Culture is more than entertainment; it is an experience

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09 February 2016

Culture is more than entertainment

As both customer and staff experience become the priority for businesses, governments, and education there is an increasing push towards a culture of collaboration and productivity.

While the intention of improving culture within an organisation is with the best of intention, the execution often falls short as a result of the perception of culture is wildly innacurate.

For many organisations culture is merely lip service, and delivered in the form of entertainment, which is something overly simple. Culture is percieved as that can be thrust upon employees overnight in the form of table tennis, movie nights, cheap lunches, et al. However, as John Trapgahan outlines in his HBR article (Why Culture is a Misleading term) this approach to culture can artificially ossify the diverse, complex, and constantly changing social environment that is any organisation. It is counter productive, and often a huge waste of money.

Entertainment within an organisation is a great perk to provide employees, however it is highly unlikely that this alone will develop a culture of transparency, trust, and empowerment.

The Australian Tax Office recently undertook a programme of work to consider how enculturation of more positive, productive, and collaborative values can be delivered to the organisation by 2020 in its ‘Reinventing the ATO’ blueprint (it is fascinating reading).

While the ATO’s Blueprint outlines a number of cultural traits that it wishes to be seen throughout, with many qualitative and quantitative benefits, the actual design and delivery into a fundamentally rigid organisation so far focusesses correctly on why people work, rather than how.

This experienced based approach will deliver a great culture of behaviours and work ethic to a changing workforce over the next five years. No where in their strategy is table tennis mentioned.

We can all fundamentally agree that there is nothing more uninspiring and mentally exhausting than working within an organisation that has bad or no culture.

If culture isn’t to be measured by entertainment alone, we need to consider other areas of work life that begin to shape an organisation into a great place to work, with high productivity, and higher participation:

Fundamentally, culture must be designed and delivered with intent beyond entertainment to deliver meaningful experiences at work, or as Ben Horowitz explains, either you can shape your own culture or it will inevitably shape itself.

As a candidate, while interviewing there are two questions that I think make a great litmus test for an organisation’s culture:

  1. Can you tell me a story about the work culture here? And;
  2. Have you ever had a co-worker around to your house for a meal?

These two questions are pretty easy to answer, and seem innocent enough. From these questions we’re able to determine whether culture is seen as entertainment (i.e. table tennis tables, a games console, and a cheap lunch) or as being far more than that.

The answer to these questions will outline if there is interest in coworkers beyond the nine-to-five, and if there is a level of trust and friendship in the workplace.

Socialising is a significant factor of culture, and will also result in a much more tightly-knitted group of individuals who are able to rely upon one another to get their job done.

This in turn produces better outcomes for the organisation, and ultimately the customer. When the entire experience of culture is designed beyond entertainment you will truly have an inspiring workplace, and you wont need to talk about your culture—people will already know about it.