August 2021
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TD Magazine

Making the Culture Pieces Fit

Friday, July 30, 2021

The Culture Puzzle: Harnessing the Forces That Drive Your Organization's Success
By Mario Moussa, Derek Newberry, and Greg Urban
Berrett-Koehler, 248 pp., $27.95

Starting with an intriguing title, Moussa, Newberry, and Urban use their book to convince readers that solving the culture puzzle will create high-performing organizations. They argue that culture should take the priority over strategy, finance, and operations because it fulfills some of employees' most important needs.


"Culture is the lifeblood of any group that lives and works together." That powerful statement is the crux of the entire book. Drawing from their anthropology background, the authors use metaphors from the physical world—such as tribes, tribal conflict, gardener, nurturing soil, water, and sun—to describe organizational concepts such as culture, teams, conflict, and leaders.

In the first section of the book, the authors review how a tribe forms and how leaders lead at times like pharaohs, CEOs, or gardeners. Through the metaphor of a gardener, for example, they assert that the leader's function is to enable plants to flourish (vision), provide water that supports life (interest), till the soil for healthy roots (habit), and ensure access to sunlight (innovation).

The book's central section is where Moussa, Newberry, and Urban discuss the powerful driving forces of envisioning the desired culture, listening to people's interests, reflecting on habits, and experimenting to spur innovation. Filled with successful and unsuccessful life stories and examples, this section provides readers with practical strategies to build a winning culture.


In the last section, the authors encourage leaders to be vigilant gardeners in keeping their organizational cultures strong, vibrant, agile, and adaptive. Using a wildflowers-and-weeds metaphor, they challenge leaders to develop sensitivity to know which workers to pluck and which to cultivate and to ensure that "wildflowers never become weeds."

The book is inspiring and energizing. I found myself completely immersed in the life stories, learning from their successes and failures. The powerful stories made the organizational concepts easier to grasp and more memorable. Anchored in years of anthropological and corporate studies conducted prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the book unfortunately does not present practical insights related to building the culture puzzle in a remote, digital workforce environment. Maybe that will come in a future edition. If so, I would be sure to check it out.

About the Author

Simona Vidican has spent more than 18 years combined in undergraduate and adult training both in Romania and the US. She acts on her passions in her current role by designing, developing, and deploying professional development programs and learning assets for nonclinical caregivers with focus on recognition, upskilling, and reskilling to ensure a successful career journey in this new virtual, remote work environment. Some of her successful programs include development of an individual and team-of-teams recognition program; a tiered group mentoring program; a revenue cycle university (leadership development program for emerging leaders); and many more.

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