Can You Change Culture Without Senior Leadership?

Can You Change Culture Without Senior Leadership

Q: How can I drive cultural change when I’m not in a senior leadership position?

A: This is a common concern many leaders face, particularly those not in senior positions but still keen on fostering high-performing teams and a positive team culture. The reality is, effecting change in others, especially from a non-senior role, is challenging and often not within your direct control. Attempts to influence senior leadership or subtly nudge them towards recognizing cultural issues are unlikely to yield immediate results.
However, the situation isn’t without hope. The key lies in focusing on what you can control: your sphere of influence. This includes the team you manage or are a part of. Remember, organizational culture is essentially an aggregate of all individual team cultures. As a leader, regardless of your position’s seniority, you play a crucial role in shaping your team’s culture.
You can cultivate a team environment characterized by mutual understanding, psychological safety, and a shared pro-social purpose. Such a culture not only enhances team performance but also sets a standard for what a high-performing team should look like. This approach can have two significant long-term effects:

Movement and Promotion: As your team members move to other teams or get promoted, they carry with them the positive culture of your team. This gradually instills similar values across the organization.

Raising Curiosity: Success and happiness within your team will spark curiosity. Others will start questioning why your team is doing so well and be more open to adopting your team’s culture.

In the long term, as you create a ‘pocket of excellence’ within your team, your success won’t go unnoticed by the senior leadership. Although direct influence might seem futile at first, the results produced by your team can open doors to influencing the broader organizational culture. When leaders see the tangible benefits of a positive culture reflected in your team’s performance, they are more likely to seek your insight and potentially scale your approach across the organization.

This method might not bring immediate change, but it’s a powerful strategy for long-term cultural transformation, even when you’re not in a senior leadership position.

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About the author

David Burkus is an organizational psychologist, keynote speaker, and bestselling author of five books on leadership and teamwork.

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