Imagine hosting a dinner with all your closest friends.
Before the dinner you had asked everyone to bring their favorite meal. One by one as people arrive you take their meal, and dump it on a single platter in the middle of the table. Once everyone has arrived you all sit down to share this unrecognizable heap of food.
This is the naive approach most companies, schools, and organizations take to cultural inclusivity. The forced inclusion of every member’s culture without a thread of critical thought.
Let’s imagine this dinner party again, this time the host doesn’t take anyone’s preferences into consideration and instead cooks what they believe will be the most enjoyable meal for everyone.
This might be better than an arbitrary heap of food, but still not ideal.
We see this in organizations that impose a pre-defined company culture from the top down. At the very least there is some thought put into it, but it exists without input from most of the people who make up the organization, who are not invested in it given they had no input in its creation.
Again we’ll imagine this dinner party. Like the first example the host asks everyone to bring their favorite meal. Unlike the first example everyone sits down and enjoy’s their own meal.
Not bad right?
In this scenario everyone get’s to enjoy what they like, and possibly even share it with those interested. This example is seen in organizations that encourage individual expression. It’s the best example so far, and requires the least effort on the part of the organization, but it can still be improved upon.
While the previous example can result in increased satisfaction for individual participants in an organization, it does little to grow the organization as a whole. Individuals maintain their identity, but it does little to build their investment in the organization.
Finally, we’ll imagine this dinner one more time, however this time everyone comes with the expectation that they’ll be cooking. They plan ingredients, plan dishes, and work together in the kitchen to create something unique to everyone.
The first dinner may or may not be very good, but it will have aspects of everyone involved, and will get better with each iteration.
This will take trial and error, and will evolve over time as members come and go. It takes more creativity and critical thinking, but what you end up with is an evolving culture unique to the organization and its members. A new culture which develops organically and is inherently inclusive of those involved in its creation.
Organizations are not dinner parties though. As to what this looks like in practice, check back for my next post on this subject.