As a company grows, new challenges lie ahead. How to handle hundreds (or thousands) of interactions within your organization? Is there really such a thing as a single overarching organizational culture and can it exist in a team-based organizational structure?
Let’s see how it looks like at Inchoo and how we try to make sense of it all.
We have recently moved to a new office in the center of our city of Osijek, finally completing a huge milestone and properly marking our 8th anniversary. We’ve finally improved our work environment to match the work atmosphere we’ve been creating for the past 8 years we’ve been in business. You can check out some of the photos of the new office by dropping by our Instagram account. These still work only as a sneak peek but there will be more to come.
And this move, exciting as it may be, poses a new set of challenges. It has opened our eyes a bit wider on some of the internal organizational bits and pieces now that we are finally sitting all together in one place (we worked out of two separate offices for the last several years).
What’s in a culture?
We are organized internally in smaller teams (no open office in here!) – we have development, design and consulting teams with a couple more that would fall under “business support” label (marketing, sales, office administration). And, as you can imagine, not everyone sees eye to eye on every topic. So, without sharing some of the same values throughout the organization, things would quickly fall apart.
These values relate to how we work and communicate with each other, with our clients and with the communities we are a part of (Magento ecosystem or our own local community). Many of these haven’t been proscribed in a top-down fashion but have rather been brought in by our own team members as the years went by.
But, in order to achieve, maintain and further evolve this, we should at all times be aware of some of the things that lie beneath the surface.
Different teams, different cultures
I recently read an article published on HBR website on challenges of establishing collaboration between teams with different subcultures. It’s a quick read and it also quickly resonated with what we have in place.
The term “organizational culture” can obscure an important truth: An organization often contains many cultures. This is true even if your organization is located entirely in one country, or even at one site.
Whenever you try to talk about “organizational culture”, you can fall short if you try to define it as something that really works for everyone within your organization. It would also be foolish to assume everyone would simply embrace this overarching “culture” thing.
All these teams I mentioned before work within their own subcultures they’ve created. They share their own stories about what feels right, what doesn’t, and their culture is a reflection of who these people are as individuals.
Of course, some differences will come pretty much with the job description. However, it’s also interesting to see how even development teams, who you’d expect to be more aligned among themselves, often create very different subcultures.
Some practical examples where subcultures can be out of sync with one another:
- giving feedback within a team – straight up or beating around the bush?
- decision making – expected to be done by team leader or a collaborative effort?
- level of bonding within a team – personal topics allowed or frowned upon?
- approach to problem solving – proactive or reactive?
I’m sure you can find many similar examples within your organizations.
The more, the merrier?
And now, if we leave the team-based organization aside and get back to each individual, we are close to becoming a 50-people company any day now. What this means is that there are 1225 possible direct interactions happening between our employees.
n*(n-1)/2 is the formula, as interaction frequency sociological concept would have us believe.
I’ll just leave this here for a second. 1225 direct interactions that happen all the time during team meetings, in-house educations, coffee breaks, meals, you name it.
Do you still think it’s easy to say “this is our organizational culture”?
How to align these? Around a circle.
It’s clear that some aspects of the culture and the main values will be shared across the company. These are the things you keep in mind when you hire new people and, especially in our ever-changing industry, try to find a good match for both the job description and the organizational values.
But what about teams with very different subcultures that need to work together? How do you create and foster a productive work environment when there are a lot of different opinions and approaches at the table?
There are two basic things that we’ve seen we have to take care of:
- Mutual respect and understanding
Processes would appear to be the easier part, right? Establish good processes within teams or across projects where teams work together that leave little room for uncertainties. This way the subcultural differences will be brought down to a lower level. Well, at least that’s how it’s imagined. And to an extent it does work. However, without the latter it will inevitably fall apart sooner or later.
If you don’t foster the culture of mutual respect for the work others are doing and their contribution to achieving overall company goals, you’re not in a good place. If people are following processes because they have to and don’t take into account other teams’ and other individuals’ approach, friction is inevitable.
With this I’m not saying you should avoid conflict. Healthy exchange of attitudes and opinions often leads to better decisions. But before, during and after conflict situations people should take some extra room for understanding how other teams work and what’s important to them.
Can this approach negatively impact productivity? It can, if it takes a wrong turn and it becomes something that you’re doing just for the sake of it. But, in this case, we go back to the processes. At all times people involved should know who’s ultimately responsible for the project(s) and the decisions made.
So, as you see, these two are really intertwined and it’s very difficult to get them right.
Are we doing a great job at this? Of course not, we also have a lot of things to improve on, but not talking about these things can only make things worse.
On the other hand, talking too much without taking clear steps towards creating a solution can actually be the worst thing you can do.
Quick meetings to explain some new processes, share some war stories or simply present a new workflow some teams have adopted can be a good start. They can go a long way to help everyone work better and feel appreciated and understood.
So, for us – new office, new set of challenges. And we’re happy to take them on.
How about you?