Ming is a recent college graduate with a degree in accounting. She has taken a job with a large accounting firm. Although she gets along with members of her department and team, she tends to spend her free time with other colleagues who are of Asian descent, especially those who are in her generation. She feels that this group of coworkers understands her better and shares her values and ideas around work–life balance.
John has been with his state employer for thirty years, working up the ranks into seniority in his state agency. It’s been customary for him and six coworkers of his age group to meet for lunch every day and discuss the latest sporting events. Once a week during the summer they meet up after work to play baseball at a local park and recreation site.
These two examples describe culture as a shared learning experience. Although you may think of yourself as an individual, you share beliefs, rituals, ceremonies, traditions, and assumptions with people who grew up or live in similar cultural backgrounds. It is easier for you to relate to someone who has shared value systems and ways of doing things than someone who does not share the same values.
The patterns of culture bind us together and enable us to get along with each other. Even though it feels good to be around people who think, act, and behave as you, shared learning can create blind spots. Shared cultures create a dynamic of an in-group, where people segregate themselves from each other. Within teams in organizations, in-group blind spots can lead to “group think,” a term coined by Irving Janis 1 to explain the ways in which groups ignore alternative solutions and take on actions and behaviors that discount the experiences for others.