Culture is more than feeling marvelous

When news of sexual assault on younger players by older ones ended the season for the Sayreville High School football team in New Jersey in the fall of 2014, the favorite buzzword in the air was the “culture” of the football program. It was bad, or so the media reported.

During the 2014 Nonprofit Risk Summit, Diana Del Bel Belluz of Risk Wise Inc., said that culture is much more than a word. It is the sum of the values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors shared by a group of people. Essentially, it is an organization’s personality, and although it can’t be seen, it influences productivity and team members’ willingness to pull together and persevere to overcome the inevitable challenges in a nonprofit workplace.

Del Bel Belluz said culture is reflected in:

  • How employees behave an interact;
  • Whether and how employees hold one another accountable;
  • How staff define good enough vs. going the extra mile; and,
  • The tone (motivating or deflating) of communication, e.g. spoken communication, from one-on-one conversations to group discussion at staff meetings, or written communication, from short text or instant messages to announcements of changes in policy sent to large groups via email.
  •  Further, failure to pay attention to culture risk serious consequences:
  • Low commitment to mission;
  • Ineffective, nonexistent or insincere teamwork;
  • High turnover and frequent use of sick leave; and,
  • Frequent crisis events caused by poor communication or lack of coordination.