Defining A Culture Code
Some rambling thoughts on growing teams, culture and working remote.
Our team recently doubled from one dozen to two dozen. Many people caution that for a company that is growing fast, maintaining culture is very important. At Frappe, we have attempted to create a culture that believes in remote work, self-driven work and result oriented work. Our culture is chaotic, outspoken and meritocratic. Along with this, we try to maintain the tough balance of both useful and creative work. Those who work at Frappe say that they love the work culture we have here, and often recommend their friends to join too.
Culture gets embedded in the the way we handle situations, the way we take on challenges and, the way measure our selves. We have never codified this and we are worried that this might change if we grow too quickly and are not careful about it.
Benefits of Remote
A lot of productive, new age companies are remote. The explosive growth of communication tools and bandwidth make it easy for so many things to be done remotely. Writing, analysis, programming, debugging, reviewing, monitoring, customer support, sales, preparing reports, filing taxes, auditing, testing, teaching, chatting, gossip can all be done remote. Almost anything you can do sitting in an office, can be done remotely.
If you are living in cities, specially the ones where commuting is a nightmare, remote working can save you almost one day of the week. Not to mention the tiredness and annoyance you pile up commuting through heavy traffic. Remote working not only saves up time, but also helps you connect with most talented people who may work from anywhere in the world. So far, all wins!
On the other side, remote working and communicating without being physically present is not native to us as humans. A lot of communication happens via body language and tone, something that may not be accurately captured when texting or emailing (sometimes the emojis do help! 😅😜). This means that there is a lot potential knowledge that gets lost in the process.
Every company that keeps pushing itself to get better, has its own treasury of earned secrets. These secrets that the organization has learnt as it grew, are based on the strength of the team and the domain it operates on. For a company to keep being successful and growing, it should be able to codify and transmit these earned secrets to all its new members.
Being physically together also creates a feeling of security and a bonding with each other. In a healthy and non tyrannical team, members often get close to each other, getting used to mannerisms, emotional states and behaviors of their co-workers and build lasting friendships. This familiarity increases the co-ordination and the balance required to perform the group task, often results in a team member making up for a weakness of another.
Cultural Dimensions and Tensions
Not all cultures are created equal, and no culture is the best. Like all ideologies, cultural dimensions or attributes are more like a call that a company must take. Lets look at some of these dimensions:
- Centralization vs decentralization
- Risk vs stability
- Speed vs quality
- Order vs chaos
- Meritocracy vs compassion
- Hierarchy vs equality
- Oral vs written
- Extrovert vs introvert
- Outspoken vs respectful
- Commercially driven vs value driven
Every company must pick where it stands on a scale on each extreme. Every company needs people on both sides of the spectrum, the only defining characteristic being who is on the majority. The company must also be okay with some tension within its ranks, but ultimately pick a side, otherwise it will risk putting all their other systems at jeopardy.
For example, if a company works extremely well when things are in chaos, it can only handle a minority of very organized people. If too many organized people join the company, or if organized people get too assertive, then it will create a disharmony in the company. The chaotic communication and creativity channels will break up and people will be unhappy.
Cutting Bad Behavior
The #MeToo movement has shown that how widely prevailing bad behaviour is and why it is really important for companies to cut bad behavior. This also falls back towards the universal human right to be treated with respect, fairness and equality. Bad behavior may be in the form of dishonesty, tyranny, abuse of power and position, discrimination based on gender, race, community, physical characteristics, tastes and preferences.
The highest responsibility falls on the leadership (that would be me) to not only be self-aware and behave with the highest integrity, but also to create an safe environment and processes for someone to report such bad behavior.
This clearly does not mean that there will be no conflicts, no provocations, no stress, no criticism, no hard decisions (to let people go). Sometimes it is important to put a person in distress by criticism and questioning, to raise the level of alertness. Often times, people who go through this process come out stronger and better. If a person sets high standards, then that person should be willing to open up and take criticism and become better. Criticism and meritocracy should not be confused with bad behavior!
Culture is Fluid
Cultures change due to many reasons. When people join and leave a company, or the dynamics of the markets change, or as the company grows, the characteristics required to prosper change. Not all change comes planned, nor is it likely to be painless.
At Frappe we are also constantly changing our culture. From a technology focused company, we are trying to become a customer focused company. Or more likely, a dual focused company.
That brings us back to the Innovator’s Dilemma. Each characteristic will help the company win in certain cases or sustain in others. The solution to this dilemma is being ambidextrous, or multi-focused. While focus is really important from a strategic point of view, from a cultural point of view, it may better to be more flexible, specially let each team behave separately.
What Should be Codified?
Maybe the conclusion could be that uniformity may actually be the enemy of culture, specially in a more flexible and egalitarian society that we are beginning to get into.
The culture code must really be about explicitly defining bad behavior, and not force people to behave in a certain way. The document of culture must be what you cannot do rather than what you should do, while giving freedom to individuals.
A good culture will allow different people act differently, as long as the company and its people are growing, creating value, having fun and ensuring that the rights and dignity of every individual are being respected, and equal opportunity is given to everyone to shine!