7 Examples of Unwritten Rules that Shape an Organization

Know The Rules

In an organization the unwritten rules are just as, if not more, important than the written rules. I wrote about that idea HERE.

If you are considering making changes, implementing something new, adding staff, or any of dozen other decisions in your organization, you need to also consider the these “rules” of the organization.

Here are a 7 examples:

The culture – How does it responds to change? How does it addresses problems? How does it plans for the future? How trusted is leadership? These are all unique to this organization.

The leader’s accessibility and temperament – Every senior leader is different. If you change the leader you change some of the unwritten rules. Is he or she considered approachable? Does he or she participate with the team normally? Would he or she know if there was a perceived problem in the organization? Do team members trust leadership? These answers shape responses to change.

The relationships of team members to each other – Is there a friendship or just a working relationship among team members? Is conflict acceptable and healthy? Do team members feel freedom to speak freely when in disagreement? Do people respect one another? Is there a silo culture or a common vision everyone is working to achieve? The healthiest organizations have people working together who genuinely like one another. If that isn’t there, change will be more difficult.

The sense of work satisfaction – Are there long-term team members? Are team members generally happy with the organization? Is there any unrest among team members? Are there unspoken concerns within the organization? Many times this has been formed over the years, sometimes even before a leader has been in the position, but it is valuable information for any leader.

The reaction to change Is the “way it’s always been done” changeable? Has change usually been accepted or resisted? Who has to initiate change? What is the anticipated speed of change? Who needs to know about it? The success of change will be directly related to the answers to these questions and the way a leader responds to them.

The way information flows – How does communication really happen? What are the circles of influence? Who drives discussion? Who has influence with peers? What are the expectations regarding the “need to know”? Communication is key in any organization so, as leaders, we must understand the way it occurs.

The real power structure – Who really makes the decisions? Is it a board? A few key people? A consensus of the largest percentage of people? Power structures are rarely as purely formed as what is written on a piece of paper. Knowing this is critical to navigating change.

As a leader, it’s important that you not only concentrate your attention on what is easily measured, written in a policy manual, or even spoken as a value. Other considerations may be more important, even though they may have never been expressed formally. When change occurs or is to be implemented in an organization, paying attention to these unwritten rules is necessary for success.

By the way leaders, most likely you helped write (or are helping to write) these unwritten rules.

What are some of the unwritten rules of your organization?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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7 thoughts on “7 Examples of Unwritten Rules that Shape an Organization

  1. A Good listener can become undisputable leader. That means you need to observe every movement of a person and interpret hidden or untold feelings correctly and provide suggestions or solutions before that become an issue.

  2. Ron, for us (over this past year) we spent a lot of time talking through some of our behavioral values as an organization. Starting with where we thought we were on a continuum of values and then where we wanted to be. Our hope was to start "writing down" some of those unwritten rules. :)

  3. When I first came to my current church, these were all things that we had to examine and work through. I've noticed that if there aren't structures in place to address some of this, it's easy to slip into "what's comfortable/easiest" and not always "what's best."