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The greatest decentralization of culture ever is now upon us  

There is no “best” practice and there is no “normal.”
By: | May 12, 2020 • 3 min read

Workplace culture: Do we know what it means yet? Sure, the mission, vision and values on the boardroom wall might be an indicator of what we stand for. But then again, maybe not. And when was the last time we were in the boardroom anyway? The past few months have taught us that culture doesn’t just live within the logo of the company, or even at the office; it lives in each one of our teams and how we interact and treat those we work with every day.

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Last year, I had an opportunity to speak to Amazon leaders about creating tomorrow’s greatest places to work and shared that a universal best place to work doesn’t exist. After all, Fortune says that, in 2020, Hilton Hotels is the greatest place to work in America, with Ultimate Software coming in second. I shared that someone at Ultimate Software wouldn’t necessarily love working at Hilton, and someone at Hilton wouldn’t necessarily love working at Ultimate Software, right? It turns out that the sentiment was echoed even within a single company—Amazon. I was told that Amazon has a series of micro-cultures, meaning various teams had different nuances and behaviors. Makes sense—Amazon has about 800,000 employees, about the same size as Indianapolis.

This suggests that, instead of micro-cultures, that culture lives at the team level. It has to. If culture is the conscious and subconscious rules, norms and behaviors we follow, how we interact and work together from team to team must vary.

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Going back to Amazon, it would make sense that the culture of the distribution center has a different set of rules and norms than the head office. It would make sense that the accounting team has different rules and norms than IT. It would make sense that someone working for Amazon would live a different life than someone in Nashville; they’d have to.

This doesn’t mean that all teams don’t aspire to accomplish the same mission for the company, share similar values and love the company any more or less. It just means the way we do our work and how we interact with each other is, well, different.

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This brings us to the past few weeks. Now, in a time where five years’ worth of change has happened in five days and office work as we know it is becoming a thing of the past, it is important to know that how we work together as a team is our culture. How we communicate with each other and discover how we can create a positive work experience is what makes us unique and our own. While we may still have the same mission, vision and values, working from home and being more isolated with our immediate team means we were forced to build something new, something that worked for us and something unique. There is no “best” practice and there is no “normal”; what we discovered works best is what gives each team a unique identity, culture and opportunity to realize that we, as teams, and individuals on those teams, contribute to culture far more than we ever have and that the magnitude of our contribution is here to stay.

Culture is so much more than a mission, vision and value set; it is how we do our work with the people we share our time with. Given that we’re building tomorrow’s best places to work, it is imperative to know that, as a team, we are more responsible for our culture and how we do our work than we’ve ever been before. This, if nothing else, is here to stay.

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