Organisations often carry strong brand identity. The version of the organisation that the world sees can be very different to the version that the organisation sees of itself. Neither the public or private face might actually represent the true nature of the organisation.

This is true of all groups. And perhaps cats. T.S. Elliot describes The Naming of Cats.

“A cat must have three different names”:

  • “the name that the family use daily” (“…sensible everyday names”);
  • “a name that’s particular,… peculiar, and more dignified” (“…names that never belong to more than one cat”);
  • and “the name that… the cat himself knows, and will never confess” (”…his ineffable effable, effanineffable deep and inscrutable singular name).”

We can note that the word ‘organisation’ also describes:

  1. a legal entity – the vessel (te waka)
  2. the unique arrangement (processes/ kawa) of people and resources
  3. the tikanga (practices and values) of the ’organ-ised’ group

First, the organisation has a name – he waka eke noa (a waka for all). The purpose of the organisation is normally to supply something into the world. This is the reason for the organisation and the relationships within it – the why.

Next, the arrangement of people and resources is about process – mā pango, mā whero, ka oti ai te mahi (by black and red together the work is done). Tasks are sequenced and time-bound – the when.

Lastly, the true identity of the group will emerge over time – whiria te tāngata (weave the people together). Interactions produce a belief system that is consciously and unconsciously reflected in every aspect of practice – the how.


We spend our lives in groups. Moving between groups all day, every day. Belonging to groups that last our entire lives, while others are fleeting acquaintances. We can like the group and the rules of membership or we can struggle to believe in what it does. Some groups are important to our identity and we wear the tribal colours – some we keep secret.

Oftentimes groups are built around status and position. Roles and positions reflect expertise and experience, spiritual knowledge or are inherited by way of birth, gift or election. We can observe that the ability to use power and influence to gain status and position is often different to the abilities required to fulfil the role.

Groups are always organised around rules – even a short bus ride comes with accepted behaviours. We might imagine a group with no rules – random and chaotic. But even chaos produces some kind of order.

Culture represents the values of the group expressed through its practices. After a time, these behaviours become normalised and accepted subconsciously. Even if the reason for the rule is long forgotten, rules must be followed: if you want to belong, follow the rules. Not following the rules can be costly.

Policy and practices can collide. Members may observe official rules but still adhere to an informal code. For leadership, changing goals and processes can be undermined by cultural systems that are opposed or slow to change. However, the knowledge and experience of the group can also inform leadership decisions.

The importance of culture is that whether acknowledged or ignored, it is the true self of the group – for better or for worse. Investing in building an agile culture means aligning the why, the when and the how.


So, what’s in a name?

A name is an abstract idea. A vehicle created for achieving a particular purpose.

The policies and processes are the plans that drive the work to meet purpose.

The true identity of the group is in the practices and values forged in the relationships and experiences of the people who journey through the organisation – and remain after they have gone.

Cultural inertia can restrict an organization’s capability for change.

Building a cultural identity around agile practices can support changes to purpose and process.

Is It Time To Review Your Organisational Culture?

If you’re looking to ensure your purpose, process and practice are all aligned with your ideal organisational culture, it may be time to review your current state.

The mentokc team are on hand to help you explore your current situation, co-create what your desired outcomes look like and iterate to ensure continuous improvement. Get in touch today to find out more.

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