Posted: 21 Jan. 2021 5 min. read

Predictions 2021: Culture

Teams and technology will activate culture change

Many organizations can see that changing their culture is a critical factor in addressing the pressures of a rapidly changing world in a sustainable manner. At the same time, the workforce is evolving its connection to important social issues as well as considering working conditions like wellbeing, ethics, and the impact of AI. In this environment, what exactly does culture look like—and how can the organization make an impact? Culture is a measurable presence that flows and emerges from the interactions between individuals, organizations, and their environments. As such, culture must be crafted by the entire organization, which must have access to the proper tools in order to do so.

In 2021, we predict organizations will need to leverage teams and technology to shape and extend culture in the flow of work. Traditional culture-change efforts, such as mandates from senior leadership enforced through training and performance management, can’t keep up with today’s rapidly evolving business and work models. Therefore, culture strategies will begin to incorporate behavioral norms, enablers, rituals, artifacts, and nudges to achieve desired outcomes and to maintain the culture at the behavioral level.

Enablers, artifacts, and nudges

Rapidly evolving business and work models require a new approach to both workforce and workplace development. This involves significant behavior changes from leadership and HR professionals to drive outcomes related to wellbeing, belonging, transparency, and transformation—along with business and societal results. Additionally, the increasing virtualization of the workplace highlights the need for both behavioral and technology solutions that help shape culture to achieve this complex set of outcomes.

It’s clear that top-down, command-and-control mandates around culture change will likely continue to be met with apathy and resistance. Instead, organizations should look toward technology solutions to harmonize change with learning, leadership, and work to continue to merge in the flow of business and of life. These solutions include:

  • Enablers. Behavioral or technological tactics and tools that promote higher performance in the flow of work, such as the automatic scheduling of coaching conversations around key project milestones.
  • Artifacts. In-person or virtual representations of knowledge that convey specific meaning to intended observers, such as sharing relevant posts on team collaboration sites.
  • Nudges. The application of findings from psychology and behavioral economics to prompt people to make decisions consistent with their long-term goals, such as providing prompts to maintain customer-centricity in design discussions.

Organizations will increasingly embed these kinds of solutions in workers’ day-to-day activities to shape culture at anticipated points of need. The resulting interactions may lead to team-level subcultures based on the broader organizational context and team realities.

Driving culture at the team level

Enhancements in active and passive data collection (e.g., pulse survey and data created by users as they interact with technology, respectively) and workforce experience practices are enabling a higher level of sophistication, speed, and precision around the assessment and understanding of culture in organizations. Culture sensing and regeneration at the team level will become a foundation for managing the organization around change in a dynamic environment. By allowing teams access to the proper tools and technology to set some of their own parameters, the organization then creates space for experimentation, co-creation, and innovation—further shaping and refining their culture in the flow of work. Team-level culture measures can be aggregated across the enterprise to provide an accurate picture of organizational culture.

As organizations start to use some of these culture-shaping technology solutions, these practices will become more widespread and simultaneously more accessible and flexible, supporting teams to begin creating their own solutions. These solutions will be based not only on assigned outcomes and environmental constraints but also on their unique subcultures. For example, a product team may use collaboration technologies to schedule postaction reviews around project milestones, celebrating team and individual successes while focusing on what can be learned from project artifacts such as project message boards, peer-recognition applications, and stakeholder feedback channels. In addition, insights gained from organizational network analysis can prompt and ensure inclusion and collaboration with diverse team members and other participants. 

Looking ahead

Organizational leaders increasingly recognize that shaping and extending culture happens at the behavioral level. They will leverage technology and teams to embed this shift into the flow of work.

In the coming year, leaders responsible for teams and workplace technologies can get a head start as follows:

  • Understand both the why and the how behind the technologies that shape behaviors and the interactions that drive culture at the individual and team level.
  • Be deliberate about how technology can drive culture at the team level while allowing team leaders and members to make decisions about how the team operates and achieves outcomes.
  • Acknowledge culture is not, and cannot be, “an HR thing.” But HR should extend its influence on culture as it drives change across the organization.

Culture itself is emergent. By recognizing this reality and taking deliberate steps to sense, shape, and activate culture at the team level, organizations and their leaders will finally start to solve some of the mysteries of culture and change the game around interactions between humans, technology, and organizations. 


Jeff Mike, EdD - Vice president, Head of Research & Insights

Denise Moulton - Vice president, Talent Acquisition Research leader

Rahul Kumar Savita - Lead Advisor for Learning, Career, Leadership, and Succession

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Jeff Mike

Jeff Mike

Vice President and HR Research Leader

Jeff leads human resources (HR) research for Deloitte. An expert in building the capabilities of corporate HR teams, Jeff transforms HR professionals from process-oriented practitioners into strategic partners who are able to compete in complex global talent markets. His ability to combine research with innovative development activities was honed through experience as a faculty member in human resources development at Al Akhawayn University in Morocco. Also former head of human capital at IMPAQ International, Jeff has a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Washington, a Master of Science in organizational development and strategic human resources from Johns Hopkins University, and a doctorate in human and organizational learning from The George Washington University.

Denise Moulton

Denise Moulton

VP │ Human Capital Insights Lead

Denise lives for the “a-ha!” moment. A hands-on leader who serves up insights that make sense in the flow of conversation, she works to help clients understand who workers are and what they can contribute. After all, what’s better than watching someone realize their full potential? Denise leverages her history as a practitioner in the talent space to get to the bottom of talent leaders’ problems, turn an empathetic ear to organizational challenges, and zero in on the outcomes that matter most in a dynamic world of work. At home, she is an all-in mom for her two kids and rescue pup. Denise holds a BA in English and has completed coursework towards a Master's in labor relations and human resources from the University of Rhode Island.