Healthy Organizational Cultures Focus on Humanity and Connection (Not Your Whole Self)

You might have heard about the Basecamp culture changes last week. I’m sure you heard about Google’s culture problems several years ago.

These problems are issues of culture: specifically what we can and cannot discuss.

What do “makers”—technical people—in any industry need to discuss? Big product issues:

  • Why we are working on this project at this time
  • The purpose of this product
  • The organization’s overall purpose
  • Which customers we want
  • How those customers will interact with this product

And a whole lot more.  Please notice these ideas are about the products, and why the organization exists.

People also need to discuss their collaboration (or lack thereof). Especially when and how to:

  • Organize the work
  • Offer and receive feedback
  • Which coaching stance is useful and when and how to coach each other
  • Learn together
  • Remove, change, and add issues and ideas into how we work

And a whole lot more.

We also need to talk about our humanity. Possibly our children or grandchildren. Definitely, the “best” kind of coffee or tea. Vacations? Sure, briefly. (Probably not all your vacation pictures.)

These kinds of conversations reinforce our humanity, create common ground and promote teamwork.

I have not seen any political conversations ever create common ground and reinforce our humanity in the workplace. These conversations definitely do not promote teamwork.

I have seen explanations of religion and religious observance create humanity in the workplace. I have not seen religious disagreement create that humanity.

Why do some of us currently want to talk about politics or religion? Because we think the organization is a family.

Organizations Are Not Families

No organization is a family. With any luck, your family loves you even (maybe especially) if you are a jerk. (I am lucky. So far, my family does love me even when I am a jerk. I realize not all families do.)

If you want unconditional love, get a dog. If you want grudging love, get a cat.

Create your loving family outside of work. If you’re lucky and you work really hard at your familial relationships, you will create your loving family. You can create loving friendships if you learn to love yourself and support other people.

(Side note: I have discovered I can create better relationships at work when I have sufficient relationships outside of work. That's me.)

But remember this:

The company does not love you. It never will.

WhenI think of companies “loving” their employees, I think about paternalistic organizations. I strongly dislike the idea of a paternalistic organization, where the company decides what’s right for me in many dimensions. (See Practical Ways to Manage Yourself for more information.)

if you are very lucky, you will find people at work with whom you can create lasting human relationships outside of work, also. Keep those political and religious conversations for outside of work.

This is why our “whole selves” do not belong at work.

Do I think that Basecamp and Google could have handled their issues with more finesse? Absolutely.  I suspect that the managers missed the early warning signs the culture was going off the rails.

We can be authentic without bringing our whole selves to work. Some parts of our (whole) selves need privacy. We especially need that privacy for politics and religion.

Create More Humanity

Instead of divisive conversations, ask yourself these questions: “How can I create more humanity in the workplace? How can we connect with each other and find common ground?”

I don’t happen to garden, but I can appreciate yours. You don’t have to have children or grandchildren to make appropriates happy noises when you see pictures of my grandchild. We can exchange pointers on where to get the best takeout or which flour is best for sourdough. Even if I don’t bake bread.

Instead of our whole selves, let’s think about how to create more humanity to ease the work, just a little.

Work is hard enough without divisiveness separating us.

Create and refine your healthy organizational culture when you focus on humanity and connection. Forget the whole self business.

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