Developing Togetherness?

Collaborate Values are the most sought after culture shifts by employees in today's business world. This is intriguing to us as we find that collaborate cultures are some of the most difficult to take advantage of agile ways of working. Seem like a contradiction? Read more to find out...

Pete Behrens shares some perspectives on competitive cultures and the drive to be more collaborative…

Where Do Competitive Values Thrive?

Back in 2006, I was introduced to a “little” company called Salesforce.com. I say “little”, because at the time in comparison to who they are today (2019 at the time of this writing), they were a mere post-startup organization in a thriving growth culture. They were also deeply rooted in the Silicon Valley with their CEO Mark Benioff coming from Oracle. I share the Salesforce.com agile story in another article. I recall one of our early leadership offsite programs with leaders across their Research & Development Organization attending. I ran a new game I developed for the first time called “Cross-the-Line”. If you have attended one of our agile leadership workshops today, you might recognize this game. If not, it may be worth attending one to play it for yourself. To this day, I have not had a single result of the game like that day at Salesforce.com where not a single leader crossed-the-line. To me and the leaders attending, this was a pinnacle moment in understanding their competitive value system.

Today, we see competitive values thriving in many industries where competition runs high, especially so in emerging technology, retail and consulting, and growing in industries like banking, insurance, auto where the global competitive landscape is disrupting at a rapid pace.

Why The Desire for Collaborate Values?

In our back-of-the-envelope analysis, collaborate values tend to be the most sought after values by employees we survey. The question is why? Is it due to a lack of connectedness in a digital global world? Is it the breakdown of the family support system? Is it that organizations are typically industrial complexes of functional and departmental silos? Is it that people are treated as a number, a cog in a wheel? Likely there are factors present in all of these hypotheses.

Why Do Collaborative Cultures Have Difficulty with Agile?

As we mentioned above in the introduction, the difficulty collaborative cultures have in improving agility seems like a contradiction. Collaboration and Team are at the heart of agility most represented in the Scrum Framework. Collaboration is rooted in the Agile Manifesto – “Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation”.

Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
– the fourth principle of the Agile Manifesto

Recognize the rest of the collaborative value system. Collaborative values also encourage giving everyone a voice, sticking together no matter what, we are a family, we support each other, and so on. We often associate family values as healthy, fun, safe, engaging homes. However, consider your extended family gatherings. How healthy, fun, safe and engaging do they feel? That’s right. Extended Families have a lot of conflict because we cannot choose our family members. Many family cultures exhibit this same hidden conflict, because they stick together for so long, they have past the point of dealing with conflict and it becomes unhealthy.

Recognize also the collaborative’s position relative to competitive. They are opposites. That means that the values of a competitive culture are about speed, quickness, nimbleness, winning, being first, being best, and more. Thus, collaborative cultures tend to be fairly slow. Giving everyone a voice and making sure everyone is on the same page takes a lot of time. I hear complaints often of collaborative cultures who say “All we do is talk, talk talk. We never decide and move forward.”

It is for these reasons of non-addressed conflict and making sure everyone is on board that limits collaborative cultures towards agile ways of working. The lack of speed and ability to break old ways of working hinders their experimenting and iterating on new ways of working.

So What Can We Do?

There are two perspectives to consider here: non-collaborative cultures seeking to strengthen collaborative values, and collaborative cultures seeking to balance their over-collaborative value system. In both cases, the experiments below are likely to help.

Both-And Thinking

Regarding of culture shaping direction, one of the keys to successful shaping is both-and thinking. Both-And thinking provides an opportunity to explore the value system without completely letting go of the counter value system. For example, increasing innovation without increasing risk would be exploring safe experiments.

Salesforce.com had a dominant competitive value system and sought out increased collaborative values. In this situation, we retained the competitive edge by shifting from competitive individuals to competitive teams. We kept their root competition and simply refocused it toward a collaborate value. This kept the intensity of their work, but brought it together with focus.

Specifying the Value System

Another approach is to define specifically what the value system means. Every value system is a collection of values and to lump them all together in one bucket can be risky and problematic. Creative values span the spectrum of autonomy and freedom, experimentation, keeping options open, taking risks, striving for a transformative change, open to ideas, visionary and forward thinking, reducing policies, and more. Thus, an organization focusing on creative values may emphasize forward new thinking over complete autonomy and freedom (or visa-versa).

At a financial company based in Denver, Colorado, while the desire was to shift toward collaboration, leaders were fearful creating a feel-good family culture would reduce their competitive edge in the marketplace. Thus, they specifically highlighted a few specific values that collaboration meant to them as an organization: intense teamwork and fast decision making, mutual respect and trust, and high commitment to our growth vision. It didn’t mean a relaxed family culture where everyone has a voice in all decisions.

Read More

2012 IBM Chief Executive Officer Study Highlights: Leading Through Connections – A seemingly timeless study illustrating we are now in a continuous feedback kind of world with the need for organizational nimbleness to respond which empowers employees through values, engages customers as individuals, and amplifies innovation with partnerships.

2019 The Atlantic Article: How Life Became an Endless, Terrible CompetitionMeritocracy prizes achievement above all else, making everyone—even the rich—miserable. Maybe there’s a way out. I add this reference as competitive cultures value meritocracy. This article was a difficult read for me as meritocracy is a value I hold close to my heart.

What would you do?

We hope these illustrations have helped in your understanding of improving togetherness, while avoiding the pitfall of too-much togetherness. We also know that these are not the only solutions out there. We’d love to hear from you and the experiments you have tried.

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