This is the third installation in my “Building Lodge Culture” series, which is inspired by School Culture Rewired: How to Define, Assess, and Transform It by Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker.
If you haven’t read any of the posts in this series then here’s what we’ve got so far:
If you’ve been following this series then you should know how important a lodges culture is to its overall health and success. You should also be familiar with the differences between climate and culture, what role each one plays in the success of a lodge, and how to identify each when you see it. Now that the fundamentals have been covered we can head to the quarries and do some work!
Know Your Roles
Take a few moments and reflect on the roles of each active member of your lodge. Keep in mind that I’m not talking about their office that they currently hold as this tends to change quite often, unfortunately. Instead, think about the roles that they tend to fill regardless of their office or station.
You see, every lodge has brethren that seem to naturally be looked up to as leaders, others tend to be the “wise men” that everyone comes to with questions, other brethren are the problem solvers, one brother might be the education guru, and the list goes on.
In most of these cases, the positions that these men fill aren’t appointed, in fact, in many cases the brother might not even be aware of the role he is filling. This is because of a natural tendency whereby people in a group will learn what the individual strengths and weaknesses of its members and use that information to determine their roles. We often do this without even realizing that we’ve done it.
Let’s take the mental exercise from earlier a bit further: close your eyes and imagine that someone, maybe even you, stands up during your next stated meeting and makes a motion to increase the dues by $25. Really focus on how you’d expect each of the active members of your lodge to react to this. How well do you believe you can predict their reactions? If you can do this, and you feel comfortable with your predictions, then that means you probably have a strong lodge culture.
Keep in mind that I didn’t say “a GOOD lodge culture”, I said “a STRONG lodge culture”, which can be good or bad.
You can be certain that your lodge has a culture already, even if you just started it. Charter members will bring aspects of their previous lodges culture with them and you’ll end up with a sort of fragmented culture that consists of good (or bad) aspects from other lodges. This can actually be a good thing because it’s actually easier to create a new culture when you don’t have a unified established culture already in place. Anyone who has tried to improve their lodge in the past has probably felt that it’d be easier to start over from scratch than to keep trying to change things at one point. If the thought has crossed your mind then this is probably why.
The Anatomy of Lodge Culture
A lodges culture is a lot like a person’s personality. There are a huge number of factors which come into play when shaping the human personality and if a person wants to improve their personality then they need to identify what aspects of their lives are working for them and what is working against them. Changes like this also take time and concentrated effort to achieve the desired outcome.
“You can be certain that your lodge has a culture already, even if you just started it.”
Looking at lodges we will find that their cultures are also the result of several contributing factors, which are climate, mission and vision, humor, rituals and ceremonies, norms, symbols, and values (Gruenert 28).
Much has been said about climate already so I won’t spend any time explaining what it actually is (here’s my last post if you missed it). Recall that climate is very easy to change but those changes tend to be short-term unless they are constantly maintained.
I gave the example of my previous lodge where the climate I helped to create dissipated after I moved away. What if I had not moved away and remained in a position where I could continue to implement the changed I made to the climate? Over time these improvements that were made to the climate would have eventually become a part of the culture itself.
If you can address the lodges climate and sustain those changes over a long enough period of time then those changes (good or bad) will become a part of the lodge culture. Notice the words “over a long enough period of time”. Long-term improvements to climate will affect the culture of your lodge or Grand Lodge and, according to Gruenert and Whitaker, “the culture wants to manage the organization” (29). When you find yourself with a new Worshipful Master or Grand Master every year, each with his own agenda, then it’s near impossible to sustain any climate changes long enough to have an impact on the culture.
Mission and Vision
If you haven’t held a meeting at your lodge to discuss your goals and vision then please consider doing so.
Since I’ve already written about the importance of having a vision, I’ll keep my explanations relatively short and sweet. That being said, if you haven’t read the post that I linked in my previous paragraph then you may find it beneficial to do so first. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
I haven’t written anything about mission statements in the past but I’ll sure that I will at some point. Like goals and visions much has been written about them already, so much so that you’ve likely already heard enough about them to know that they are important, powerful, and tend to be highly recommended.
If a vision is like the current destination for a lodge then it’s mission is like asking “why are we doing this?”. Think of it like a space shuttle lifting off to travel to Mars in order to scan the surface for water. You don’t launch a shuttle without a destination or a mission.
It’s also worth pointing out that a lodges culture already has its own unwritten mission but it will not have a vision in place on its own. A culture will manage a lodge as it currently exists but it’s not something that is capable of anticipating or planning for the future.
I want to quote Gruenert and Whitaker again because I think this is very powerful: “If we could talk to the culture, the future would be clear. The culture would tell us, just repeat the past” (31).
How many times have you heard “that’s not the way we’ve always done it!”? If you’ve heard that then it means that the culture is leading the lodge and not the Worshipful Master. The role of the culture is to manage the lodge, not to relieve anybody of leadership, remember, cultures cannot have a vision and a vision is what shapes the future of the lodge.
There are many brethren who feel as though the rituals, meetings, and ceremonies should be conducted solemnly and seriously, and I agree with this sentiment. There is nothing more disrespectful or distracting than goofing around or making jokes when we are engaged in serious work. So please don’t think that I’m condoning this type of behavior.
Of course, there is a time to work and a time to enjoy fellowship with your brothers. When lodge isn’t opened or we aren’t practicing our work then we can, and we should allow ourselves to have fun and joke around.
