to Make Your Culture Work (Schneider)

I finally had time to read The Reengineering Alternative: A plan for making your current culture work by William Schneider. If you are at all concerned about successful Agile adoption, then this is a must-read.

Before reading the book, I already had a pretty good idea about it thanks to a private seminar with Michael Spayd and a conference session by Israel Gat – How we do things around here in order to succeed. But when reading the book, I crystallized my thinking about a whole number of disparate experiences and open questions.

In this post, I will cover the key concepts of the book. Analysis and connections to Agile will follow in subsequent posts.

Schneider Culture Model

In the diagram below, there are four cultures depicted – one in each quadrant. Each has a NAME, a “short quote”, a picture, and some words the characterize that quadrant. As you read through this, you may will get a sense of where your company is.

How we do things around here to succeed

There are also two axis that indicate where the focus or an organization is:

  1. Horizontal: People Oriented (Personal) vs. Company Oriented (Impersonal)
  2. Vertical: Reality Oriented (Actuality) vs. Possibility Oriented

This provides an a way to see relationships between the cultures. For example, Control culture is more compatible with Collaboration or Competence cultures than with Cultivation culture.

Key points about culture

  • Management guru Peter Drucker says “Culture … is singularly persistent … In fact, changing behaviour works only if it is based on the existing ‘culture'”
  • No one culture type is better than another. The book details the strengths and weaknesses of each so check it out if you are curious to learn more.
  • Depending on the type of work, one type of culture may be a better fit.
  • Companies typically have a dominant culture with aspects from other cultures. This is fine as long as those aspects serve the dominant culture.
  • Different departments or groups may have different cultures. (e.g. development vs. operations)
  • Differences can lead to conflict.

How to make Culture work

The starting point for making culture work is understanding it. The book describes a survey you can give to staff (Example Survey from Book in Survey Monkey – N.B. You can’t see the results). The book suggests using this as a starting point for culture workshops with a diverse group of staff.

There are several suggestions for using cultural information to guide decision-making:

  1. Evaluate key problems in the context of culture. Sometimes changes are needed to bring the culture into alignment with the core culture.
  2. Sometimes the culture is too extreme (e.g. too much cultivation without any controls – or vice versa!), and elements from other cultures are needed to bring it back into balance.
  3. Consider the possibility of creating creating interfaces/adapters/facades to support mismatches between departments or groups.

Well, that’s the book in a nutshell. More to follow on how this relates to Agile.

2016 – Update

About a year ago, I stopped using the Schneider culture model. Instead, I have been using the Laloux Culture Model. Why? It works better for my clients. The Laloux Model provides not just a sense of where we are, but where we might go. It helps crystallize the benefits of change.

In the last 4 years since I wrote this post, I have been exploring ways of helping organizations navigate culture change. In addition to the Laloux, model, I would invite you to check out these posts:

We have learned so much more over the last 2 years since this and want to invite you to check out our recent calendar to see if there is a Certified Agile Leadership Training in your area:

agile leadership, project manager, agile culture

Michael K Sahota guides and teaches leaders how to create high-performance organizations. He is the creator of a proven system for leading change through a practical playbook. His model for Consciously Approaching Agile guides the creation of a cultural and leadership context where Agile drives lasting organizational results. As a Certified Agile Leadership (CAL) Educator with the Scrum Alliance, Michael has taught hundreds of leaders on a worldwide basis.

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