Back to Basics

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Back to Basics

Back to Basics

Back to Basics – farther than you might think!

For some time now I’ve been suggesting that we re-examine the basics.

This has meant the basics of communication, the basics of project management, the basics of team dynamics, and the basic understanding of how a culture feeds into and affects the behaviors of teams.

I am in the midst of exploring Eric Weiner‘s The Geography of Genius. He offers an expansion of the definition of culture. That, and the resulting tweak of its impact on us as people, struck me.

According to Weiner,

“Culture is more than what the dictionary tells us: “a set of shared attitudes, values and goals”. Culture is the enormous yet invisible ocean in which we swim. Or, to put it in modern, digital terms, culture is a shared IT network. Yes, it’s temperamental and crashes too often for our liking, but without it, we can’t communicate with one another or accomplish much of anything.”

He also makes the point that within every culture are sub-cultures – a part of, but also apart from, the overarching culture.

Think of it as the difference between how a person from manufacturing might view a new product versus how a person from product development might view it.  Then throw in the folks from finance and the human resources department.

Each area of expertise has also generated its own sub-culture.  The finance department of a company, focused on manufacturing consumer products, will likely have a different sub-culture than one that focuses on services in a business to business perspective.  The sub-cultures of these two finance companies will have a great deal in common with each other.  They will also have significant differences due to the underlying culture of the organization where they work.

Project teams (and specifically new product development teams) are particularly vulnerable to this as each project team – temporary in its nature – will also develop a sub-culture of its own.  That sub-culture is still connected to the ambient culture of their organization. It also has the opportunity to become something more than the best parts of the larger culture – more productive, more focused, more profitable – by the simple fact of being separate, temporary, and often smaller than other groups that will form their sub-cultures.

These sub-cultures are a bit independent of, yet must align with, the higher level organizational cultures, an Organizational Breakdown Structure that focuses on culture, if you will, that focuses on the culture. The dominant culture may prize precision.  The new product development team has to be able to embrace a larger level of uncertainty. Each sub-organization, each team, must change their behaviors to embrace and align with the larger culture without losing their specific focus points. Additionally, how will you keep from accidently affecting beliefs and values, resulting in behaviors that are counterproductive or downright destructive?  

Weiner opens his book with this quote from Plato. I have long felt that it is one that would bring great benefit if more people would spend some time and give serious thought to it. It proves how far back you need to go, sometimes, when you go back to basics.

“What is honored in a country will be cultivated there.” – Plato

What is honored in the ‘country’ that is your team’s home and how is it manifested in their behaviors and productivity levels?

Key Actions for Higher Performance:

  • Gain clarity: what is the existing cultural norm? Do a project team's specific SWOT (Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats) analysis on the potential impact of the organization’s overall culture on your team.
  • Enlist and enroll key stakeholders in this exercise. Each member of an existing sub-culture that will participate in the project’s lifecycle and eventual success can give you valuable insight into the questions – and even answer some issues for your stakeholder analysis.
  • Prioritize! Choose the single area that you believe can either make the greatest difference, the fastest win, or the most visible win – and, based on what is most valued in the dominant culture of your organization, pick that one thing to work on first. The Key Success Parameters of any high performing project team are so beautifully intertwined that you will begin to affect other areas with a solid shift in one.

Contact me if you want to put our Team MRI to use in this effort. You can reach me at I’ll be glad to set up a link for your specific teams so that your results are immediate, discrete, and actionable. What will you do first with the results of this diagnostic tool?

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