How to build strong culture for gurdwara teams?

Management consultant SARANJIT SINGH throws up some ideas on building dynamic working groups at gurdwaras.

By Saranjit Singh | OPINION |

Culture is about group behavior and behavior is driven by values and beliefs. Culture is formed by people working in an organization and this is led by the leaders. Culture is about how people feel while working at an organization (and this is the reason for their behavior).

A strong organizational culture will consist of articulated and simplified values (and its associated behaviors). It acknowledges its people’s FEAR (during the time of uncertainty, like the current pandemic or what could be stopping them in achieving the organization goals). It also builds resilience (how do deal with blockers when it comes to changing behavior) and redefine success (what are the goals and how relevant it is to the people in the organization).

In the context of the Gurdwara, the culture is shaped by the overall committee members and sewadars, led by the key leaders (Granthi Ji, President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer).

In an organization, the leaders and employees can articulate an amicable set of behaviors and values in line with their business goals. What’s challenging about culture is the beliefs of individuals and how do we garner the emotional commitment of the employees towards the goals.

In an organization, leaders can influence their people to behave voluntarily in shaping the culture. To a certain extent, they can even dictate how people behave. However, it is slightly different for an non-government organisation (NGO) or a Gurdwara.

When dealing with an organisation, failure to comply with directions can see a person facing consequences in terms of rewards, benefits, etc. Hence, the shaping ability is somewhat more controlled (even then, it’s very challenging). When it comes to NGOs and Gurdwaras, it boils down to living up to the shared purpose of the outfit . Equally important to note is that it has to be done voluntarily.

Changing behavior is not an easy task for an individual, leave aside a group of people.

Culture is like personality or character of an individual. Once you’ve learned to be a certain kind of person, that is you in all aspects of your functioning. You will be reluctant to do things differently. Hence the difficulty in changing culture. So culture only matters when there is a problem. In the same sense, personality only matters when things are not working right for you.

So how do we build a strong culture for gurdwara teams? I will attempt to answer this question in a few steps…


First, identify the problems/challenges we are facing with regards to teamwork among gurdwaras. We must be able to articulate the root cause with clarity. All parties involved must agree (via consensus) the problem at hand.

Next, we must also describe what are the behaviors we see ourselves doing when the teamwork is in its perfect condition. Once we have identified the behaviors, we need to agree on the values needed to be put in place and what beliefs we need to change. Remember to keep this as simple as possible so people can easily form a picture in their mind which will allow them to remember. Finally, develop ways and means to measure those behaviors (as in, are we living up to it or not).


What are some of the problems/challenges we may face in living up to the new way? This involves changing processes, policies, and procedures.


How will we support each other in living up the new behaviors? This is when we can introduce huddles – a casual and honest conversation in small groups focused on our behaviors. If it is something that was against the new norm, then we need to openly tell the person about it and also vise versa, acknowledge people for doing or living up to the new norm


Is our purpose clear and do we all subscribe to it? As per my understanding, a gurdwara is a place of assemble and worship. It serves as a focal point for Sikhs to gather to hear the spiritual discourse and sing Shabad as a gateway through which spirituality could be reached. Today, a gurdwara is also a community centre and offers food, shelter, and companionship to those who need it. Are our new behavior in-line with this purpose? If it is not, then we need to realign our behaviors.

Once all this is somewhat in place, we can then start implementing the entire “project”. The above can be done over a few workshops.

During implementation, it is important to ensure all members involved are updated on the progress of others.

Whenever somebody comes and tells me they want to change their organization culture, I first ask them to define the business problem, which they think culture can help and what have they done about the problem. Culture change is not an easy task; it requires commitment at the highest level for it to be successful.

The author is a senior consultant for change management at a Malaysian-based firm 



My tribute to gurdwara management committees (Asia Samachar, 17 March 2017)

POLITICS IN GURDWARAS: Low Hanging Fruit (Asia Samachar, 15 Oct 2019)

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