How Does Your Culture Foster Connection?


(Part of the Culture 401 series. The last one is here).

One of the fundamental tenets of traditional, 20th-century management is the division of labor. While the concept goes back much farther, division of labor was critical to the “revolution” part of the industrial revolution. Specializing and breaking things into pieces that could be done separately was, indeed, revolutionary for overall productivity. Instead of sending someone off to be an apprentice to the artisan for 10 years, I could train them in two weeks to do one piece of it and put them on the assembly line. Welcome to modern society.

But like most of the industrial revolution, the emphasis was on machine-like productivity and efficiency, and human-ness was not particularly considered. This is a problem, because while division of labor may be essential for productivity, its opposite—connection—is equally central to being human. Organizations in the 21st century need to figure out how to reconcile this contradiction.

I say reconcile, because this is clearly not an either/or choice. We’re not going back to the days of artisans and apprentices. We need productivity, and given the volume of work on our collective plates, we shouldn’t give up on specialization. But that doesn’t preclude designing a culture that maximizes connection at the same time.

I keep thinking of the great book, Orbiting the Giant Hairball, by Gordon Mackenzie. A key to Gordon’s survival in the corporate world was to maintain a healthy orbit around the “hairball” of the inner workings of the organization—connected enough to maintain the orbit, but outside enough to avoid getting tangled in the hairball. What would your organization look like if that balanced level of connection were integrated into your division of labor? I am a part of my specialty, but not so immersed in it that I can’t move easily into other orbits when I need to.

Here are some initial thoughts on what you’d need to make that happen:

  • You’ll need a really good transparency architecture. Not being able to see things makes it hard to connect.

  • You’ll need better people skills than you have today. If I can’t have my conflict with you, I’ll choose to stay disconnected.

  • You’ll need to take “inclusion” to the next level. We’re really good at talking the game of inclusion, but I don’t think we’re good at doing it.

  • You might need AI. Remember, we need to increase connection without losing productivity. I’m wondering if tech can help us sift through the millions of possible connections to zero in on the ones we need right now.

  • You’ll need to give people time. This is a tough one, because it feels like the opposite of productivity, but if we require people to work 100% of their time on their specialty, they will always be mired in the hairball.

If you’re interested in engaging in a small pilot project related to understanding and improving connection in your organization, let me know.

Photo by Rémi Walle on Unsplash

Jamie NotterComment