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Organizational Culture… A Rope Around the Neck of Progress

Professor Samar Ahmed

By Professor Samar Ahmed

Professor Ahmed is an MD, JMHPE, FAIMER Fellow and faculty. She is the Director at Ain Shams Middle East North Africa FAIMER Regional Institute for Health Professions Education (menafri.faimefri.org).

The outstanding fact about our organizations is that they are very complex systems. No matter what the organization type is the same construct remains. In higher education institutions the model might be denser and maybe more compact yet it is the very same multi-relation structure that is a challenge.

The way we perceive the organization has a great impact on the plan we set for any transformation. The challenge here is for anyone defying the status quo, be him a manager, leader or a team member. Leaders who instill innovation into their institutions and approach these structures with a vision are usually challenged by many off the radar issues that were not in the initial plan.

An alarming sign we see in our environment is people settling for mediocracy that does not equate to their potentials. Energy levels in institutions tend to drop when people function outside their comfort zones. We are social beings and the human interaction is by far the most important drive for a healthy functional day at work and when you see people retracting and refraining from actual meaningful engagement, this reflects a sense of mistrust and lack of empathy as once stated by one of our school Leaders during a discussion around organizational culture.

cycle of mistrustA root cause analysis that we did to understand the nature of the viscous cycle we live in had us moving in circles of endless blame on everything around us and every player in the environment. This just signifies a trap we all fall in when we try to think of a cause effect model to take a corrective action when it comes to unhealthy work place environments.

The circle needs to be broken and breaking it comes usually from the weakest point. Many articles speak about the role of management in creating the organizational culture and monitoring it where actually I would like to offer a different approach.

Thinking of this issue as a cycle offers some degree of empathy to everyone and assumes that everyone has the best intentions but maybe are trapped into an endless process of disappointment. Then it becomes a little easier to look for weak points in this cycle that can be broken; little initiatives that might help people recognize the potential of a coworker in a dysfunctional working relationship and thus empathize easier with them. Empathy is the core of all successful human interaction and since systems are alive and in a continuous process of change then they are nothing short of a living being that requires the same degree of empathetic nature.

Actions taken can be as simple as a work monitoring chart that gives employees a visual of how much work is being undertaken by different personnel and departments and maybe gives people a chance to appreciate each others’ contribution to the system. This is just a thought but I do encourage people to experiment. I do not believe that we need to bring in someone from the outside to help us understand the system we have lived in for years. We know it more than anyone. We just need to think small and stop trying to shatter existing relationships and constructs in a demolition fashion. Big changes start with the smallest steps.

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