Organizational Adaptation: Keeping a Vibrant, Cohesive Culture in a Hybrid Operating Model

By Susan Kerosky

Organizations have practiced extreme adaptation over the last 18 months as their systems and structures reacted to the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although we are still navigating our way through an ever-changing environment, we have a few key insights from the last 18 months:

  • COVID surges are continuing to impact an organization’s ability to safely return to the office
  • Hybrid operating models will continue to be the model of choice for most non-essential workers
  • Maintaining a vibrant, cohesive culture in a hybrid operating model is key to an organization’s success

When an organization is operating in a reactive mode, it may not be focused on how its culture is adapting to change and if those cultural adaptations are in service to the broader objectives of the organization.

Culture is the prism through which people view their relationship and role within an organization. Culture is the culmination of often unconscious perceptions, organizational values, and the lessons learned and passed onto others within an organization. There is no single “type” of organizational culture, and cultures can vary widely from one organization to another or across divisions and departments within an organization. A key ingredient to an organization’s culture is the micro behaviors of the organization’s team members.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” – Peter Drucker

Culture can be your unique, strategic advantage as an organization. Years ago, I worked as a change and transformation leader at Nike. During my time there, I experienced firsthand the power of a strong organizational culture and how it can serve as a competitive advantage. Often during times of significant organizational adaptation, we would leverage our shared beliefs and values to mobilize our team to implement transformational change. Knowing the Nike culture – the beliefs, and values – and leveraging it, helped us successfully navigate the organizational adaptation while simultaneously increasing trust and cooperation and allowing more efficient decision-making.

Nike had clearly defined beliefs and values that I learned on day one during my orientation. At the heart of every organization’s culture are those clearly defined and commonly shared values. If an organization does not define its beliefs and values, they will manifest organically and may not be the beliefs and values that are needed for the next adaptation of the organization. In other words, if you don’t define the culture you want for your organization, it may be defined in ways that are not in service to your organizational objectives.

Once an organization defines its culture, ongoing maintenance is needed to ensure it is alive and vibrant within the organization. Nike kept its culture alive and vibrant through stories and rituals. They celebrated those moments when the values and beliefs were evident, and recognized opportunities to learn from  missed opportunities. Without ongoing cultural maintenance, an organization is missing a key element of its strategic advantage to meet or exceed its objectives.

So, how do you keep a vibrant, cohesive culture in a hybrid operating model? The good news is it can be done! Nike is a large, complex, global operation where the culture has adapted to building strong, cohesive teams that work seamlessly across the world. The shared values and beliefs are the cultural glue that motivate teams and lead to higher individual and team performance.

Some of the key elements for a vibrant, cohesive culture include:

  • Encouraging collaboration
  • Keeping communication flowing
  • Celebrating the values in actions – the successes and the learnings

If you are curious how your current cultural adaptation is impacting team morale and cohesion, our Team Morale & Cohesion activity will help you analyze and evaluate behaviors within your organization to identify those that support team morale and cohesion, and those that detract from it. This activity can be part of your ongoing effort to maintain a vibrant, cohesive culture in a hybrid operating model.

Team Morale and Cohesion tool from the OP Toolkit


Organizational adaptation can be challenging for organizations to navigate. Contact me to learn how we can provide the support needed to help your organization (and culture) navigate and thrive through its adaptation.