Monday, February 6, 2017

A question of culture

When you think of a team or a company culture what comes to mind?

One part of the culture is how the company treats hierarchy. Now, in these days of start ups - and this has been so since American tech culture came to India - on paper there is no hierarchy. Gone are the days, when people had to address their superiors as 'Sir' or 'Sahab'. Most companies operate on a first name basis. And by and large, companies also have an open door culture. Lets call this level 1. Most companies are well beyond this level.

However, the breakdown of hierarchy does not stop there. In most places, people find it difficult to say no to their bosses. Which is why the jargon - HIPPO is so prevalent. HIPPO stands for HIghly Paid Persons Opinion. The HIPPO is the new elephant in the room. Lets call this Level 2. In my experience, in most companies, it is fairly ok to question the boss, though the hippo may win by default.

The third aspect where hierarchy shows up, ever so often, is in the day to day interactions. As a manager, how does she run the team? Is it still industrial style - where the manager resorts to 'tell' or is it more of a structure where the manager 'asks', 'gets her team to think', 'gives and receives feedback'. This in my opinion is a level 3 - which is the hardest to crack.

Far too many people (both managers and subordinates) still live with the mindset of the industrial age role of a manager. Back then in the factory age, the boss knew everything - the boss was expected to tell and the staff was expected to follow. Not so today. Where every one of your hires is perfectly capable of thinking for himself.

And yet, many managers 'tell' their subordinates what to do rather than 'ask' what they think about it...

In the small sample size we have seen, managers rarely use 'ask' to take the thinking of their teams forward. If it all 'ask' is used, it is used more as an investigation/interrogation than as a solution focused forward moving tool.

An 'Ask' means, I honour your intelligence. An 'Ask' means, I am willing to listen to your answer. An 'Ask' means, there is no hierarchy and from then on our ideas win, not position.

What if people employed 'ask'? What effect would that have on the culture of the company?

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