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Cultural Circularity

Integrating circularity into organizational culture

Circularity is an increasingly important concept and conversation in business and economics in today’s world. Many people are now exploring ways to maintain value and not create waste in the process of producing, using, and regenerating goods and services.

Circularity also plays an important role when applied to the inner life of an organization. Organizational cultures flourish when circularity is present.

What is cultural circularity? Simply stated, it is a network of closed loop conversations – the exchanges of texts, emails, meetings, calls, or even hallway (or Zoom) interactions . Communicating through closed loop channels reduces waste of the organization’s most precious non-material asset – the attention of its members.

To accomplish circularity in one-on-one conversations requires a minimum requirement –both people are fully present.

Both people are responsible for, and paying attention to, the quality of attention.  Both are noticing, “am I present or distracted?” “Is he/she present or distracted?” The speaker gets verbal or nonverbal cues that indicate what was spoken was heard.  If what was heard wasn’t clear, feedback is shared, so greater clarity can be provided..  As with goods and services, this is a circular or closed loop with little waste and much value.

On the other hand, perhaps you can recall speaking to someone who was “checked out.”  This results in a linear interaction in which communication flows one way with little feedback and, likely, low value. In many organizational cultures people ignore this, don’t notice, or are too “polite” to call attention to the other’s absence of attention.  In cultures where circularity is valued, both in production and in conversation, pointing out “absence” (physically there, but distracted or no real attention) is considered appropriate and necessary.

Meetings are another important opportunity to create a culture of circularity.  Think about the many meetings you attend.  Meetings are a tremendous expenditure of attention and time.  Here’s a circularity check list for the structure and process of meetings:

  • Did it have a clear purpose?
  • Were there clear intended outcomes that all involved understood?
  • Was someone accountable for ensuring the purpose and outcomes were achieved?
  • Were the people necessary for the purpose of the meeting present – and only those people?
  • At the meeting’s conclusion did participants return to the purpose and outcomes and give feedback as whether they had been accomplished?
  • If any commitments to action were made, were they recorded and addressed in the next meeting?

These questions are opportunities to assess the degree to which the structure of the meetings in your organizational culture maximizes closed loop, circular flows of information and meaning.  They also help to ensure opportunities for feedback to improve value flow and eliminate waste.

Finally, a note about organizational intelligence and developing a culture that values circularity.  In his seminal book, The Intelligence Advantage, Michael McMaster defines organizational intelligence (O.I.) as the capacity of an organization to gather information, generate knowledge, innovate, and act effectively based on the knowledge and innovations generated.

Organizational intelligence is an emergent phenomenon.  It can be found at the intersection of process design, organizational structure, and culture. Any increase in communication between the individuals within the system will increase their knowledge of the whole, increase the richness of the content, and increase O.I. The way to increase O.I. is to increase the number of feedback loops that carry information and meaning – high-fidelity, low waste circles of information flow.  In essence, when you increase circularity you increase organizational intelligence.

Organizational performance is in part a function of the speed, fidelity, and flow of valuable information with feedback loops that allow for real time corrections and longer-term learning and adaptation.

A culture of circularity, quite literally, gets the ball rolling for organizational performance.

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