The culture at the workplace is something many try to grasp, define, understand, and even copy. And for a good reason. Simply put, culture is the way things work around here – not something you could just leave unnoticed when aiming for results. As hard as it is to define or copy culture as such, what can be done is to try to describe what are the phenomena having the biggest effect on how it turns out. When thinking for instance Finnish culture, it has evolved the way it is due to several reasons in the past and present and thus is not the same as culture in let´s say Brazil. When we learn to see different affecting factors more closely, it becomes possibly easier to at least understand if not also shape the culture at work.
When thinking of the workplace cultures in the digital era, we can find some phenomena that heavily sets the tone on how cultures have evolved. For me, it seems that the biggest phenomena shaping the workplace cultures (especially in knowledge-intensive workplaces) are the following.
1. Democratisation of communication
The possibility for everyone to produce, consume and distribute information within an organisation has had a huge effect on how the power of communication has been distributed. In the past when company story as well as the decisions on what information is relevant and distributed (and to whom), was basically in the hands of upper leaders and the comms department. With widely spread discussion tools (Slack etc.) accompanied by the need for transparency has made all the different opinions, stories, interpretations etc. visible.
Of course, those have always been there, but now they are for all to see. Effect on culture? You need to have more skills to consume all that information, and as you also produce it, you must have more responsibility for it. Who owns and defines relevance? And from which perspective? Is it defined by the likings of your posting or is it relevant to who you are? Whose message gets airtime and why?
2. Organisation as networks
Work at hand does not sit anymore neatly in the tight org. structure. Already many years, it has been clear that work longs for constantly forming network-type teams. Work at hand longs to be experimented and it does not like the tight role-definitions done 6 months ago. How this then affects culture? It creates freedom and new possibilities to find your paths and not bore down in the same team and workflow for years. What it also creates is a feeling of uncertainty, especially if you have not been developing skills around networking, resilience, learning, experimenting, trust-building, dialog, setting your targets and more. It could also create hard times in cognitive load management if you put this phenomenon together with the first-mentioned above. A lot of information is being formed in constantly changing teams and everyone needs to navigate in this ocean of information and try to make sense.
3. Work means your ability to think your own thinking
Work is to be described (at least in the knowledge-intensive area) as a challenge or problem at hand, which is being solved by a suitable combination of competencies, not an 8-hour daily period. As the problems and challenges are constantly changing, learning new things has become the most important skill we use on working days – you will learn to work (meaning think) and we learn to become better thinkers. What does this mean to company culture? It means we need to start to understand more about how thinking works, how we think better together, how we tolerate different approaches and how diversity in thinking can create more novel solutions and ideas.
There are several skills which help you to navigate in the middle of these cultural traits described, I would name at least the following: Creating meaning of what is being expressed, sensemaking, managing the cognitive load, reflecting your own thinking, perceiving and creating a bright direction to oneself, tolerating uncertainty, resilience, building trust, skill to have meaningful dialog, self-knowledge, independent decision-making, taking part in communities, professional risk-taking with new skills and areas, investment in one’s own abilities.
At Solita, we want to offer and emphasise different ways to help our employees to find their path and learn these skills, in this ever-changing world of work. Relevant paths and support needed are not the same for everyone, but it is vital, that it is being offered – we don´t want to leave anyone alone.
- Our onboarding path with a focus on jointly created business case simulation helps our newcomers to understand the network-type organisation we have as well as see how different minds think together. Also, the onboarding session focusing on self-leadership and how you lead your learning is part of showing how to find your way at Solita culture. We also describe what kind of leadership dimensions we have and how these are built to support autonomy and a culture of caring.
- To cope with the cognitive load and to make sense of what is being expressed we offer self-leadership trainings monthly (which have been fully booked for nearly two years already) and the services of in-house as well as a virtual coach. Our People leads and colleagues are of course the closest support to practice dialog and thinking together. Competence communities and other interest groups bring people with different interest areas together to learn about each other and own thinking.
- When it comes to producing and consuming information, we often enough have “discussions on discussions” meaning the dialog one must have in open communication culture: what and how we make the best out of it. Also, our open for all info sessions (30 -45 min. session anyone can create on any relevant content) is a vital part of learning culture. As well as open intra, where anyone can share content with everyone or comment and edit content. By producing and consuming information together in a transparent way, we learn the freedom and responsibility coming along with it.
Outi Sivonen is working at Solita as a Director of Culture and Employee Experience. Join Outi and our Solita community!