What is it?
A team or organization’s culture is its set of shared norms and beliefs - both spoken and unspoken. The culture, and resulting organizational climate is established over time by leaders and team members and informed by the organizational purpose and context within which it operates. Culture is continually communicated, reinforced, and changed through various means, including team members’ encouragement or discouragement of specific practices and behaviors. The health of the culture shapes the team or organization’s capacity to solve problems and innovate, engage in CLA practices, and create a positive enabling environment for its employees.
Culture can be an enabler or barrier to a team or organization’s success. Cultures that encourage honest discourse and reward team members who practice conversational turn-taking, for instance, can more efficiently surface programmatic failures that can be captured and shared as learning. Learning-focused leaders at all levels of the organization help establish a learning culture by enabling non-hierarchical relationships, inspiring continuous improvement, and integrating a focus on learning in organizational processes. A growing body of evidence from both quantitative and qualitative studies recognizes healthy environments marked by employee engagement, empowerment and satisfaction as critical to successful organizational performance.
The relationship between organizational culture and CLA can be a virtuous cycle: the culture can support and bolster CLA processes, while CLA behaviors can provide the framework for a healthy organizational culture. Together, CLA processes and behaviors help advance development outcomes.
Guidance and Tools
Need help getting started?
Consider using the CLA Maturity Tool to explore how your team approaches culture.
- Identify a core group of champions to nurture ongoing efforts designed to improve the organization’s culture.
- Identify champions for change across the organization and work with them to determine what they need to be successful in leading the effort. Seek to understand the incentives of these champions, including recognition, increased influence, and a desire for better development outcomes, and have them help define their role in driving change.
- Having buy-in from leadership, e.g. the Front Office, as well as technical and support offices, ensures that activities and interventions designed to enhance the organizational culture for CLA are prioritized via dedicated time and resources. The absence of support from leaders will negate the effort. But a wholly top-down approach will fizzle out if staff from all corners are not engaged.
- Define your needs - begin with the end in mind. Launching and sustaining an effort to increase organizational effectiveness and CLA capacity requires focus, energy and motivation. The following questions can help you define your objectives:
- What key cultural challenges are people motivated to work on? What degree of systemic change is possible?
- Is a more incremental approach likely to succeed and strengthen the organization over time?
- How can enhanced CLA practices - for example, pause and reflect processes - contribute to greater organizational effectiveness?
- How might you struggle to meet your objectives if the team does not address cultural concerns?
- What does the team hope would be different as a result of your efforts?
- Small can be beautiful! Scale your interventions based on time and resource constraints. You do not necessarily have to embark on large-scale organizational development efforts to see improvements in your culture. Consider the potential impact of your ideas against the effort needed to implement them, as well as constraints that could hinder progress. Even a 15-minute after-action review at the conclusion of a meeting or process can spur meaningful knowledge sharing, learning and adaptation.
- Consider the context. Work with positive aspects of your culture that you can strengthen. Rather than build new systems from scratch, identify current processes, meetings, and Program Cycle touchpoints to foster a CLA-friendly and healthy organizational culture. For instance, look for opportunities to bolster openness and participation in an upcoming portfolio review, CDCS mid-course stocktaking, or procurement process to enhance team and organizational culture. Also consider external drivers or obstacles that could impact your efforts, such as funding, staff transitions, the host country context, and constraints on people’s time. What changes and uncertainties do you need to keep in mind?