oleg konovalov: organizational culture as catalyst or inhibitor

another really interesting element of oleg konovalov’s organisational anatomy framework is the idea of culture as a catalyst (source: episode 37 of the humancurrent podcast).

if organizations can be modeled or understood through systems that work in organisms, the role of catalysts and inhibitors can help us to understand organizational culture. a catalyst in an organism is a compound or material that helps a specific reaction happen faster. for example:

Hydrogen peroxide will decompose into water and oxygen gas. Two molecules of hydrogen peroxide will produce two molecules of water and one molecule of oxygen. A catalyst of potassium permanganate can be used to speed up this process.

Read more examples of catalysts.

when organizational culture is good, this is what it creates. when trust is high and culture is in line with people and the organizational goals, things can happen like magic. tasks and activities that seem impossible get accomplished in amazing ways.

on the other hand are inhibitors. some chemical compounds actually cause reactions or action to slow down. i like to think of this mostly as drag or friction. friction can make even the simplest things difficult or even impossible if there’s enough of it.

good culture allows things to go better & faster while bad culture creates friction and drag.

under this framework, it’s even clearer to me why working to make sure an org’s culture is good is critical to its success. of course it’s possible to hang a functioning organization that has a non-helpful culture, but that’s like operating an engine that you know has sand in it. like… why would you do that? you should just stop and clean the sand out and then get back to driving. driving would be a much more pleasant experience without the sand.

and driving with the sand not only is awful and inefficient, but over time that sand could actually destroy the engine itself. catch my drift?

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