Organizational culture is created by people’s emotions and influences their behavior—Rakuten Culture Café Report: Winning Culture Seminar, Vol. 1, by Ryuji Nakatake

The Rakuten Group’s Culture Café initiative, comprising joint online lunchtime sessions that allow employees to casually share various ideas and experiences over lunch, was introduced to support connections among employees amid the coronavirus pandemic. The aim of the initiative is to enhance the understanding of the company’s culture and expand relationships among employees.

On July 29, 2021, the Culture Café welcomed Mr. Ryuji Nakatake, Rakuten People & Culture Lab advisor and Teambox Corporation CEO, who spoke on the theme of “winning culture,” namely organizations with winning habits. This report is being shared as a two-part series.

This column is the first installment of the series: “Organizational culture is created by people’s feelings and influences their behavior.” This session was based on the content of Nakatake’s book, “Winning Culture: Creating People and Organizations with Winning Habits,” which was published in February 2021.

The foundation of organizational culture is “emotions”

Before we consider “winning culture,” let’s clarify what organizational culture is.

Organizational culture refers to an organization’s atmosphere, its general mood. Although it exists within an unseen realm, it reflects the organization’s cherished values and the traditions that have developed without being noticed.

As is evident from the description above, the most important factor in building organizational culture isn’t “facts,” but rather the sharing of subjective “emotions.”

For example, let’s consider from the perspective of organizational culture the problem of team members being unable to understand each other due to continued work from home (WFH) conditions. More important here than the fact they are unable to understand one another are the emotions they are feeling, such as whether the situation makes them feel anxious, or lonely, or wanting to better know their colleagues.

In this way, there may be an underlying reason behind why the members want to understand one another, rather than just getting acquainted with each other through the workflow.

Organizational culture is born from the connections between people. While there are likely many people with concerns about how to create an organizational culture, the key lies in the sharing of emotions.

Fostering organizational culture requires team-building, not teamwork

Because organizational culture is created from people’s emotions, fostering an organizational culture requires the setting aside of time for communication and the sharing of emotions.

When engaged in some kind of activity as a team, people tend to focus on teamwork and its results. But when it comes to organizational culture, teamwork is not the issue, team-building is.

Teamwork refers to a function while team-building represents the base of that function. Team-building is increasing people connections, not work connections, and is achieved through casual conversation as a means of communication unrelated to work along with workshops to help members get to know each other.

Business organizations, however, tend to focus on time for teamwork as a function—in other words, “working time”—over the underlying foundation of team-building.

The reason for this trend is that, more so than with time spent on team-building, time spent working is more directly linked to business results.

Attempting to indirectly link team-building to results requires time and effort. Consequently, prioritizing time for team-building over time spent working is a decision that requires significant courage and is probably something that isn’t put into practice very often in the business world.

Organizational culture is directly linked to performance

It has been scientifically proven, however, that the correlation between organizational culture and performance runs quite deep.

The difference between teams that are able to achieve results that exceed the sum of their individual abilities and teams only capable of delivering results below the sum of their individual abilities lies in the differences in their organizational cultures.

As explained earlier, organizational culture is formed through personal interaction. As such, depending on how people within the same team think, one’s behavior will naturally change as well. Therefore, people’s words and actions are swayed by organizational culture and, for better or for worse, organizational culture influences performance.

For example, let’s say that a company holds an online event and asks all participants to mute their audio. If everyone complies with the request, it is likely because breaking rules is not part of that company’s culture. In accordance with this organizational culture, the participants think, “Since everyone else is following the rules, I will also,” and behave accordingly.

This is how organizational culture controls our behavior.

If, however, the organization’s culture was one in which the general sentiment was that hardly anyone in the company followed the rules, then how might this affect the outcome? Because of the ease with which rules can be broken, it would likely be an unreliable organization.

As a real-world example of how organizational culture can positively influence behavior, let’s take a look at winning Olympic teams. The athletes on these teams often say, “We won because we’re family,” and we can intuit from such statements that their use of the word “family” has a common definition. It refers to a state in which members are able to freely and actively exchange ideas while relaxing with each other.

Organizational cultures in which members are comfortable spending time with one another in silence, but able to actively share feedback with regard to minor incongruencies, have led to results that exceed individual abilities.

Incidentally, management guru Peter Drucker, who developed the Drucker strategic management system, is quoted as saying, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” In this statement, he was summarizing the significant impact that organizational culture has on performance.

An organizational culture with winning habits is able to realize a performance that is greater than the sum of the individual abilities that produced it. Even if individual members have different roles, it’s no wonder that a team is able to perform better when it can move as a single organism with shared emotions.

Since, after all, organizations are made up of people, it may be a good idea to first focus on fostering an organizational culture based on the emotional aspect of those in the organization rather than solely on the functional facets of the organization. As a first step toward realizing this objective, why not try getting to know the parties in question, namely your colleagues?

About Ryuji Nakatake

CEO of Teambox Inc., Vice Managing Director of Japan Wheelchair Rugby Federation, Managing Director of Sports Coaching Japan Association

Born in 1973 in Fukuoka prefecture, Japan. After graduating from Waseda University, completed graduate studies at the University of Leicester. After serving at Mitsubishi Research Institute, Inc., was appointed as the director of the rugby club at Waseda University.
In 2010, Nakatake became the coaching director, leading leaders as a “coach of coaches” in the Japan Rugby Football Union. From 2012 to 2015, he was head coach of the U20 Japan national team and served as the substitutional head coach of the Japan national team in 2016.
In 2014, Nakatake founded Teambox Inc. to provide training services for company leaders and, in 2018, launched the Sports Coaching Association, where he serves as managing director, creating and encouraging learning opportunities for coaches.

Winning Culture: Creating People and Organizations with Winning Habits (in Japanese), by Ryuji Nakatake.