I know there are lots of bloggers writing about the Olympics and how it relates to creating great workplaces. So it seems a bit cliched to write about such stuff. However, this is my blog and my reflections on what’s important to me. I’ll remember London 2012 for the rest of my life. In the future I want to look back on my posts from this summer and see a mention of the Olympics. Here’s a few things I’ve been thinking about as I drive to and fro across East Yorkshire each day.
1. Cheering each other on is so powerful
It started with the torch. Who would have thought that people could create such powerful and memorable experiences for each other by simply cheering on a person who is running with a torch? And then in the events themselves – we have created amazing environments for the athletes, simply by cheering them on. Loudly.
In the workplace – sometimes this happens, but often it doesn’t. You know the whole silos and slabs problem. I’ve certainly seen times where a person from one part of a business presents an update and the people who aren’t in that department stand there, uninterested, unsupportive. I’ve been reflecting that it is so important to design events (e.g. for communications, learning or awards), in such a way that people feel encouraged to cheer each other on.
2. The symbols of culture are important
Wise old Edgar Schein defined culture as consisting of three levels:
- artefacts and behaviours (real, physical things and what people do)
- espoused values
- underlying assumptions.
It is the assumptions that have the most powerful effect on the success or stagnation of the company. E.g. imagine you work in an organisation where people are hesitant to make decisions. They tend to ask their superiors for permission. Which makes the company slow to act. But you won’t see ‘averse to decision making’, ‘hierarchical’ written on their website or list of values.
Anyway, what’s struck me about the Olympics is the role of the artefacts part of Schein’s model. The Union Jack flag; the olympic rings; the Team GB name; songs such as our anthem, Chariots of Fire, Heroes; the athletes strip. All these things are artefacts. But they act as symbols of the deeper values. And it is the same within organisations – using symbols deliberately to reflect deeper values is a really useful thing to do.
3. This is for everyone
(I loved that bit of the opening ceremony).
In the last couple of weeks, every visitor I’ve met at work has commented on the culture of our company. We’ve had an inter-department competition for the best Olympic themed office. Flags, masking tape running tracks, bean bag shot put competitions abound. And each time a Team GB medal is won, a short burst of Gold plays and a sweepstake winner is announced. It’s all just fun, but it brings us together. From my point of view, I’ve worked as hard as ever – and I’ve felt really happy. Yesterday two visitors who came for a meeting with me said “Wow, I wish we’d done this. You must be a really values-driven company“.
The challenge is to keep going, keep on building culture and performance. It’s a good challenge.