In 2012, Google began Project Aristotle in its quest to build the 'perfect team’. They created a task force of their best statisticians, psychologists, researchers, sociologists, and engineers to look at 180 active teams and interview hundreds of employees to measure every aspect of their lives – from the teammates they socialize with, to how often they eat together, their education backgrounds, hobbies, and natures. No matter how these pundits arranged the data, they couldn’t find any strong patterns – some teams celebrated birthdays, while others got right to business.
As Google’s finest struggled to find the ‘who’ part of the ‘what made some work groups thrive over others’ equation, they found a common denominator: group norms. The dictum was: team members individually may behave differently – they may be deviants willing to ruffle feathers or chafe against authority or maybe conformists – but when together, the norms of a group override individual proclivities. A team’s culture expressed through common norms and shared beliefs defines how a group functions and has a profound impact on its performance. Perhaps, this is why high-performing organizations place workplace culture at the heart of their strategic priorities.
With the power to be a lasting source of competitive advantage, a strong company culture can drive revenues through the roof! Clever product positioning, superior strategy, better skills, and talent – they all serve, but a festered culture can eat even the best of strategies for breakfast. A culture-first board room doesn’t have shareholders’ profits as its ultima Thule. It recognizes that when you get the culture right, other schemas – ‘owning’ the customers and building a lasting brand – will crystalize on their own.
A growing interest in culture is an extension of the people-first revolution that focuses on building a workplace with a sense of belongingness. The coming decade will belong to the culture-first organizations, redefining why they do what they do, as they take on epoch-defining challenges. Consider these archetypes.
When teams work best with robust workplace cultures, is there one right culture every organization can aspire to inculcate? The answer is no.
Forging algorithms where real workplace connections can form, and scaling them depends upon your core values (why you do what you do) and how those values mesh with your mission (what you do). While it’s for every company to define its core values, here are two behaviors, expounded by Project Aristotle, which are shared by successful group cultures:
As commerce becomes global and complex, old ways of managing people are rigid for modern marketplace and workers’ expectations. Success is continually becoming team-based. A study by Harvard Business Review revealed the time spent by managers in collaborative activities has swollen by 50 percent or more. This is making the shift to culture-first a business imperative. Some factors driving this change are:
Managing across generations
Workforce composition today is very different from the past. Gen Z is already entering the workforce, millennials constitute over 50 percent of it and baby boomers are working longer than usual – into their 70s and 80s. Each generation comes with its distinct characteristics. The need to manage across generations will necessitate intelligent teamwork.
Premiums aren’t everything
Millennials and Gen Z care deeply about where they work. They are seeking more meaningful workplace experiences. Compensation is no longer a watertight method to keep your younger workers in their seats. Only 38 percent of Gen Zers compared to 41 percent of millennials said they would leave a job because of low compensation (Gartner, 2018). Organizations will need to prioritize culture to connect to a purpose beyond profit.
Primacy for career development
The biggest draw for both millennials and Gen Z is the opportunity for career progression and learning opportunities. Companies looking for a career commitment from these generations will need to offer invigorating workplaces in return. If leveraged in the right manner, this attitudinal change can prove to be a long-term strategy for organizations in finding and retaining top talent and improving productivity.
Communication in gig economy
Optimal communication and collaboration are becoming hard to achieve with a workforce that is dispersed, global, and mobile. A significant portion of employees is temporary workers, contractors and freelancers. Tapping this talent from across geographies, especially developing markets where their percentage is highest (BCG, 2018), can be a competitive differentiator for businesses. Managers and HR need to effectively blend their permanent workforce with gig workers, which demands a highly harmonized communication strategy.