When your organization is a patchwork,
So, here’s an observation:
Increasingly I have heard leaders and organizational key opinion leaders voice their concerns about “a clear fragmentation of our organization”. Work-from-home and hybrid workstyles has shifted the workplace bonds from consisting primarily of distant, regular interactions in the organization to that of a few strong ties in a close-knit clan. In other words, from organization to team. This changes the culture, the feeling of community, and the leadership tasks.
Let’s explore that signal.
By Erik Korsvik Østergaard
30th of August 2022
The rise of the micro-community
I have observed this across industries, across scale-ups and large corporates, and across professional domains: Micro-communities are emerging inside the organizations.
Micro-communities, which have their own “cultural dialects”, their own slang, and their own ways of working, and which could almost be an independent company. Gone are homogeneous cultures. Instead, we observe heterogeneous cultures.
But why? Here are two reasons for that. There might be more, but these two are the most frequent and persistent reasons, according to my observations:
“When we work from home or work virtually, we are isolated or feel isolated. We only reach out to our team members. We stay in touch with eachother way more often than when we connect to the broad organization. It’s hard to get a feeling of the overall culture, and the magnetism of ‘us’ is very weak.”
“Clearly, we want to work in another way than the other teams. OUR way fits us, our business domain, and our customers (being internal or external, it doesn’t matter). We want to use [Scrum/Teal/Lean startup/Holacracy] and the other teams use something else. We feel like a fragmented piece, like a team in the ecosystem … but that’s ok for us. It fits US.”
These two patterns both push towards a localized culture with strong ties. You start reaching out more to your team members to connect with them, to share pictures and “good morning post cards”, and to get a feeling of how people are feeling.
Increasingly you focus on the team, not the organization. Slowly the organization resembles a patchwork of teams with different and diverse cultures and ways of working. A patchwork of micro-communities.
Signal 7: Extreme localization of cultures in organizations
Possible scenarios and consequences of the patchworked organization
The patchworked organization is a good thing because these micro-communities are perfectly designed by the team, with the team, and for the team. People have a sense of belonging and meaningfulness. This is a place where people want to show up and where work gets done in a way, that fits the jobs to be done and the expectations of the stakeholders.
It does however clearly have two obvious disadvantages: one horizontally and one vertically.
- Horizontally there will be a transaction and translation friction between the multitude of communication styles, collaboration approaches, and cultural traits. This requires an active investment in cultural ambassadorship and in cultural brokerage. Somebody needs to stitch the patchwork together so that the teams form a coherent fabric that works sufficiently smooth.
- Vertically there will be friction in establishing a shared and joint understanding of a unanimous purpose and goal, and an adherence to the non-negotiable cultural virtues, that still exists as guiding principles and northern stars for the group of collaborating people in the patchwork that we call the organization. Again, somebody need to stitch it all together.
You need to be able to translate between the teams. You need to be able to move information between the teams. You need to understand where we’re going and how fast. And you need to be able to engage people, even across this massive and board patchwork, to share with them what the patchwork looks like from 10,000 feet. This is a leadership task, but with more leadership roles than titles.
So, the questions are:
- What’s the likelihood of this affecting you?
- And what’s the likability of the effect?
It seems from my observations and anecdotes that the likelihood is high. It seems unavoidable and inevitable to happen.
I’m not sure that everyone finds this likable though.
Clearly, some do. I met a leader two weeks ago that LOVED the fragmented patchwork, because he clearly saw that positive impact it had on the teams: Their wellbeing and performance rose. He also liked his new role as a “stitcher”, tying the teams together, being there as coach and mentor for the individual people, and acting as ambassador for the stakeholders that they worked with. He loved that role.
I also met a leader that really felt incompetent, and that the momentum of the organization was gone. The usual togetherness and coherent consistence were lost, and both the people and the customers we’re slowly eroding away.
The observation and signal of fragmentation is undeniable.
It’s up to you to explore and evaluate that signal in your context.
The Horizon Scanning Document on the Futures of Work
It’s called a ‘Horizon Scanning’ document because we scout into the horizon to see what developments and movements that are coming towards us.
We stand on our toes – or even a ladder – to get a glimpse of the anomalies and odd happenings, that might affect us.
The Horizon Scanning Document is used both as inspiration for your work, and as a concrete tool for Signal Sorting during the Futures Thinking process.
The document does not list the current trends but focuses on the signals that might lead to the next trends.