Sifting through Organizational Noise to Serve the Greater Public Good

By: JoAnn Barbour  

A team of organizational leadership researchers recently conducted a work culture audit focused on understanding the organizational work culture of a local police department within a national environment of turbulence. My purpose is to present lessons learned about the complex process of building a collaborative research culture while exploring the work culture of this public agency. From this environment, findings will be discussed through the lenses of collaboration, contradictions, and challenges, and the metaphor of “noise.” When nature poet William Cowper (1817) once intoned, “A life all turbulence and noise may seem to him that leads it wise and to be praised, but wisdom is a pearl with most success sought in still waters,” (p.74), he was not speaking of 21st century organizations in which working in and understanding noise is important. Organizationally, noise can be variously a “loud, confused, or senseless shouting or outcry … a sound … noticeably unpleasant … or interferes with one’s hearing of something … unwanted signal or a disturbance … irrelevant or meaningless data or output occurring along with desired information; … common talk; something that attracts attention; [or] … something spoken or uttered” (, 2017). In a turbulent environment, “a state of confusion, violence, or disorder” (, 2017) often characterized by unpredictability and/or uncontrolled change, a public agency has to evolve externally and internally: counter-intuitively must move toward the danger from outside forces (local community, technology, business, government, and professional challenges); and internally must develop a coherent, focused strategy (Fullan, 2000; Rumelt, 2011).

Culture Collaborative Research
Organizational Cultures
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Prof. JoAnn Barbour

Gonzaga University, Spokane WA