Last post I talked about how the strong cultural bond in IT departments (and nerd/geek culture in general), can damage organizational trust, cohesion, general pleasantness and ultimately profit. Now let’s look at drilling down into the rest of the organization and see if we can’t find some solutions…

Never a truer acronym written in jest

The problem is that critically necessary information, in any situation, is scattered in different departments and at different levels throughout any organization. This is the reason that command and control management does not work any more. It is the reason why managers cannot go into their offices, close the door and write operational plans in splendid isolation. It is the reason why collaborative intelligence is the new gold in our economy.

Now stand back from IT culture, of all types, for a moment. Imagine that you are not special, wonderful, highly-creative, technologically-gifted, but simply people who are part of a world of complexity, needing to collaborate with others, needing knowledge of other perspectives. Needing “Diversity for IT people”.

Would you really want her job?

Let’s drill down into a couple of other departments, and look at their subcultures. Here’s a guy in telemarketing. You probably instinctively despise him, but he gets up every morning and makes 500 calls to people who usually tell him to F*** off. He does this 8 hours a day, for 280 days a year. Without him, your organization wouldn’t work. Your ideas of how his software should work are all very well, but he knows things you don’t know.

Move on to the warehouse. Here’s a 60-year-old lady who tracks and picks and ships thousands of different widgets, none of which you could recognize. Sadly, there is no air-conditioning. Perhaps she knows something you don’t?

Anyone who does not live under a rock knows that technology tools, products, skills and services will dominate our future; no single occupation has all the knowledge required to produce a best-possible solution to any business issue.

As IT understands it’s own culture and sub-cultures, it becomes more able to understand and flex to the cultures around it, building people and thinking skills to serve it’s business partners.

Other disciplines have thinking tools to help. Other occupations have knowledge we need, as badly as they need ours.

Aaah, Science Jokes...

A POTENTIAL solution

This is something I’ve borrowed from Competency and Performance Solutions:

IQ+EQ+TQ=CQ

The IQ symbol: critical thinking skills and the varied intelligences that make up cognition. Thinking skills are most useful when one has the conscious ability to use formal thinking tools (SWOTs, decision matrixes, cause and effect analyses, etc.) and understand thinking skills themselves as a toolbox of various skills, to use alone and with other people.

The EQ symbol represents the clusters of skills usually covered by emotional intelligence: the competencies in the intrapersonal, interpersonal, and communication domain. EQ grows with your own interest in, and insights into the self, with a positive, open-minded and non-judgmental exploration of your own needs, values, personality, and ways of relating to others.

The TQ symbol represents technological intelligence, the group of skills, knowledge and attitudes that are an essential part of managing information sharing and collaborative work in the technology-based Age of Knowledge. This is obviously the geek’s strongest card.

Word to the L.T!

So add them all up and you get Collaborative Intelligence. The CQ is this idea that if you are to function in a modern organization, you need to have the full set of “Intelligences”. This may not be as true for the programmer at his desk, but vital for a project manager or any IT person actually aspiring to be something more than a code jockey or cable nerd. The very process of looking at this issue will help adjust peoples’ attitudes and ideas about the bubbles that their alien co-workers semi-coexist in.

Training is another way to handle these types of revaluation moments. A skilled facilitator with a good idea on how to structure an organizational cultural study could help the different groups understand better ways to deal with each other. Training companies all over the country are cashing in on teaching inter-generational understanding because organizations have realized the costs associated with the tensions between the Gen-Ys and the rest of the work force – why can’t we apply this same type of understanding to inter-company cultures. An organization could quite easily sponsor a “bring your nerd to work day” where IT folk could go play in the warehouse for the day or get taught the basics of the HR department.

As IT understands it’s own culture and sub-cultures, it becomes more able to understand and flex to the cultures around it, building people and thinking skills to serve it’s business partners.

My Nerd Credentials

Well if you got this far through this post and you would like to read the rest, remember that this is Part 3 of a three part series, and you can find the others here in Part 1 and Part 2.

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I help cruise lines turn their technical ideas into reality. I'm experienced in all stages of innovation and technology management. I've also been programing since I was 8 years old, and have somehow retained the ability to have normal human interactions. Occasionally I speak about how Industrial Psychology and Neurophysiology can be interrogated with IT and systems management, because I spend a lot of time thinking about the subject, as strange as that may seem.

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Keeping Culture Alive During Covidland

It’s been almost a year now since we closed our office and sent everyone home. The first few months were filled with uncertainty, change, and a fair dose of anxiety, but we got through it. It made us a stronger and a closer group of people in many ways. But working together is not just about doing the day-to-day tasks and surviving the occasional pandemic challenge. There are a million little things that we miss when we are not physically in the same space.

One of the most interesting lessons from the past year has been learning what we take for granted when working in an office. I personally miss lunches with a table full of smart, funny, interesting people. I miss the group dynamics around a physical whiteboard where the ideas are coming faster than we can write them down. But what I miss most are those tiny interactions; the conversations in hallways, doorways, and around the fish tank (we don’t really have a water cooler).

