The Case for Self-Governing Cultures

If from lawlessness or fickleness, from folly or self-indulgence, [we] refuse to govern [our]selves, then assuredly in the end [we] will have to be governed from the outside.

—Theodore Roosevelt, 1907

Culture lies in the synapses between individual units of a system, whether that be neurons in the brain, individuals in a group, or units in a conglomerate. Now that we understand something about the general types of culture at work in most business endeavors today, and the various dimensions that define and influence how these cultures function, what do we do with that knowledge? How does it help us make Waves, go on TRIPs, and continue to thrive in the new conditions of twenty-first-century business?

Blind obedience, informed acquiescence, and values-based self-governance are not just types of culture; they also describe an approach to governing—how organizations create the rules, structures, policies, and procedures that shape the way people behave and perform. As we discussed, blind obedience and informed acquiescence cultures place most governance outside the individual, in the hands of a boss or a set of rules. They seek to control things the same way the guardrails in a bowling alley are used to keep kids’ balls from rolling into the gutter; roll the ball and the guardrails keep it on the lane and moving in the right direction. Transparency and connectedness, however, make cultures based on one form of external control or another ...

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