This is a photo of four women collaborating on a project.

While having a flexible culture is something many organizations have talked about over the years, Covid-19 made it clear that flexibility is a key ingredient to organizational success.  Over the past several weeks we’ve looked at how to create a flexible strategic plan and how to be a flexible leader. But being a flexible leader with a flexible plan won’t help much if you have a rigid culture with team members incapable of changing direction or accepting new norms.

You might be asking yourself, how do we build a flexible culture? Over the past several months we’ve seen five traits emerge in organizations that have been flexible enough to successfully meet these new challenges. For example, we have one client who had to rethink their entire service delivery function, since services were offered on ground by community volunteers. Another client, embracing remote work, realized that HOW they worked no longer made sense and embarked on an organizational assessment to rethink work-flow and reporting lines of communication. In both of these examples, these organizations exhibited:

A Sense of Urgency & Focus on Priorities

While having a strategic plan allows you to focus on your organizational priorities, we all know new things pop up and plans have to change. It’s natural for leaders to want to wait and see what happens before taking action, but it isn’t always prudent to do so. Having a sense of urgency and focusing on what’s in front of you, even if it differs from what you planned, is the first hallmark of a flexible organizational culture.

A Heightened Practice of Demonstrating Empathy & Concern for Each Other

Organizations that have a culture of flexibility quickly and compassionately react to the needs of staff. When offices first shut down, staff members had a variety of personal needs. Successful organizations not only recognized these needs and allowed staff members flexible scheduling and downtime, but also took the time to slow down and listen to what their employees needed. Flexible cultures rely on team members to listen and create space for their colleagues to be heard.

A Desire to Define Lived Values

It’s easy to say “we believe in honesty,” or “we value diversity,” but defining what that looks like behaviorally in your organization is an important backbone to any culture. If we say we value flexibility, then it’s important to both define what we mean by flexibility, and how we expect people to be flexible with one another.

High Levels of Innovation and Creativity

Another trait we’ve seen in those who have been able to pivot faster, is an active embracing of different ways of thinking. Organizations willing to think outside the box, to do things differently have been more successful in both retaining and supporting staff, as well as continuing their mission work.

Inclusive Communication Between Staff and Leadership

Lastly, the most important element we’ve seen is an increase in staff communication. We have clients hosting weekly town halls, regular listening sessions with the leadership, and others engaging in monthly virtual teambuilding events.  These interactions, especially while people are at home and feeling disconnected from one another, are vitally important to keep culture alive.

To increase flexibility in your culture it’s important that you:

Reflect & Explore

Define what is and isn’t working and why. Engage your team members in this discussion.

Measure & Compare

Develop a common language and use survey measures to compare current and pre-crisis culture. Our “How to Improve Culture and Operations After the Pandemic” worksheet is a useful place to start.

Learn & Sustain

Share the lessons learned and refine your current and future plans.

If you’d like to explore these ideas more deeply, please join us for Keeping and Building Your Culture in Uncertain Times, a virtual Lunch & Learn, Wednesday, July 8 at 1 EST. The program is free, but registration is required. You can learn more here.