These small moments are what elevate work relationships into friendships. They are where we humanize our coworkers, build empathy, and learn that they are full 3D people with 3D lives and 3D dreams. You walk out of a conference room with someone talking about their kids. You don’t just hang up your Zoom call with them and go back to your email.

I think that these moments, as small as they may seem, are extremely important in a workplace. My work is not just a job, and my coworkers are not just some random group of people with whom I accomplish tasks. To me, work is about creating shared meaning and sharing a mission. While you can work cooperatively with a group of strangers to achieve a goal, it will not be as fulfilling as working with a group of friends to completely blow a goal out of the water. I wake up every day partly for the work, but mainly for the people.

So if these small moments in-between “work” are so important in strengthening the bonds between colleagues, how do we make sure they are not entirely lost during long periods of remote work?

The truth is that I don’t really know, but I can tell you what we have tried. I think that Sourcetoad has one of the best company cultures I’ve ever seen, and so it’s worth sharing some of the successful changes we’ve made.

Weekly All-Hands

The first change that we implemented was moving to a weekly all-hands meeting. In the before times, Sourcetoad had a monthly “Sandwich Day,” which was an hour and a half, fully-catered company extravaganza with animated slides, company updates, silly jokes, educational segments, and trivia games with prizes.

We still hold these longer form all-hands meetings once a month, but we discovered that we needed something shorter between Sandwich Days to stay in touch with each other. I actually started out with a weekly company-wide email, but it was too impersonal and never really worked.

We now have a weekly, 30-minute meeting with a few quick updates and a little extra silliness. We try and dedicate about a third of the time to an open Q&A session and address any questions raised in a dedicated Slack channel throughout the week.

Fika

Many American workplaces have adopted the Swedish idea of fika — a simple daily (or twice daily) coffee or tea break with the purpose of slowing down and taking a real intermission from work, even if just for a few minutes. At Sourcetoad, we have started two different fikas (or is it fiki?).

  1. A weekly, optional fika for anyone in the company to drop in on and chat.
  2. A rotating fika for new hires to slowly work their way through the entire organization. These are small fika groups where new team members meet with groups of two or three employees to have a 20 minutes coffee break and get to know each other.

Work From Home Challenges

One of our most successful initiatives has been our #WFH-challenge Slack channel. Many companies have been doing these, but we took to it like a fish to water. The challenges were almost daily at first: take a photo of your work area, list your top ten favorite movies, show us something in your house with green thread, etc. They kept everyone engaged but also allowed us a view into each other’s personal spaces and lives.

The number of challenges per week we are doing has decreased as time has gone on. We have gotten more and more used to working remotely. Sometimes we’ve even missed weeks. But they are one of my favorite additions to our work culture. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Guess who is in these childhood photos.
  • Post the oldest photo or selfie you have on your phone.
  • Tell us what has been the most surprising distraction while working from home?
  • Wear a crazy hat competition.
  • Draw your own island using this tool.
  • Post your favorite COVID meme.
  • Find something within arms reach, take a photo, and tell us something about it (why you have it, where you got it, etc.)
  • Post a link to a website, blog, or subreddit that you’ve spent a lot of time on during quarantine. (Safe for work only!)
  • Wear formal clothes to the all-hands.
  • Describe the show you’re binge-watching in the most boring way possible.
  • Post a photo of your favorite spot to take a walk.
  • Change your Zoom background in our all-hands meeting to your ideal fantasy world.
  • Tell us what is your favorite play/musical, and why? Bonus points if you sing/act out the play.
  • Post your favorite recipe that you’ve discovered during lock-down.
  • Caption this photo competitions, the most popular being:

Movie Night

Sourcetoad has always hosted movie nights, so moving them online was important to keep our culture alive. Our team went through dozens of solutions for everyone to watch movies together. From home-built Plex servers to experimental chat systems, they tried it all. In the end, we settled on two solutions:

  1. Youtube movies and the Youtube Party browser extension.
  2. Netflix movies and the Teleparty browser extension.

Combine these with headphones and an open Zoom call, and you have something approximating an in-person movie night!

Game Night and Happy Hour

Game Night and Happy Hour used to be another Sourcetoad ritual. Every Friday night, as developers started logging, product managers sent their last status report, and the marketing team finished doing whatever it is they do — we would kick off an informal party. Generally, this involved opening a beer and one of the drawers in the office that holds one of thirty classic game consoles. We would then argue about IPAs over lager and Atari over NES.

Thus, the sacred tradition of Game Night had to also move online. However, our team has adapted extremely well (as us nerds could be expected to). The most popular method has been to connect a Jackbox account as a Zoom participant and have everyone join via their phones.

The other games that have gone down the best have been:

  • Codenames – A game where you try and get your team to guess the right words.
  • Skribbl.io – An online Pictionary-style free-for-all.
  • JigsawPuzzle.io – As the name implies, online group jigsaw puzzles.
  • Jackbox – I’ll add it again here because it’s so good!

Conclusion

Hopefully, this list of ideas and thoughts gives you some hope for the future of work and some ideas to implement today in the remote world. I’m personally looking forward to those small interactions in the hallways between meetings again. Still, at least for now, I’m able to enjoy a cocktail and a terrible Nicolas Cage movie with some of my favorite people online.