05 June 2013

Make the choice to shape organisational culture

Culture is a kind of 'social energy' that builds up over time and it can motivate people or create barriers that slow, or stop action.  All organisations have a culture that can occur by default … or we can intentionally play a part in shaping it.

Culture is why each place is unique

Early childhood education and care settings all educate and care for young children; culture distinguishes us from each other. The culture of our early childhood education and care settings:

  • influences our day-to-day experiences and decisions
  • shapes how we communicate with children, educators, families and the broader community
  • affects which policies and procedures we implement.

6 ways culture can benefit mental health and wellbeing

Paying attention to organisational culture can have great benefits for the mental health of all the members of your community. Culture can:

  1. Invite conversations about mental health and mental health difficulties
  2. Offer experiences that support the learning and wellbeing of children and adults
  3. Support people having positive feelings about themselves and others
  4. Promote innovation, collaboration and creativity
  5. Create a space for honest, respectful and reflective practices and behaviour
  6. Encourage and assist help seeking when necessary

Understanding the culture of a place

Organisational culture is visible because of the behaviours, attitudes and practices of individuals within an organisation.

Organisations have a second type of culture too; one that lies beneath the surface of everything we do. With unwritten rules of operation, the ‘under the surface culture’ is usually more powerful than the visible one. It is often an outcome of tradition or habit, so historical events within the service such as past successes, setbacks and challenges influences this culture.

It is the ‘under the surface’ culture that creates cultural ‘norms’ which determine how our settings function from day-to-day. Cultural norms influence:

  • how people within your community communicate with each other
  • how people form networks and groups within and beyond the early childhood community
  • how people feel when being involved in experiences at the early childhood setting
  • the experiences had by children, families, educators and staff.

Identifying the culture in our place

Engaging in conversations about people’s experiences in our place can help us understand our culture. Explore

  • feelings  children, families, educators and staff have about themselves when in the setting
  • opinions  that children, families, educators and staff have about their roles
  • how individuals feel about others who are involved at the service
  • views that educators, staff, families and children have about the setting.

People are more likely to be energetic, involved and committed to community when they feel they belong, enjoy their roles, and respect and value their organisation and the people around them.

Leadership influences culture

All community members need to participate equally in order to shape culture but it also requires time, energy and leadership. A successful leader needs to be aware of the under the surface culture of their community and any elements that negatively influence culture of the early childhood setting. 

Our leader’s actions speak louder than their words: when they commit to change and model the desired culture all members of our community:

  • behave in ways consistent with the philosophy, vison and goals
  • show increased commitment and contribution to the early childhood setting
  • contribute positively to the mental health of the entire community

Communicating, achieving and maintaining a culture of our dreams

We can use many methods to communicate our visible organisational culture and ensure congruence between this and our under the surface culture. Ways to communicate, achieve and maintain our desired culture include:

  • a formal statement of philosophy
  • design of the physical space (e.g., what’s on display, how the spaces for educators, staff, children and families are set up)
  • deliberate role modelling and encouragement by leadership
  • celebrating achievements and rewarding actions that support the goals of the service in shaping culture
  • what leaders pay attention to, measure and control
  • respect, trustworthiness and effective communication

Reflecting on the processes

As a team, decide what the ‘culture of your dreams’ is. Then using the many ways we have to identify and communicate culture, compare how closely the visible and ‘under the surface cultures’ correlate with each other and your collective ideal.

Celebrate if they all align and continue the work to maintain it, or

Celebrate if you aren’t … going through the process means you are one step closer to living that dream culture.

Remember you can contact your facilitator … they are available to help with the process and love hearing about everyone’s experiences too.

​More Information

Creating a sense of community

What do you think? 'Belonging, being and becoming in the workplace'

Horizontal violence in early childhood education and care: Implications for leadership enactment

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