Culture is about Choice

Colin Ellis
3 min readApr 11, 2023

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The biggest barrier to building and maintaining a vibrant culture, and achieving the consistent performance that it brings, is not meetings, emails, unclear priorities, a lack of people or technology. It’s the choices people make about how they spend their time.

Time is the most precious resource that we have as individuals and how we choose to use it can greatly impact how we feel about our working day, our jobs and our lives. Making good choices about how we spend our time can have a significant impact on our productivity, happiness, and overall wellbeing.

Yet, in my experience working with global teams, cultures (and the people within them) often make the same excuses for not using their time well. Examples include:

  • Letting Outlook determine the length of a meeting
  • Staying in a meeting that runs over time
  • Concentrating on ‘easy’ work rather than the things that need to be done
  • Allowing (technology or human) distractions to interrupt productive work
  • Using poor information to make decisions
  • Losing control of emotions in times of high stress
  • Not being able to say ‘no’
  • Working evenings and weekends on low value work
  • Not setting clear boundaries between work and home life
  • Checking email constantly
  • Not asking for clarification when expectations are unclear
  • Not making time for creativity.

Many people will see others within a culture making these poor choices and simply go along with them. They’ll say, ‘well that’s what happens around here’. But, with a little bit of effort, it doesn’t have to be this way. When teams and individuals make different choices and then hold themselves accountable to these choices, change is possible.

It often feels easier to go with the status quo so a little courage is required to shake things up and run in the opposite direction. People will be deterred from planning in 20-minute meetings (for example) when everyone else is booking 30 or 60-minute ones. They’ll be worried about ‘how it looks’ if they’re not sending long emails copying lots of people in. These short-term choices feel ‘necessary’ in order to retain a sense of belonging, even if the culture they belong to is time poor. These decisions will eventually catch up with you and lead to stress, anxiety and burnout, or they’ll create a toxic culture within the team, because no one can understand why you do the things you all do and no one is willing to speak up.

According to research, it only takes 25% of a team to make different choices that will reshape the culture. When this 25% (preferably more!) is the leadership team then it can change everything almost overnight. By demonstrating that they’re making different choices, it helps others to make those choices too. Without the commitment from those at the top, any attempts to change the culture is doomed to fail.

Making better choices on how time is used can:

  • Transform culture
  • Improve productivity
  • Improve the chance of achieving goals
  • Reduce stress
  • Improve creativity
  • Increase knowledge
  • Increase one’s sense of self-worth
  • Increase engagement
  • Provide a better balance between work and home life
  • Lead to a happier, more fulfilled life.

Time management isn’t a course you need to attend, it’s a series of choices you need to make. And now you’ve finished reading this blog (good choice by the way!) you should make three different choices and start the process of using your time — and yourself — better. What will your three choices be?

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Colin Ellis

Global culture consultant | Best-selling Author | Keynote Speaker | Podcaster | Evertonian | Whisky Lover | Likes to laugh, a lot www.colindellis.com