Is Your Organization an Umbrella or Mixing Bowl?

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by: David Armano

Was having a conversation with a colleague recently when it struck me that organizations are facing some interesting new challenges when it comes to how they operate at a cultural level and how this manifests outside the walls of the entity. I got to thinking about two very simple ways of looking at this:

Umbrella Culture

This is the organizational culture many of us have grown up with. Organizations or corporations act as "umbrellas" to the people who make up that organization. The umbrella "shields" the people, process, and even technology from the outside world where current weather conditions remain out of control of the organization. Umbrella cultures are protective, but like any shield—they can also limit exposure by protecting people from external changes in climate. People under the umbrella can get comfortable with the buffer and the organization feels safer having one in place. It’s all much easier to control and less risky. No one really likes getting wet, and umbrella cultures double as a nice way to keep everyone huddled under one roof. 
Mixing Bowl Culture
Now, what happens if you take the umbrella, and flip it over? Instead of protecting and shielding, you’ve moved to something that exposes and supports. The mixing bowl holds all of it’s ingredients, accessible to what’s outside of it. Instead of being covered, hidden or even separated by the shaft of the umbrella, the bowl holds all of the ingredients together, allows for mixing and like any mixing bowl which sees use, allows for a bit of spilling over the sides. Mixing bowl culture is the umbrella turned inside out. 

Of course when we talk about complex institutions, corporations, organizations etc. This is way too simple of a model to do anything practical with. Complex issues require intricacy in how you approach resolving them. But as a conversation starter, what would happen if you flipped that umbrella over into something that looked more like a mixing bowl? And which better describes organizations you’ve been a part of?

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