Before your Next Strategy Workshop…

Don’t you feel special when you are part of the team that goes on retreat to plan the company strategy? You’ve been selected because you are one of the individuals who is deemed to know and embody the corporate culture, and so you get to take part in the process of documenting said culture through mission statements, BHAGs and such, so that it can be neatly written up in a poster and disseminated among the rest of the organisation who just don’t quite get it. It’s an important job because there’s new people in the company and they need to know what you are all about! Think of the new people!

In the initial stages of a startup when there are just a few people everyone tends to work so closely together that informal processes and strategies are formed which are a mystery even to those involved, but somehow it just works with very little friction. This is a true culture. However once you start building on the early success born of this culture and the company grows to a dozen or so people, there starts to be more and more specialisation of roles and the people filling those roles want to know the rules. There forms a divide between those that embodied the original culture and the new people who came on board and find it difficult to fit in. That’s when you no longer have a culture you have a clique.

The original people are smart enough to sense that something like a clique’esque situation is forming and so what do they do? They try and document their culture so they can teach it to the new people. They often do this in reaction to feedback from the new people such as “you guys all just seem to know how each other works”, “I’ve found it difficult to understand what my role is”, “I would like to know more clearly what your expectations are of me” and “you really should have some policies and procedures”. So the members of the clique (and maybe one or two new people) go on a planning session and everyone puts their heads together and tries to define the culture.

It doesn’t work out, you simply take your first step away from being the company you were with a strong unique culture to being generic ACME Inc with a mission statement and policies and procedures. The core problem is actually that the new people are terrified of doing the wrong thing. What they don’t know is that the clique members are making mistakes all the time, but forgiving themselves and each other for their mistakes.

To the “new people”: There is nothing to be afraid of, you’ll make mistakes, get over it and get on with the job. The clique isn’t waiting for you to make mistakes and as far as they are concerned they give you permission to do whatever you think is right.

To the “clique”: First, be smart enough to acknowledge that you are a clique. Second, don’t expect that everyone is clique material, they may just want to be told the rules, do the job and go home (always question whether you really should be hiring for those roles or if you can just do them yourself). Finally resist the temptation to document your culture in policies & procedures, instead make it self evident in your product and it’s by-products (like your blog).