The concept of UGRs® (Unwritten Ground Rules) has enabled people to understand their organisation’s culture, and to put in place strategies to improve it. One of the challenges people face in understanding their own culture is to get a fix on prevailing UGRs. Steve Simpson’s recent insights are below. Read on…
In my first year as a teacher in 1978, I was posted to a school in a lower socio-economic area of Perth in Western Australia. What a learning curve!
Relative to other schools in Perth, this was a tough school. Unemployment was high and students were often highly disadvantaged. Some of the parents were really difficult to deal with.
Yet despite these difficult working conditions, this was a year of great enjoyment for me and the other staff. From discussions I’ve had since, I understand that my experience is not uncommon – people working in tough conditions often form a special bond and cope with hardships by having fun.
And I think this gives us a special insight into UGRs (Unwritten Ground Rules) in organisations. Inadvertently, I’ve stumbled on something I think is very important for organisations, and it’s this:
A critical key in determining and improving the culture (and UGRs) in a team or entire organisation rests on one thing – humour.
What people laugh at, and what they laugh about is the litmus test for any team. For that matter, whether or not people laugh is a key as well!
In my first year of teaching, we used to laugh a lot. Being with other staff was thoroughly enjoyable because of the humour we shared. It wasn’t malicious humour, it was mainly simple fun. Isn’t this a key?
Most of us have been in organisations where there is no humour. To my mind this is a very real indicator of an organisation that has a problem with its culture.
But laughter alone is not a sign of a healthy culture. We have to think about what people are laughing about.
I’m not sure if this is a function of the modern Australian psyche, or whether it’s a universal trend, but I’ve noticed recently that humour is increasingly based around dangerous sarcasm. For example, it’s not uncommon to hear someone get laughs from saying something like:
‘Yeh, and when that strategic plan is implemented, things will be great (as if…)’
Such a comment can then spark a series of similar black humour. A single interchange like this may not be too harmful, but if this is the primary form of humour, I’d be willing to bet there is a serious cultural problem.
Humour also needs to be considered in terms of who is the subject of the humour. Are people laughing at the same people all the time, or are people laughing at themselves. If it’s the former – there is a problem. If it’s the latter, there is a fair chance the culture is healthy.
Maybe it’s worthwhile to think about the amount and type of humour in your organisation. In my view, time spent doing this will give an illuminating insight into the well-being of your organisational culture.