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Workplace Culture: This Week’s Culture Killer

Culture KillerA culture killer is what ruins workplace culture in spite of your every effort.  When we were researching our new book, Happy to Work Here: understanding and improving the culture at work, we came to the conclusion that some toxic cultural behavior was the result of people adhering to certain unspoken rules. These rules are unspoken because they are, frankly, unspeakable. But despite the fact that you never hear anybody say them out loud, they can do considerable damage to your workplace culture.  it’s  these unspeakable unspoken rules that we refer to as “culture killers.”

Over the next few months we’ll be publishing here some of the culture killers from our book plus some additional one we’ve discovered since.  Come back here for a new culture killer every week.

The toxic rules and govern an organization can be fatal to healthy culture, but they are, paradoxially, some of the easiest things to fix. Each one is a clear indicator of actionable culture improvement. Once you identify a toxic, unspoken rule, repealing it can be as simple as bringing it into the light of day. When you say the rule out loud, the damage it can do will be readily apparent, as will the work needed to make it go away.

This week’s Unspoken Rule is the one that enables:

The Lack of Slack Culture Killer

slack is not wasted time but think time.

You might expect that the more time-focused your culture is, the more it will abhor any kind of slack.  Slack is time that is not strictly allocated to a task that is essential to reaching a declared goal.  From the viewpoint of an old-guard industrial manager, this looks like inefficiency.  In fact, such managers were diligent about driving slack out of any operation.  At least from their perspective, the unspoken rule was:

culture killer

Slack is waste.

And yet, the best organizations, particularly those doing creative work, thrive on a certain amount of slack.  It’s during slack time that reinvention happens.  A bit of slack is also necessary to be quick in responding to direct customer requests (everyone is not so busy that the customer has to wait for attention).  And finally, it is during slack time that the culture is discussed and improved and healed.  If everyone is busy 100% of the time, by definition there is no time left for culture.  There is no time left for anything.

The most effective operations are not the busiest ones.  That seems like a contradiction in terms, but it isn’t. 

(See Tom DeMarco’s iconic work on the subject: Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency.)

You must have a story or two about the cultures, good and bad, that you’ve encountered, either in your present work or in your past.  Have you been fortunate enough to see wonderful workplace culture in action, and to what do you attribute it?  Or do have an unspoken rule damaging your culture?  If so, what do you suppose was its cause? Tell us about it: cultureproject@systemsguild.com

NEWS

Neue und erweiterte Auflage 2 jetzt verfügbar. Adrenalin-Junkies und Formular-Zombies: Typisches Verhalten in Projekten. Hardback Amazon.de

How workplace culture affects workplace performance:  We know they’re linked, but now we know a bit more about how and why: Article by Suzanne and James Robertson in Modern Analyst.

Happy to Work Here. A practical guide to understanding and improving your workplace culture. Available in paperback and Kindle.  amazon.com   amazon.co.uk

The German edition of Happy to Work Here: Betriebsklima verstehen und verbessern has been published by Hanser. Hardback at amazon.de

Two coauthors reflect on some of the unexpected implications that a reader may detect in what they’ve written. YouTube
See Tom DeMarco squirm as a rough critic trashes his most recent work.  YouTube
Tom DeMarco gives away one of the secrets of the new book, Happy to Work Here. YouTube
Understand how to dissect the culture of your workplace as a device for improving it. YouTube
What happens when you challenge cultural norms? YouTube
A video about our new book Business Analysis Agility – solve the real problem, deliver the right solution.  Amazon  YouTube

Suzanne and James Robertson’s Requirements: The Masterclass LiveLessons-Traditional, Agile, Outsourcing. 15+ Hours of Video Instruction

Tom DeMarco’s 2018 sci-fi novel, The One-Way Time Traveler, now available in paperback and ebook. It’s a Handmaid’s Tale in reverse: Welcome to a world where women have all the power.

A Ruby Beam of Light, Book I of Tom DeMarco’s Dark World Chronicles saga is now reissued in a new edition.
“This war isn’t going to blow anything up, only turn everything off.
James Robertson’s webinar for Software Education explains how agile stories are best used to ensure the right solution. Download the webinar slides.
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