Yesterday I was asked about how, after having worked at one corporation a long time, I now go into a new client  and make a relatively quick assessment of the organizational culture and political dynamics.

What a fantastic question!

I’ve written about a variety of both bad business personalities and accomplished leaders, but I’ve never documented (even for myself) a mental checklist of things to observe when entering a new organizational culture.

We started compiling the questions right then (writing ideas on a paper napkin) and  continued growing the list back at  the office.

18 Organizational Culture Cues

Here are eighteen organizational culture cues I look for when trying to make a quick assessment about opportunities for best managing a project and establishing strong strategic relationships.

  • How long do you have to wait in the lobby for someone to ask if they can help you?
  • Does the organization run on-time?
  • How do people introduce themselves? What information is deemed pertinent enough to include when they tell you about themselves?
  • What type of diversity is evident, whether it’s people, environments, opinions, clothing styles, etc.?
  • What are people wearing?
  • What types of “manners” do employees show to “outsiders”? (And that’s not just to people outside the company; it could be people outside their department or work group but still inside the organization.)
  • Who talks first in multi-person meetings?
  • How do people treat each other? Is respect demonstrated among co-workers?
  • Is there a sense of emotional and interpersonal openness inside the organization? Are the physical surroundings more or less open than the people?
  • Do people demonstrate an understanding of the broader business or are they only given insight into their own little part of the operation? Do they have information they need from across the business?
  • Who appears to talk honestly – and who doesn’t?
  • What decision making style is evident? Do multiple people seem to share perspectives and participate or does decision making seem pretty centralized?
  • Are people fearful – of bosses, competitors, expectations, failure, or something else?
  • How do the senior leaders behave? How differently do they treat each other vs. everyone else?
  • How does everyone else behave in return with senior leaders?
  • What is the small talk like before, during, and after meetings?
  • Who are the apparent cultural outliers, and what sets them apart from the rest of the organization?
  • How much bad talking of others goes on when someone leaves the room or isn’t present?

What would you add to this list of organizational culture cues?

That’s my starting list of questions for seeking out organizational culture cues. What things do you look for when you’re dropped into a new organization?  – Mike Brown


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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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12 Responses to “Organizational Culture Cues – 18 Questions to Ask When You’re New”

  1. Jim Joseph says:

    I always like your posts, Mike, but this one was particularly enlightening. JIM

  2. Stephen Lahey says:

    Interesting post, Mike. To me, company culture is tied to what the true priorities are and how they actually make progress toward achieving them. The true priorities may be quite different than what is openly stated. For example, they may say that disruptive innovation is very important, but if every decision along the way has to be approved by someone who is afraid of taking risks because they will be held responsible for any failure, then the real priority might be figuring out what modest innovation tweaks will meet with his/her approval. Company culture is a fascinating thing to observe.

  3. deniseoberry says:

    Great list MIke and quite spot on based on my experience. These are many of the same things I observe and consider when working with a company. It can tell you a ton about what you need to do to help them. Thanks for putting it together and sharing with the world.

  4. Jonathan V says:

    Great list! Another great way of getting a sense of culture is to see what Dilbert cartoons are posted on the office doors and office cubicles.

  5. David Cohen says:

    Excellent ideas!  Here’s a slightly different take…observe these for your current organization.  You don’t have to be “Undercover Boss”, but try to blend in and just watch how things run…you might really be surprised!



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