In my last blog I outlined the metatheory of workplace design which is composed of four major factors: culture, management focus, patterns of communication, and physical arrangements in time and space. This blog will focus on the cultural aspect.
Dimensions of culture
“Culture, in a word, is community.” This quote from Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones in the Harvard Business Review begins their analysis of different cultures. Hence, communities are the glue that holds modern companies together. They contend that other cultures are more or less effective in specific business environments. Leaders need to understand their environment and then construct a culture that supports that type of environment. There are two fundamental dimensions to their map of communities.
Sociability is “a measure of sincere friendliness among members of a community,” and Solidarity is “a measure of a communities ability to pursue shared objectives quickly and effectively. These two dimensions construct a grid that defines the four major types of communities.
Networked organizations are “not by a lack of hierarchy but by a perfusion of ways to get around it.” They are all very friendly with one another but operate on different business agendas. Usually, you see this in a multiple operating division company which is only unified by ‘the way we do things around here.” These cultures are consummate political atmospheres where a great deal of time is spent forwarding the personal agendas of managers.
This structure can be very effective in business environments with extended strategic time frames spanning years, if not decades. The corporate headquarters can do well with little inter-divisional coordination. A great example of this type of organization today is Hewlett-Packard. Its many divisions, business segments, and emphasis on the “H-P Way.” However, as we have seen in the past months, this may be changing in response to an evolving business environment where time frames are shorter. Local customs have given way to global e-commerce, and corporate success depends on unity.
Fragmented organizations are ugly places to work. There is no sense of belonging and function only for economic gain. People don’t identify themselves as ‘members’ but as ’employees. “People work with their doors shut or at home.” Process-based organizations, like manufacturing, which outsource large parts of the work, are effective fragmented organizations. Professional organizations such as university environments can work well in this type of culture. Goffee and Jones also suggest that ‘fragmented cultures often accompany organizations that have become virtual…”.
Mercenary organizations are your classical start-up firm. Total unity on purpose “defeat the competition.” They respond quickly and are united in effort. Work and social life are clearly separated, thus allowing an intolerance of poor performance. They will execute the plan, change on a dime and throw you out in a flash. Little loyalty exists.
This type works well when the change in markets and products is very rapid, economies of scale can be reached, and goals are measurable. Software giants like Microsoft personify the mercenary organization.
Finally, communal organizations are characterized by an emphasis on social affairs as well as business performance. Unfortunately, this can create an oscillating tension between focus or Solidarity and interaction which takes up time. Some people think this makes this form of organization inherently unstable. We disagree that this is necessarily true in a Communities of Commerce environment.
Communal type organizations are especially effective in teamwork across extended boundaries is required; learning synergies exist among its members, and there is a clear long term development strategy. In short, the Communities of Commerce environment. The inherent tension can be resolved by moving organizational forms as required and never getting the entire firm stuck in one cultural mode. The multi-mode operation may be the ultimate strength of the virtual environment – because of its inherent fluidity.
So, there you have it. Four basic cultural types are characterized by different levels of sociability and solidarity. I see those dimensions as roughly equivalent to status (sociability) and power (solidarity). Next up in this series will be an explanation of the focus of management in different work environments.
Culture is the rhythm of lived experience. So, Mr. Simon take us out.