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Organizational Culture: The Difference Between Entangled and Emergent

Your organizational culture is one of the biggest factors in determining the success or failure of your company. An entangled culture stymies growth and prevents success for your organization. An emergent culture is a driving force in your organization’s success.

Culture is a part of all organizations. However, not every culture is created equal. For example, some cultures can foster innovation and success, while others can breed conflict, a lack of productivity, and stress at work. With this in mind, how can we determine whether an organization has an entangled or emergent culture?

Levels of Organizational Effectiveness

One of the ways we can do this is by looking at the different levels of organizational effectiveness. The level in which your organization operates is a strong indication of whether the culture is entangled or emergent. The different levels are as follows:

7. Synchronicity – Working from a true understanding that what is within creates what is outside; focus on creating a positive experience for all; the ability to see the gift and possibility in anything. The realm of “magical coincidence.”

6. Innovation – The ability to set aside ego, personal agendas and perceived restrictions and explore possibilities from all angles; questing for, seeking, and focusing on the most effective solution to the problem or goal.

5. Engagement – The desire to bring value, to be a contributor; basic enjoyment of the enterprise; focus on assets and strengths rather than limitations and detriments.

4. Courage – Trusting in the possibility of a positive future (often despite current evidence that a positive future is not likely or predictable).

3. Frustration – The focus on fighting and jockeying for position against (not with) others; the feeling that the external world (both people and circumstances) must be resisted.

2. Fear – The belief that one must protect against almost certain loss, attack or disappointment.

1. Hopelessness – The fundamental inability to see or work towards a positive future.

-The Seven Levels of Effectiveness, ©2014 BEabove Leadership, all rights reserved.

These levels describe both your organization and the mindset of its members. If members of the organization feel hopeless, it reflects in the state of the organization. No healthy and successful organization shows hopelessness. Likewise, struggling organizations don’t demonstrate things like engagement or innovation.

Think about a line being drawn between levels 3 and 4 as seen in the graph above. If your organization is stuck below the line, you have an entangled culture. Members are likely experiencing constant fight or flight responses due to perceived threats, infighting, or hopelessness. They are stuck in survival mode and potentially struggle to think reasonably and rationally. Stress at work is high and there is a lack of productivity. There is often no apparent way out of this for members, which keeps them stuck at their level and unable to move forward towards a better future for them and their organization.

If your organization is above the line, you are moving towards or have achieved an emergent culture. Employees work in harmony towards their goals and problem-solve effectively. The organization is likely experiencing growth and success. Members feel empowered and are not stuck in survival mode, but instead are open-minded and innovative. They are effective and committed to their work.

Moving Up

Once you understand the different levels of organizational effectiveness, you may start to wonder how to improve your level. The key is courage. The problem with the three levels below the line is that the members of the organization lack courage. They are in states of despair, fear, or antagonism. Since fight or flight responses are likely triggered often, members may get stuck in emotional and reactive states or turn to rigidity, resulting in an inability to push towards higher levels.

Being in a state of courage allows members to face problems head on with an open mind and a lack of fear. They see a future for their organization and act with intentionality towards their goals. They think clearly and communicate effectively. This creates a nurturing environment for necessary change, resulting in an organization raising its level of effectiveness and developing an emergent culture.


Another thing that differentiates these two types of culture is codependency. This is a common aspect present within entangled cultures. Codependency occurs when employees complain to their leadership teams about solving their problems. This often causes lingering resentment among the leadership team because they have their own tasks to take care of and are instead dealing with things that they believe their employees should be handling. In fact, in his article in the Harvard Business Review entitled “The Dangers of Codependent Mentoring”, Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries talks about how codependency is actually a hindrance in the long run for both the “victim” and the “rescuer”, or in this case the employee and the leader. The employee becomes dependent upon the leader and this hurts their ability to learn and grow in their work. The leader ends up asserting too much control while simultaneously feeling resentment towards the employee for always needing help.

This issue is not exclusively the fault of the employee or the leader. Each party shares a part of the blame. The leadership team needs to encourage problem-solving among employees and foster the type of environment where employees are proactive rather than reactive when facing problems. Employees should be encouraged to think outside the box and use their own unique perspectives to analyze a problem.

Instead of complaining to leadership about whatever problem they are facing, employees should consider the problem from different angles and attempt to come up with some solutions. It’s fine to present a problem to your leadership team. After all, you want them to be aware of what’s going on if the problem is a big deal. But don’t rely on them to do the work for you. Present some possible solutions to them and ask for approval instead. This saves time for your leadership team and they will appreciate your proactiveness in the matter.

Unlike an entangled culture, an emergent culture has no codependency. Innovation and problem-solving are constants within the organization. There is also clear communication between the different levels of the organization so that everyone understands the expectations and responsibilities of their role.

Codependency is one of the many problems that plague an entangled culture. It takes guidance and effort to begin improving your organizational culture. If you are uncertain about what kind of organizational culture you have, check out our Free Organizational Culture Assessment. Not only do you learn about the current state of your company culture, but you also get guidance on how to improve in any of the areas that may need it.


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