Culture Design

Let’s talk about Culture Design!

My take on Culture Design

Having worked in the tech scene in the past 4 years, it often baffled me to see the amount of money and resources spent on developing and designing products, designing pitch decks, flying around the world for events and meetings and in comparison how little time and money are spent on people. On designing organizations and culture to create places of work which enable people to do excellent work and thrive. It often surprised me to hear, that culture is only a topic on the crowded agendas when conflict arises, when people leave or when the business is stagnating.

With culturedesign.org I’m aiming to share big parts of my work I’ve been doing in my role as Culture Lead at the Berlin-based startup company Mimi Hearing Technologies, and my experiences I gained over the past 10 years in various workplaces. Together with collaborators around the globe, I aim for present best practices, share existing research and science and design easy to use tools for anyone doing cultural and organizational design work in companies like founders, leadership teams and brand and people teams. For me, culture is happening at the interfaces of strategy, product, brand, and people. It’s not an “add-on” or “nice to have” but an essential part of every organization since it’s the operating system of humans.

Culture Design is, designing the way how we work with each other based on our human needs while respecting our very own software of emotions. Fun fact: We don’t have to do massive user research and long hours of workshops to find out our needs. Thanks to years of research we know what we need to thrive, tap into our creativity, deliver excellent work and be healthy and inspired while doing so. The way how we design our life as society has never been more diverse. Known and static structures are evolving and we have already started to redefine and redesign community, family, friendships, and relationships. New business models call for an update of our mindsets and the way we educate. It seems the big sea of uncertainty only gets bigger day by day.

But here some good news, we are still humans!

It doesn’t matter if you are a 22-year-old millennial tech entrepreneur or a 50-year-old Corporate Veteran. It doesn’t matter how many tech tools we put in front of us. We as the human species share the same needs and run on the same software of emotions.This software hasn’t changed. Yet, our brains are often still wired in the old way of hierarchical and static thinking because we haven’t run a proper update for ourselves.

So even though most of us might need to run some serious updates and fix some bugs, the basic human software hasn’t and won’t change. Here are a few thoughts to show you my current state of thinking about culture in organizations.

  • It’s us people who define and create culture through our actions, decisions, and behaviors.
  • Culture is that thing which makes people thrive or leave.  
  • Culture Design is often a secondary thought.
  • Culture Design starts the moment you found a company and put a new team together.  
  • No, there is no service yet where you can subscribe to company culture.
  • It’s one of those rare things which can’t be bought with fresh investment.
  • Culture is no magic work but it needs constant and dedicated attention.
  • Ping-pong tables and free breakfast is an easy but not useful way out.
  • If there is conflict, you can bet that it’s often not a fact-based conflict. Conflict arises in most cases because of us, because of people being people.
  • I don’t think that flat organizations are the holy grail. I strongly believe that all sorts of structures will co-exist. What might change is the misuse of those structures for playing power games.  
  • Putting down values and hang them up on the wall does not equal “having a great culture.” Without using them as guiding elements for product decisions, business decisions, in the brand and communication on a daily basis, defining values are waste of time and money.
  • The agile and hyped Startup world seemed to provide a blueprint for the question of „How do we work? How can established organizations transform and develop to keep up with the rapidly changing world?“ Yet, I personally believe, there is and won’t be a blueprint solution.  
  • The way how we work together has to be defined every time again. It’s us people in organizations that have to define our own culture and structure with regards to the desired outcome, again and again.
  • Culture Design is about people, our relationship to each other and us in relation to the desired goal of the company and organization we are part of.

About the people element in Culture

It is the way we connect, get appreciation, get challenged and grow. It is about our mindsets. The way we see the world and understand systems. How do we accept authorities? How do we make decisions? It’s about our needs in an organization. How do we give or wait for permission or do it ourselves? It is about our understanding of leadership. How we lead ourselves first. About our experience and relation with power dynamics. If we go ahead and make stuff happen or if we wait for an authority to sign things off. The way how we react to feedback, critique, and conflict. The way we react to a stressful situation. If we are able to leave our egos at the door lead or if we are blocked to do that. If we are driven by power or purpose. The way we are wired. The way we think, reflect and act.

About the relationship part

How do we organize work? How do we connect? How do we relate to each other? How do we get work done? How do we lead, follow and inspire each other? How do we learn from mistakes as a team? How do we acknowledge and celebrate successes?How do we walk through mistakes and failures in order to come out less fragile and smarter? How do we hold each other accountable and call each other out? How do we enable or disable each other? How do we show up for each other?

People in relation to the desired goal

Who sets goals and strategy? Who makes decisions? Who does what kind of job? What skills are needed? How do we hire and fire? Who is responsible? How do we develop and support personal growth? How do we grow as a team? How do we stay innovative? How do we define success for ourselves? How do we measure performance and skills? I strongly believe that the answers to those questions are to be found within and from every organization itself. Finding them might not be easy at all times but this is the field of Culture Design. Identifying the most important questions, coming up with solutions, test them, iterate on them, start again, optimize and keep going. Culture work is not static and will never have an end as long as the company is running and people are deciding to come together every day again to innovate, to create, to check off tasks, to push limits and to enjoy working with each other.

culturedesign.org aims to become a rich source for all topics around Culture Design. To inspire but even more, to give you concrete steps and guidance.

Stay tuned for more news and upcoming events. Reach out if you have a challenge you need support with or share your story and concrete strategies how you design culture at your organization to inspire others.