A bit over a year ago, I wrote about Rules for Branding, Mentoring, and Creativity. In it, there is some advice for expanding your horizons, choosing new skills to master, being creative, and finding ways to be there for others as they make their own progress. As I revisit it, everything I wrote still holds true for me. Doing this type of ongoing work requires you to assess your own talents and values. Doing it right means that you present a positive example for your network of peers and helps lift them up. That’s the way I approach living my life and how I work with those people close to me. It’s got a decided result which is a byproduct of what I do.
There are to ways to influence behavior.
There are to ways to influence behavior. One’s going to work longer term than the other and be more meaningful.
My teammates at work are big fans of Simon Sinek. You may or may not have heard of him, but he’s got the third most watched TED Talk of all time. It’s titled How Great Leaders Inspire Action. I’m in the process of reading his book Start With Why and am doing some highlighting and illustrating as I go (here’s the last book I did that with). One of the tenets in it is that there are two ways to influence behavior: Manipulation and Inspiration. As you can guess, I tend to go more towards the inspiration route. The byproduct is that you’re seen as a resource and influencer which draws you into situations with new ideas and opportunities for collaboration. People don’t have barriers up when they know you can help crystalize their ideas and that they’ll get something out of a conversation without feeling like their work will be stolen. It’s an entirely different kind of relationship which builds trust on common beliefs and values.
Once there's trust, you can inspire.
Aligning beliefs and values is a strong foundation for trust. Once there’s trust, you can inspire.
One of my teammates recently left the company for a new opportunity. We touched base after he’d been on the job a few weeks and he mentioned liking the overall culture of his new company despite truly loving what he had in our group. We discussed the idea of creating micro-cultures. We’d certainly built one of our own and it extended out to other groups and individuals we work with regularly. Interestingly enough, Simon Sinek posted a short clip to Facebook which explained things from a slightly different direction.
This take essentially says that you shouldn’t count on influencing management far up the food chain. You can’t count on changing them. What you can do is pay attention to your own situation and those you work with. How you choose to inspire or manipulate them does have a daily effect on how you feel about your job. It’s got the reverse impact too: what they do and how they act impacts you. This is reflected in every survey I’ve seen on employee satisfaction. People rely on and trust those closest to them and those feelings have a half-life as you go higher in the organization. Regardless of what upper leadership espouses, you’re going to have the most faith in those who you have a direct exchange of trust with.
Your group’s culture is certainly related to the overall organization. You’ve got a choice about what you do within it. You may be happy existing as-is. Depending on the size of the company, creating your own micro-culture may not be simply a good idea, it may be an imperative. How you express those beliefs, values, and ideas is up to you and the atmosphere you want to establish. Everyone’s is going to take a different form. Those based on trust are going to build the longest term benefits for everyone involved.
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2 thoughts on “Micro-Cultures

  1. Great post, Eric. interestingly, coming form a small(er) company perspective, and as a member of the executive management team, we are trying very hard to create a culture of collaboration, transparency and empowerment all the way “down” through our organization. We have multiple challenges doing so, we are “global” (although not really, in our case global refers to a center of gravity in Israel and other people distributed in the US and UK (largely). It is hard work. I personally feel that culture can’t be forced – it’s organic. One of the best examples I know is that at my previous company (which we sold to IBM) we organically developed a culture where a substantial number of key, focused people worked really well (and very hard) together to build something. Many of those people have joined me and another colleague from there who is also on the management team alongside me, here. There is a magnetic attraction from us to them, and apparently (and quite gratifyingly) from them to us. I chalk some of that to “foxhole” mentality – we’ve had each other’s backs, in many business battles – there is a trust element. That goodness has however created our own micro-culture – and this smaller team isn’t as “trusted” by the rest of our organization – we either give off a vibe of exclusiveness or we may just all think alike, and are somewhat self-directing. It has caused its own cultural divide, an “us versus them” kind of vibe. Reality is that this group wants nothing more than to rise the ride of the rest, but it isn’t perceived that way. Human dynamics are so interesting.

    1. Yes, human dynamics are certainly interesting. This happens a lot in acquisitions. There are times when new groups are cordoned off and an adversary complex arises. Then there are times when groups are absorbed and cultures which took a long time to grow are crushed as a result. I don’t know that there’s a perfect blend. I do believe that open inclusiveness and a willingness to change always helps. Not everyone is up for that.

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