Friday, February 05, 2016

Where the Culture Lives.

When an organisation is small, you don't need to worry about things like precedent. If everyone knows each other, and they know how other people know each other, decisions can take into account things that are difficult to communicate. Difficult to put in words. Impossible to put in numbers. The culture of the group can develop so there are unstated rules and expectations. Knowing each other provides both constraints and support. It isn't that things aren't messy, there is just more ability to deal with mess.

Mess at scale is tough because you lose the bonds that connect. You can work at a company for years without getting to know the boss. Different people in the company can be working on very different projects. The fact that they are in the same company may just be co-incidental. Executives will try and get round this by building up a culture. This is often cited as the one thing that keeps them up at night. Building a culture around a myth that has grown about what the company stood for when it was small. A myth that grows out of trying to put the difficult and impossible into words and numbers. 

One way that culture can be maintained in big companies is through story telling. Stories of how the founding members dealt with situations. Ideally stories that carry enough ambiguity that they can carry a bit of that founding member's soul to those that follow. That can allow them to face the problems that arise like that person would have done it. What would the founder do?

What dampens the story is that big organisations by their nature tend to move into Silos. Working in parallel next to each other. The projects that the bigger group are working on are too big for everyone to wrap their head around. So we focus. We don't know people outside our bubble. We don't know how other's know each other. We lose the subtlety. The stories lose relevance and we start comparing people by summary bits of information like years service, qualifications, hours worked, grades, gender, job title, age.

Focusing on Silos

Skill is only a fraction of what makes people succeed. A huge driver is the web of relationships within the group. Relationships are where the culture lives.

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