What’s interesting is that a joke in one lodge might go over really well while brothers in another lodge won’t think it’s funny at all. This is because what people find funny in one culture might not be amusing at all in another and recall that each lodge has its own unique culture.
If you laugh with one another then it makes you feel as though you all have something in common, creating a bonding experience, which is very powerful when you’re trying to bring everyone together.
So please take things seriously which should be but don’t allow your lodge to be cold and humorless unless that’s the type of culture you are striving for.
Rituals and Ceremonies
“Rituals are collective dramas of persuasion – they make statements about the quality of life and set standards for behavior” (Kuh & Whitt, 1988, as cited in Gruenert and Whitaker, 2015).
As Freemasons, we are no strangers to rituals and any brother who contemplated the meanings of his degrees will likely acknowledge that their purpose, at least in part, is to tell us what kind of men we should be, how such a man should behave, and how to remain in the honor group.
Ceremonies are essentially public rituals. Examples of these can include installation of officers, awarding scholarships, 50-year pins, and other awards ceremonies. Ceremonies can be used to acknowledge and bring attention to actions or behaviors which align with the desired culture of the lodge.
“When it comes to ceremonies, quality over quantity is important”
Before we continue there is one thing that should be pointed out: when it comes to ceremonies, quality over quantity is important. If you give a prestigious award to a brother every year then that award will begin to lose its value the more common it is, especially if your lodge is very small. Not all ceremonies are the same though, you can do many of them on a regular basis, such as scholarships or as needed, such as with 50-year pins.
There are two types of rules: those that are written and those which are unwritten. Norms fall under the category of unwritten and can have quite a bit of power. When you first join a lodge you need to learn several things if you want to fit in with the brothers there. Here are several examples of some norms by it is by no means a complete list:
- Talking during meetings and degrees
- Cell phone use in lodge
- Acceptable language (such as profanity)
- Dress code
- What gets taken seriously
- What gets ignored
- How long to stay after lodge closes
What’s interesting about norms is that they have so much power associated with them that they can overcome written rules. Think back to some initiative that a Worshipful Master or Grand Master put into place in the past which was completely ignored. The rule was put in place but the norm quickly brushed it aside and continued like it always did.
“The culture of any organization is shaped by the worse behavior the leader is willing to tolerate” (Gruenert and Whitaker, 36)”
Be wary of norms as they can work for your or against you. If you want to create a new rule that will conflict with a norm then you have to be willing to fight the good fight and be ready for the resistance that is going to come with it. According to Gruenert and Whitaker, “the culture of any organization is shaped by the worse behavior the leader is willing to tolerate” (36) and yet we allow the lowest common denominator dictate the cultures of our lodges every day.
This is something which is less unique to individual lodges however it is also not uncommon to see lodges which have adopted particular symbols as their own and incorporated it into their brand.
“Be wary of norms as they can work for your or against you.”
Symbols represent what is most important to an organization and as Freemasons we have many. They tend to have a deep meaning which is typically only conveyed to the members of that organization even though they may be visible for anyone to see.
Our values represent what is most important to us as Freemasons and we teach these to our brethren as they go through the degree processes. Proof that our degree processes are intended to convey certain beliefs can be observed in the ritual itself. “Because beliefs can be hard to explain, groups use concrete examples such as artifacts, stories, or symbols to let outsiders know what they are” (Gruenert and Whitaker, 40).
If you’ve gone through all of the degrees then the quote above may have brought several examples to your mind. The culture of each lodge is determined, in part, by its values and these values contribute to the behaviors of its membership. This means that while culture shapes behaviors the opposite can be true as well and a change in behavior can eventually cause a shift in the culture if it continues long enough, which can be good or bad.
For example, if your lodge culture doesn’t believe degrees should be solemn then the brethren won’t value the work and their behavior will reflect it, however, if a few brothers begin to take the work very seriously and they persist over time then it will begin to impact the culture of the lodge.
With this in mind, it’s very important to understand the behaviors of incoming members for this very reason. If we are not vigilant then they may impact our lodge culture in a negative way.
This post was much longer than usual and I still feel as though I could have said much more. There’s a lot of information here so I decided it’s probably best to leave it like it is as this is enough information to understand the basics. If this is interesting to you then I highly recommend that you get yourself a copy of School Culture Rewired: How to Define, Assess, and Transform It by Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker. Even though this book is not Masonic in nature, many of the principals discussed could be applied to Masonic lodges.
In the next installation, we will look at how to decide what culture you want for your lodge.
Here are some important questions to consider after reading this post, please feel free to share your answers in the comments or on my Facebook page!
- Does your lodge have a mission and vision? If so, please share what it is and how you determined what it was going to be.
- What norms can you identify from your lodge? Are they helping to promote the desired culture for your lodge or are they inhibiting it?
- Are there any behaviors taking place in your lodge that go against the grain of your lodges values? Has it had a positive or negative impact on your culture?
Thank you, everyone, for your support! See you in the next post!
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Gruenert, Steve., and Todd Whitaker. School Culture Rewired: How to Define, Assess, and Transform It. Alexandria, Virginia USA: ASCD, 2015. Print.
Kuh, G. & Whitt, E. (1988). The invisible tapestry: Culture in American universities and colleges. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Reports, 17(1).