Entries in organizational culture (33)


It's summertime, so what are we reading?

In addition to the books that we enjoy over August, we like to use this time to catch up on the thoughts, research and analysis found in some of our favorite sources. We have handy links to many of them here.

The newest addition to the list is Devex Impact. Devex Impact is a global initiative by Devex and USAID in partnership with top international organizations and private industry. Devex is a media platform for the global development community, connecting and informing 700,000+ people.

-- Clara Shen


Culture and the digital workplace

There is a great deal of activity focused on the growing digital environment -- businesses, strategy consultants, technology experts and academics are exploring how to function effectively in this rapidly-evolving landscape. Yet unless your business is a startup, these new strategies, operational processes and technical solutions must be implemented within an established business, meaning that the culture of your organization is an important factor to consider.

Shimrit Janes from the Digital Work Group wrote an informative piece last year that quite succinctly describes the relationship between culture and the digital workplace. In particular, she notes that the success or failure of new collaboration tools and other digital initiatives can vary from one company to the next due to the alignment (or lack thereof) between the new ways of working and the existing culture.

Through the research carried out so far, a truism has emerged: an effective digital workplace is one that mirrors the culture of an organization.”

Interestingly, this end result can be reached via two distinct paths. The first is by taking an approach to the digital workplace that aligns with existing culture, though there are cases where this is just not possible. So, a second viable approach is the counterintuitive one of building a digital culture at odds with the existing culture in order to precipitate a "values crisis" that leads to positive cultural change.

In both cases, the author recommends taking the time to understand your existing culture(s) before embarking on new journeys. With this understanding of existing values and practices, the right digital "interventions" can be planned and executed.

-- Bojan Angelov

Shimrit Janes

Corporate culture and framing innovation opportunities

One of our distinguished Catalyst Fellows, Professor Anne-Laure Fayard, has recently published a paper (co-authored with Emmanouil Gkeredakis and Natalia Levina) that examines "how an organization’s culture, and in particular its stance toward the pursuit of knowledge and innovation, matters when confronting new digitally enabled practices for generating novel insights.”

The work follows the experience of two innovation consultancies that considered crowdsourcing for innovation, and describes the different positions enacted by the firms. To explain the differences, the authors developed the concept of organizational epistemic stance, defined as "an attitude that organizational actors collectively enact in pursuing knowledge.”  Professor Fayard and her co-authors conclude:

Our analysis suggests that when organizational actors encounter and explore information technology-enabled practices, such as crowdsourcing and big data analytics, they are likely to remain committed to their epistemic stance to frame such practices and judge their potential value for pursuing knowledge."

We think this will be of interest to anyone interested in the relationship between innovation and culture and encourage you to explore further. A full abstract and links to the full paper can be found here.

-- Bojan Angelov


More on the dynamics and communication patterns of highly effective groups

Clara’s post last week got me thinking about other research that has been undertaken regarding the dynamics of teams within the workplace, and what that data might contribute to the discussion.

The practice of allowing "Equal Share of Speaking Time" in meetings, or "Conversational Turn-Taking," has also been independently identified by MIT researchers (from my favorite group there, Human Dynamics) as one of a handful of key factor of success for teams (see this article from Harvard Business Review).

According to the MIT research, successful team meetings are characterized by the following:

  1. Everyone on the team talks and listens in roughly equal measure, keeping contributions short and sweet.

  1. Members face one another, and their conversations and gestures are energetic.
  2. Members connect directly with one another—not just with the team leader.
  3. Members carry on back-channel or side conversations within the team.
  4. Members periodically break, go exploring outside the team, and bring information back.

Personally, I love #4, which busts the myth of the necessity for stern unyielding meeting discipline.

The team at MIT has even developed an online teleconference tool that shows a visualization of the participants: a circle that starts at the middle and gets closer and closer to you if you speak too much; the objective is for the team to "keep the ball at the center.”

Image source: Harvard Business Review

-- Yassine El Ouarzazi



Google, working groups and the nature of work

What happens when a company at the forefront of the digital economy -- one that is known globally for fostering new ways to unleash employee creativity to drive growth -- decides to apply it's expertise in data collection and analysis to improve the performance of its teams? Google undertook this effort, and the short answer is that for a long time, nothing much happened because the data yielded few patterns...and the ones that did emerge were often contradictory.

Ultimately, despite the apparently contradictory data, Google’s intense data collection and number crunching  led it to a conclusion that good managers have intuitively known for a long time: the best teams find ways to listen to each other and read the reactions, moods and feelings of other members.

The team at Google responsible for the ‘‘employee performance optimization’’ research believes the effort was valuable even though its conclusions echo those previously articulated by earlier managers. They argue that it has created a method for talking about our insecurities, fears and aspirations in more constructive ways, and that it also has given us the tools to quickly teach lessons that once took managers decades to absorb.

Just having data that proves to people that these things are worth paying attention to sometimes is the most important step in getting them to actually pay attention." -- Julia Rozovsky, Google

We encourage you to read through the interesting, more complete story in this New York Times feature, What Google Learned From Its Quest To Build The Perfect Team. You can also check out Google's own "curated collection" of tools and lessons learned from its study of the workplace here.

-- Clara Shen