The Cult of Culture

We all love talking about workplace culture. The culture of an organization. Values-based culture, service culture, or a toxic culture. Culture, culture, culture!

Culture-shmulture I say. Culture is a dangerous term. Controversial? Stay with me.

Teams, organisations, workplaces and such are made up of individuals. Individuals with unique and sometimes divergent personalities, with complex sets of interests, with behaviourial traits and working styles and preferences. Individuals who interact with each other constantly – either through direct conversation, collaboration on projects, or even in a tricky dance to avoid conflict.

And then there’s Culture.

Culture is this thing, this set of values, this Ways of Working, this insidious invisible presence in the boardroom and canteen. Culture swims between employees and into projects. But what if I told you, Culture doesn’t exist. At least, not in the way we think it does.

Culture is not an independent entity in a company, something the exists outside of employees. Culture isn’t an individual in a baseball cap and chinos, or a Type A stiletto-wearing Storm Trouper. It’s easy to image Culture thus. To blame Culture when things go wrong, to call on Culture to reignite a team, to praise Culture when targets are met with smiles still on faces.

But Culture isn’t something separate to the people in a team, in a workplace. And viewing Culture like this is dangerous – why? Because it removes the accountability on people to behave in ways that build themselves, their teams, and their company’s vision. If we can blame failure, bad relationships, poor execution, on Culture, then we lose a valuable opportunity to reflect on our own actions and ask ourselves, “what could I have done better?”

Each individual is responsible for their own actions, for their own contributions, for their own relationships. Each individual employee is an active creator of culture (with a small “c”) everyday that they go to work and engage with others. Culture isn’t stagnant, culture changes when we do. If we talk about a company having a great culture, what we’re actually saying is that employees are engaged, leadership is fair, and projects excite and challenge. We’re not saying that there’s a mythical beast called Culture, living in the airvents, ready to sabotage or support depending on its mood.

We need to be accountable for creating and curating healthy working relationships, aligned to a shared set of values. We need to take responsibility for when things go wrong, and not turn around and point at Culture. And when things go right, we deserve to relish the success, and understand that it wasn’t due to Culture, but rather to the sustained efforts of a team of people committed to working together to reach their goals.

Interested in talking more about how to empower employees to cultivate positive cultural practices? Reach out to us at

Posted in At the office.