We the people more than often fail to recognize the different levels of system integration we exist within. As individuals, our character is the emergent property of our physical, mental, and spiritual system. Our character is primarily expressed not through our beliefs and ideas but our behaviors and interactions. The decisions we make stem from our thoughts and belief systems we hold onto and it’s easy to get lost in them without recognizing how our behaviors integrate or more critically how we don’t integrate with our environment. Our actions are the direct result of both conscious decisions and unconscious choices. Our environment(s) respond appropriately with every interaction of ours. Whether we can observe that response and learn from it is our openness and secondary expression of character.
Family and teams are the next level up of system integration. Individuals come together to comprise small groups. While some members may not feel part of the family or team, it’s up to them to find where they do fit in with their intentions, purposes, quirks and weirdness. Small groups have a character and are the tertiary roots of culture experienced at higher levels of system integration. Small teams within an organization are part of a function within a business, a team of teams in larger organizations. Individual functions within a business are the secondary roots of culture bringing together the individuals and small teams performing that specific function. Individuals come together with shared purpose in support of the function necessarily exhibiting a particular character or culture of their own. Engineer teams have a culture different from finance and human resources personnel. Business systems and information technology functions typically integrate across functions and have a different mindset and culture within their teams. The tap root of a business are its functional leaders and more specifically how those leaders integrate with the business owners or board of directors depending on the type of business. This culture of the company is often what’s talked about in business jargon. During interviews culture is often discussed, but I wonder if we as individuals have the capacity to understand what’s truly going on with the entire company. We all get stuck in our thoughts and feelings about our stuff and how we integrate at our particular level in the business whether we be individual contributors, managers, directors, vice presidents, or the owners.
Simon Sinek, in his book Start With Why, talks about why people accomplish great things and how culture is fundamental to our survival whether we are aware of it or not. Becoming aware of culture is a key not only to success but also enabling ourselves to thrive within the particular environments we experience in our lives. Culture is a buzz word in leadership books and journals but it’s something extending millions of years into our past.
We’ve succeeded as a species because our ability to form cultures. Cultures are groups of people who come together around a common set of values and believes. When we share values and beliefs with others, we form trust. Trust of others allows us to rely on others to help protect our children and ensure our personal survival. The ability to leave the den to hunt or explore with confidence that the community will protect your family and your stuff until you return is one of the most important factors in the survival of an individual and the advancement of our species. -Simon Sinek
Trust between individuals, teams, functions, and leaders is the foundation of culture. When trust erodes at any level so does the culture, as I recently experienced in my loss of a two decade tenure at a company. Trust is born and managed with each and every one of our interactions. We enable trust when we approach each interaction with respect of the differences and similarities of those involved whether that be a one-to-one or one-within-many conversation. So, to get a sense of a culture of any level of system integration, it is necessary to observe the interactions of people, teams, functions and leaders. this isn’t really possible in a 60 minute interview. Thus it is necessary to talk with people in the company and trend across whatever interactions we can have prior to being hired from the first contact and any other interactions thereafter. When the interactions at different levels are consistently open and respectful the company has a strong unified culture. When interactions have different character at different levels observed, the company is not unified, likely fragmented, and trust is questionable. There are different values and beliefs and trust will be isolated within small groups. Depending on our personal character this could be a problem or not. Maybe we can help bring it together or perhaps we need to seek another company to integrate into.
Each of us have to manage our personal system to enable us to thrive within our environment. A key element of our thriving is understanding our character; what we do; how we do what we do; and most importantly why we do what we do. Starting with Why is foundational to living a successful life no matter how we define success for our system. This is true in our personal and work lives. There is no such thing as balancing work and life. There is only life and our integration into our environments of which work is a significant one. What we do need to balance is how we invest our time, energy and attention within our various environments of which work is a large investment. As most people don’t like work, it can feel like just depletion of our valuable time and energy. Changing our attention on work from consumption into investment where utilizing our time, energy and attention to obtain long-term returns is managing ourselves as a business. Actively managing the business of you results in the dismembering of our worry about balancing life and work. Every interaction is a business transaction in this paradigm with the potential to obtain a return on our investment of our resources. Our energy follows our attention and time is consumed concordantly. This is the process based approach to thriving in our lives where our past selves created the input into the current situation with its associated environment. What we do in this interaction now is the input to our future selves. It’s our choice to make the best of each and every interaction. Similar to the rule of camping stating leave it cleaner than you found it, in our present interaction we can leave our future selves better off by ensuring we invest our attention and energy towards our purposes. Every interaction counts.
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