What Is A Cultural Pandemic, How To Spot One And How To Overcome Them?

Today’s subject, cultural pandemic has two parts. The culture part and the pandemic part. Let us start by looking at each individually.

Edgar Schein defined culture as the pattern of basic assumptions that a given group has invented, discovered or developed in learning to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, and have worked well enough to be considered valid, and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think and feel in relation to those problems. Culture is more than a broad set of aspirational statements, it is more than what they see, hear or feel when they walk into the reception of your offices or factories. Based on the above definition, there are a number of aspects to developing a culture. External adaptation and internal integration refer to how your company responds to the demands of the outside world whilst continuously improving how things happen internally.

Now, a pandemic is defined as “an epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people”. However, in this instance, I will redefine a pandemic as a set of practises occurring automatically amongst a group of people, often confined to an organisation, and usually affecting a large number of people inside and outside the organisation. A key characteristic of a pandemic is that its impact is felt at places significantly distanced (in terms of space and time) from the original epicentre, much like the ongoing pandemic.

Now, what is a cultural pandemic? A pattern of basic assumptions and practises occurring in a group of people often within an organisation, that continue to be followed despite changing times, needs and dynamics.

How do you spot one? This is how we have always done things around here, and that is how it has always been. Do these sound familiar?

I wouldn’t call it a pandemic if the results were always positive and beneficial. Unfortunately, cultural pandemics do exist, and they cause more harm than good. Battling a cultural pandemic is not an easy task either. The simple reason for this is that these are embedded in the way we do things, and the ways in which we are comfortable. A fundamental human characteristic is to stay within our comfort zone, fighting these pandemics means coming out of it.

So, how does one battle a cultural pandemic? It is a combination of various things and starts with acceptance. It will need incredible levels of patience, being adaptable, curiosity and ability to ask the right questions, root cause analysis and problem solving, and most importantly, a people-centric approach. My three pointers for you today are:

  1. Cultural pandemics exist in organisations, and are easy to spot
  2. This happens due to a basic human nature of wanting to stay with our comfort zones
  3. Cultural pandemics can be overcome with the right approach and mindset

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