As we prepare to say goodbye to 2017 and welcome the new year, it is understandable that we take time to both reflect and recharge. This past year has been one in which much of the focus has been on differences and division. Our differences are easy to see though often hard to understand – and even harder to appreciate. What unites us is often overlooked and easily dismissed.

This year I had the opportunity to work with clients in Houston and Tampa – just weeks after each area had experienced devastating storms. And while the focus of the work continued to be on developing the culture and leadership of those organizations, it was amazing to see how the communities and the organizations we work with were responding to the very real challenges the storms had brought with them. Beyond the damage to some of their facilities, many of their employees lost homes and precious belongings. While keeping an eye towards the future and sustaining the businesses they have worked so hard to build, they were taking time to care for their people and their communities. Change and disruption can divide us, yet I witnessed powerful examples of how they can also unite us.

When you work in the area of culture, you are provided a unique opportunity to engage with people from all parts of the globe and from every walk of life. If you take the time to ask questions and to listen to what people have to say – you learn to appreciate our differences AND the things that all of us have in common.

When I reflect on 2017 I will remember a dinner on a hillside restaurant overlooking the remarkable city of Quito after a conference in Ecuador. There was a client who wanted to take time after a long day of work to show us around the amazing city of Putrajaya (Malaysia). At our 2017 Best Practices Forum we had an outdoor fondue feast just outside of Zurich. What I remember most about those, and countless other client interactions throughout the year – were the conversations in which the things that can sometimes divide us melted away and we shared stories, asked each other questions, challenged ourselves and most importantly – we learned from each other. Of course we had fun as well.

Among the things we are known and respected for at Denison is our ability to measure organizational culture. We can provide compelling and insightful visualizations of your culture, complete with circumplexes and percentile scores. Yet when I look at those culture profiles I don’t see just colors and numbers – I see people. People who are trying to unite in pursuit of a common mission and improve the well-being of their employees, their customers and other critical stakeholders. Sometimes these organizations are struggling to perform at the levels they are capable of, and too often that is because they are focused on their internal differences and divisions.

As we look to 2018 my hope is that we will all reflect on what we’ve learned and appreciate the things that unite us as well as the differences that, if we take the time to understand – make us all stronger.

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