The Balanced Culture


I’ve always appreciated the skill of the gymnast who tackles the balance beam. It amazes me to watch these athletes as they not only walk the beam, but also jump and do significant routines on this narrow piece of polished wood. It takes tremendous balance to perform on the balance beam.

We’ve looked at four different cultures over the last several postings. The truth is, each one is important if we are going to have an incredibly effective growing business. Spectacular performance in great organizations is to due to an integrated and mutually reinforcing emphasis on each of the four types – the key is balance.

As leaders we need to recognize the paradox of this balance. In other words the culture types that seemingly compete with each other must be pursued concurrently. Quinn and Cameron’s work on organizational culture points out that “most leaders are inclined to maintain consistency and an unwavering path toward a goal, but positive deviance in organizational performance requires the pursuit of simultaneous opposites.”

Let me give you an example from Starbucks. When you walk into the store you typically see aggressive service (External Culture) along with tremendous consistency (Internal Culture). Adaptability (a part of any External Culture with a focus on customers and organizational learning) and Consistency (a part of an Internal Culture’s focus on core values, coordination, integration and agreement) are the two driving forces. They have a culture that encourages simultaneous opposites and the creative tension this creates ultimately gives the customer the positive Starbucks experience. The key is balance and as a leader you need to have the discernment to know when the creative tension shows signs of unproductive, protective or silo-type behaviors. Those are unproductive, un-collaborative efforts that destroy the whole.

Most of Denison’s research confirms that organizations that balance the four approaches achieve positive financial results in all areas. Further, organizations that are “heavy” in one of the four tend to constrict themselves through narrow focus and find that they cannot deliver their overall intended results. For example if a manufacturing company focuses too much upon the Internal Culture, they will lose their connection to customers and therefore the innovation created from the External Culture.

The Balanced Culture, with good, well-managed creative tension, provides the company with the financial results, employee morale, customer experience, product development, quality, etc. to grow and be extremely successful.

How are you as a leader working to balance your culture?

How are you making sure you are establishing an environment where creative tension leads to the best outcomes instead of silo tension that leads to mediocre results?


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Trust is the winsome wedding of faith and hope.

Brennan Manning

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