Hungry for Culture Design
Last week I presented on the dynamics of company culture at two events in downtown San Francisco. On Tuesday, I hosted my first of four culture design workshops at PARISOMA and two days later, I shared a talk on fostering effective communication for founding teams at Rock Health. Though the focus of each event differed, I saw a striking commonality uniting all attendees. Each person was palpably hungry for clarity and understanding of how to thoughtfully, effectively shape their company culture.
Perhaps this shouldn’t have been notable. After all, everyone present signed up or opted in to attend these events. But it caught my awareness as yet another proof point of the demand for this work. Particularly the demand for greater specificity and orientation to the domain of culture, stretching beyond the usual territory of tips and tricks.
I saw people respond to my framing of culture as a coherent structure with an anatomy and governing principles that can be known and engaged with. At PARISOMA, great group discussions came in response to the idea that mindset and beliefs are ultimately the strongest determining factor shaping culture. Using Dr. Carol Dweck’s work on Fixed vs. Growth Mindsets, they explored what type of values and behaviors one might be likely to find in a Growth Mindset company. Namely, if a group of people believe that intelligence and talent can be cultivated, how would they conduct business? The similarity in ideas each of the groups brainstormed was overwhelming—transparency, rapid feedback loops, open-mindedness, trusting individual judgment, role modeling and integrity, relating to mistakes as growth opportunities. And at Rock Health, there was excellent dialogue about how to shift personal communication behaviors once one becomes aware of patterns that don’t serve. In both cases, there was an electric creative impulse toward improving how we behave as individuals and teams enabled by a big picture framing on culture.
Oftentimes, I think much of the confusion surrounding company culture stems from lack of awareness of the unspoken assumptions we have about the best way to do business or work in groups. When we look directly at those beliefs running our individual and collective operating systems, only then do we have the choice to evolve our beliefs and behaviors in a way that can stick. It was this moment, the direct gazing, assessing, and choosing that seemed to energize people up across the board.
I’ve seen this same phenomenon happen for over ten years in my work as a culture designer and it’s still novel to me. Every single time, I get lit up helping people gain insight and tools to feel empowered as creative agents in their own businesses and lives. This is the trajectory I see business heading toward more and more and the startup world has played a significant role in this shift. Here’s to the vision of workplaces as hubs of individual and collective transformation becoming par for the course.