Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” My husband shared this quote he heard during a meeting about his company’s new organizational structure. The industry is facing significant challenges. The company is positioned well. They’ve developed a plan for moving forward. But instead of focusing on the strategy and plans, the VP chose to talk about their corporate culture: where it’s holding the company back, and how it needs to change. I think the VP’s emphasis on institutional culture is insightful and unfortunately rare.

As I write this, the news is filled with headlines about the international nuclear agreement with Iran. Negotiators struck a deal about inspections, quantities of nuclear production materials, and trade access for Iran. A cultural component is absent from the arrangement. How meaningful and effective is an agreement to limit nuclear armament that ignores the animosity in the region?

Similarly, consider the Greek financial crisis. Central banks, politicians and financial institutions wrangled over which Greek national assets should be nationalized as collateral, how much currency would be provided to Greek banks, and whether or not part or all of the existing debt should be forgiven. Much less attention has been paid to the cultural changes (tax evasion is rampant and current attitudes about retirement age and benefits aren’t sustainable) that will be necessary for the Greeks to balance their budgets in the future.

Culture gets short shrift because it’s not as quantifiable or easily measured. For this reason, I suspect many teachers are guilty of focusing more on objectives and other tangibles than culture. Syllabi tend to focus on the lessons, assignments, strategies, and rules.

This raises the obvious question: Is culture well integrated in my teaching? If I divided a pie into two slices, one representing time and effort on content, lessons, activities and assessments, and the other representing the amount of time and attention paid to class climate and culture, how would the pie be divided? Would it be a 50-50 split? 60-40? 80-20? 90-10? How would your pie be sliced? Have you considered this question? What’s the optimal split? Should there be an explicit split between content and culture? Or is better to consider the cultural component as embedded in the content? Does it depend on the discipline?

I’ll confess I haven’t considered these questions carefully before now. I do pay attention to some aspects of class climate: giving students an opportunity to get to know one another, fostering a safe learning environment, employing immediacy strategies, etc. But as I spent time preparing this post, I realized I could spend less time preparing for content and more on culture. Said another way, I should be more intentional about establishing and maintaining a culture that fostering learning, not at the expense of content, but to enhance content learning.


About Lolita Paff

Educator. Wife. Mother. Amateur chef. Wine lover.

Posted on July 20, 2015, in Learning, Students, Teaching. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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