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How can organizations create culture in a hybrid world?


The way we work is changing. Can your organization’s culture keep up?

I’ve always been interested in organizational culture. It’s something that I pay a lot of attention to when I’m meeting with a new client. In the pre-pandemic days, I would watch for things like how I’m greeted at reception when I arrive at the office for my first meeting. I observe the mood of people who walk through the reception area as I wait. I keep an eye on the interaction between the executive I’m meeting with and the receptionist—is there a strong sense of hierarchy, or do they chat like peers who are on the same team?

What’s remarkable is how easy it still is to get a sense of an organization’s culture during a Zoom call. Even when you’re not physically in the office, you do get a sense of the ‘vibe’ from the way people interact.

In the past couple of months, many leaders have been talking as if we will lose our organizational cultures by not working together in the same physical space. But I believe that perspective limits our thinking on this important issue. Every organization has a culture, no matter how work happens. It just shifts and changes as the way we work changes.


A lot of company cultures weren’t healthy before. The shift to remote and hybrid work is an opportunity to reset.

As I found when researching my book, Accountable Leaders, CEOs have been increasingly focused on organizational culture over the past decade. CEOs and top HR leaders overwhelmingly believe that culture can be a key competitive advantage, but only 1 in 5 are confident that they have the right culture in place.

The data is clear: companies with strong cultures deliver 3 times the returns to shareholders. But very few companies actually had thriving cultures before the pandemic, and today, given all the disruption we’ve seen due to the pandemic, and the ongoing changes in the way we work, every company’s culture is under pressure.

Why not take this time as an opportunity to reset and rebuild a new, stronger culture? Leaders could and should rethink everything: Why do we have the meeting cadence that we do? How do we want to recognize hard work and celebrate milestones? What’s the best way to collaborate? If we’re only in the office twice a week, how do we make that time count in a way that accelerates our success and gives us a sense of connection to each other? And so on.

Some organizations are already doing this. Some are rethinking team-building activities in order to move them online. At IBM, they’ve developed a ‘Work From Home Pledge’ that laid out new rules for remote work, including how team members would support one another in finding a work-life balance and making time for family responsibilities, how colleagues would stay connected and more. Maybe it’s time your organization created a new Leadership Contract that’s customized for the hybrid work era!


If you are not deliberate about creating a strong culture for the hybrid world, it’ll happen by accident.

Your organization has a culture, whether you are attentive to it or not. If you allow your culture to grow up by default, it will be created by small, day-to-day decisions you may not be thinking much about: the decision to let someone slide when they don’t meet a deadline, the decision to hold multiple agenda-less meetings a week simply because they’re on the calendar, and more.

Culture is simply the way people in your organization behave. If you let things slide, you create the opportunity for mediocrity to take hold, then that becomes your culture. You can only develop a strong organizational culture by actively working on the tone your leaders set every day, in every interaction.


What would an outsider notice if they sat in on a Zoom call with your team?

Start with something small. Imagine you’ve invited me to sit in on a regular weekly or monthly meeting. What would I notice?

At your next team meeting, reflect on what the atmosphere is like. Can you sense team clarity and commitment? Is there a sense of fun? Do you celebrate small wins? Do you foster connection among your team? In the pre-pandemic days, we took a lot of things for granted when it came to culture. In a hybrid world, great cultures are definitely possible, but as a leader, you will need to be deliberate to make it happen. Commit today, and share with me your success stories.

How are you creating a strong culture in our hybrid world?

Gut Check for Leaders


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