Last week, I was away on vacation. A whole week away, in an area with no cell phone coverage, so I was completely cut-off from work and email. No, this is not a horror story. Nor is it a post about life balance. It’s about workplace culture.
This recent article on productivity - which is really more of a teaser for the book being promoted - includes a summary of some research on workplace cultures and management styles that promote productivity in various ways. The researchers determined that there are five culture styles, and then concluded that one of these was best for productivity.
In any of these lists and assessments, there is always something that doesn’t quite fit properly, and this one is no different. To me, there are elements of each style that, correctly implemented with other good management approaches, can work well:
- The structure of a bureaucratic culture (minus the excessive paperwork) can provide desirable certainty for employees with respect to career pathways and communication channels.
- The engineering culture’s emphasis on the value of the team can improve individual engagement by providing a common beneficial goal.
- The individual recognition of the star culture can promote and reward ingenuity and innovation.
- While a strict autocracy would be stifling, a boss or leader with a strong personality and vision can sometimes be the solid foundation that a group or organization needs to set or correct its direction in troubled times.
- The commitment style emphasizes creating a committed team through a commitment to the team (loyalty works both ways).
The researchers concluded that the commitment style outperformed the others. However, a team or organization that does ONLY this will likely have very happy employees but a very poor bottom line. So applying and implementing the right substance rather than the right style makes more sense.
Culture – in a workplace, a community, or society at large – is a reflection of the people that make it, incorporating elements of their demographics, needs, goals, resources, and location. Therefore, leaders cannot make the culture. Leaders can influence it, by shifting some of the elements, exemplifying best practices, and contributing to and learning from the rest of the group.
I’m reluctant to make or take a prescription for the right culture. Moreover, I don’t think culture can be made-to-order. My role as a leader requires that I try to create an environment that enables each and all of the team members to perform at their best, feel empowered to make decisions and take action, and learn from each other and from their experiences. The culture will develop and evolve based on the group and their experiences, becoming something they all believe in and contribute to – something they own.
So, back to my vacation. No phone, no email. What happened? Absolutely nothing. In the time that I was gone, the team took actions and made decisions, got into trouble (not much) and then got themselves out of it, had some successes and some set-backs, and got stuff done. When I got back, everyone was still there – the same happy, productive, professional, collaborative bunch as when I left.
That’s our culture. It (hopefully) meets the needs of the team members who create it and contribute to it. The culture doesn’t have a name, and is not something that could be copied or recreated anywhere else. And why would anyone want to? No environment or team is exactly the same as ours. So while there are some elements of it that could desirable for another team, like in the list above, no single model can be determined as best in all circumstances.