4 Ways To Create A Great Organizational Culture

My university Philosophy professor once posed an interesting question to the class. If you compare a jumbo jet and a jar of mayonnaise, one is a complex system and the other a complicated system. Which one is which?

A basic mayo recipe only contains a few simple ingredients including egg yolks and oil, whereas a jumbo jet consists of thousands of intricate parts. However, equipped with a “jumbo jet manual” and a degree in aeronautical engineering, you could build a plane by putting the parts together in a predictable and orderly way. A jumbo jet is therefore an example of a complicated system.

Mayonnaise, however, is an example of a complex system. An important defining characteristic of a complex system is that you have emergent properties that show up (often in an unpredictable way) through the interaction between the different ingredients or variables in the system. In this example, by mixing the egg yolks and oil, mayonnaise emerges! The quality and flavour of the mayonnaise will vary depending on the quality of the ingredients and whether they blended together in an optimal way or not.

Does your organizational culture have the right ingredients?

Within any typical organization there are many “ingredients” or variables – leaders, managers, employees, systems, policies, processes, strategies and so on. “Culture” is therefore an emergent property that arises out of the interaction between these different variables. Culture is always in some state of flux, because as the variables shift in relation to each other, culture shifts too.

Reflect for a moment on the impact on organisational culture of things like a change in leadership, a toxic staff member, a move to open-plan offices, the launch of a different operating system?

Because organisations are complex systems, every organization has a culture whether this has been intentionally cultivated or not? In other words, culture happens of its own accord, with or without direction, for better or for worse!

Many organisations do pay very close attention to the state of their culture through annual surveys which gauge how people feel about “the way things are done around here”. Whilst this is can be a very insightful and useful exercise, organisations can also really benefit from exploring some proactive ways to positively influence culture.

Characteristics of Healthy Organizational culture

  • Values are clearly articulated and create high levels of accountability.
  • Employees are engaged and understand what is expected of them.
  • Leaders set the tone and recognise healthy practices.
  • Creating a sense of belonging that is tangibly felt in the workspace.


At Appletree, we use a framework called BILT to better understand organisational culture and to find opportunities to optimise the quality of interaction between the different “variables in the system” in order to create a healthy organization culture.

Brand DNA

The importance of values in the workplace.

  • Well articulated values and a meaningful purpose statement serve as an essential “north star” to guide and inspire behaviour and decision-making within any organisation, large or small.
  • Values are the glue holding all people accountable to a common set of beliefs about what matters most within that organization.
  • Understanding an organisation’s values increase levels of accountability.


Benefits of employee engagement in the workplace.

  • People that are engaged and empowered have a clear idea of what’s expected of them and what they need to deliver.
  • They also display higher levels of personal drive, ownership and commitment, positively impacting on those around them.
  • Tapping into an individual’s personal motivational “currency”, releases human capital in the workplace.
  • Measuring levels of employee engagement, helps leadership correct problematic behaviours.


Leaders set the tone and recognise healthy practices.

  • The quality of leadership has been proven to directly impact the emotional climate within any team or business.
  • Leaders, who walk the talk and are accessible, authentic and humble, set the tone in terms of healthy organizational culture.
  • To shift a culture, leaders need to notice and recognise practices and behaviours that are considered aspirational.
  • Leaders who embody the values of a culture impact not just individuals, but create belonging which has an impact on larger teams.


Creating a sense of belonging that is tangibly felt in the workspace.

  • Effective team dynamics are characterized by many factors, to mention some: trust, empathy, support, accountability, delivery and impact.
  • Organizations where team members connect outside of their transactional job functions maintain a sense of belonging.
  • Teams function best when they experience psychological safety, meaning that people can speak out and wrestle with conflicting ideas, without fear.

Next Steps

So now that you know what characteristics build a healthy culture, what are the next steps for your organization?


  • Problem: Struggling to define your Values and lack a Brand DNA.
  • Solution: Take the team out the office and facilitate a workshop.


  • Problem: Employees are not engaged.
  • Solution: Start a conversion with your employees by listening to them.


  • Problem: Leadership are not modeling the desired culture.
  • Solution: Clarify what the organizations values are and hold leaders accountable to embody them.


  • Problem: Staff feel like they don’t belong.
  • Solution: Aim to create connection outside of the workspace.

There is no denying finding your values, keeping your staff engaged, modelling culture and creating a sense of belonging are tough. If you are ready to shift your workplace culture, let us know. We love to help South African businesses struggling to improve organizational culture.

Written by Liesel Scott.

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