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Are you walking the talk?

Your culture is defined not by what you say is important but by what you do.

This year, more than ever before, we are seeing organisations struggling because of the contradiction between what is said and what really happens. This contradiction leads to unwritten ground rules that define behaviour.


These are behaviours and routines followed by people, and these may or may not be in line with organisational values or even policy. Because they become the norm, they are the guiding principles for your culture and yet organisations do little to raise awareness about these and the importance of being consistent with leaders.

a chart showing the difference between organisation's stated values and unwritten groudn rules
Unwritten ground rules

Let me give you some recent examples:

  1. An organisation wanted to bring in innovation, but the leaders didn’t allow the time or proactively support the initiative. The unwritten ground rule of ‘achieve your numbers first’ and ‘don’t mess up’ stopped it dead in its tracks.

  2. Another company has established accountability as a key strategic pillar to achieving its goals. The senior team weren’t accountable – arriving late for meetings or missing them altogether, ignoring requests for action. Others soon followed suit.

  3. One organisation wanted to amaze and thrill their customers. But the pressure was always on ‘managing by numbers'. Promises made to customers were broken, quality reduced, leading to replacements and refunds and their customers started to look elsewhere. The unwritten ground rule of ‘meet your targets at all costs’ overrode the desire to thrill customers.

  4. A little closer to home. Organisations up and down the country are grappling with the balance of working in a hybrid world. The organisation says it’s OK to work from home, but many managers want people in the office, and this causes friction.

These unwritten ground rules can cause conflict with the organisation’s stated values and purpose. In doing so, they generate conflict, frustration and confusion. It is critical to eradicate these.

Which unwritten ground rules most impact your organisation?

  • Don't mess up

  • What the boss says goes

  • It's who you know, not what you do

  • Process is king


Here is a template you can use as a team meeting activity to uncover what your team think the unwritten ground rules are. Once you know what these are, together, you can tackle them and use the findings to enhance your trust and collaboration. Let us know how you get on.


Here are five easy actions you can take to reduce the impact of your unwritten ground rules.

  1. Take a beat – At the start of each day, have a look at the Around here statements your team have created to remind yourself of the behaviours they need from you.

  2. Observe – take a few minutes each day in different settings to observe things going on around you – what do these observations tell you?

  3. Lead with curiosity – keep asking questions of your team, encouraging them to find solutions And when you see unhelpful behaviours challenge gently with subtle questions like “Hey I see you doing x, y, z. What’s going on for you?/What’s driving that behaviour?”

  4. Recognise differences – everyone has their own approach to work and needs different things from you – ask them what works and what doesn’t for them

  5. Keep talking – this isn’t a one-off activity, and it’s done. Unwritten ground rules are habits. It takes practice to eradicate them. Encourage your team to give you feedback regularly on how you are doing and how they think the team is doing. Give them feedback so they know you see the efforts they are putting in.

If you're curious about finding out more about contradictions and unwritten ground rules, you can find our guide here.


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