Skip to main content

The Unwritten Rules – The Real of the Organization

The unwritten rules are the real rules.

In any organization, what is maintained and repeated becomes a part of culture. The way people do things, decisions are made, and how people respond to change are a part of tradition.

This is the DNA of an organization.

Unwritten rules may never be recorded, voted on or “put in the minutes”, but they are known by a majority of people.

People will defend and protect them. They are considered law and people will fight to keep them from being changed or bended.

Understanding this will increase a leader’s effectiveness.


In an established church, I realized there were cultural understandings I needed to know. Therefore, I didn’t attempt to change some things the first couple of years. I knew these unwritten rules would possibly derail them.

How do you learn unwritten rules?

First, be aware they exist. So, look for them.

Second, ask questions of people who have been there longer than you. Learn people you can trust to ask questions. Discuss how things are usually done and unpack some of the decisions you are considering.

Third, discover them by experience, as you approach any kind of change. Pay attention to what goes against them.

This is also why you don’t build change in a vacuum. Collaborate with others and strategically introduce change.

Even a genius at creating new ideas must still understand this principle.

Learn the unwritten rules first.

This doesn’t mean you can’t go against unwritten rules. You certainly can. However, if you don’t know them you’ll waste a lot of energy. Consequently, you will wonder why your ideas never gained traction.

Nate and I launched a new season of the Ron Edmondson Leadership Podcast, so subscribe now. You don’t want to miss the next one.

Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

More posts by Ron Edmondson