He supports organizations in harnessing the principles of organizational sociology to enhance network structures and connections, both within and around their entities. In this interview, he delves into the latest challenges that organizations are encountering around internal social networks and relationships, unveiling insightful tips and strategies to assist leaders and managers in addressing these issues.
I'm the founder of Atelier Kultur, which is a people advisory. I help organizations align their people with their desired business outcomes. Typically, we do that through understanding what an organization's really after, what they define as their desired outcomes and then intentionally connect people using data to foster the kinds of relationships that enable those desired outcomes.
When I think about workplace engagement, I really think about how people interact and engage with one another and the flow of knowledge, support, advice, mentorship, friendship, etc. that is exchanged between people.
Most organizations have to think about a distributed workforce: people who aren't in the same office, because they are either spread across different floors, across regions or capacities. How do you connect those people? How do you make sure that they're having the interactions that enable them to pass the culture or the strategy that keeps a company aligned and on target?
At a high level, the most common question is around connectivity. Everyone's talking about intentional connections and relationships.
Most people are starting to get into that conversation of, "we need to connect our people," when they're across the world or across the city, which then comes down to "what drives these kinds of connections?"
Understanding how moments when people come together lead to different types of relationships is what I see as one of the biggest challenges, and then, “What do businesses want to get out of those interactions and connections?” It's really defining that in order to understand what kinds of moments will enable the connections and relationship structures that will lead to the business outcomes that the organization is after.
The fundamentals of what builds relationships haven't changed, but the context and opportunities that people have to form those relationships to interact to get together - that's changed dramatically. People are struggling in that sense, trying to understand what they should do now: How do we create those contacts again? How do we create those moments that matter? How do we create those opportunities to connect people, from across an organization, to connect and build those relationships?
Not only the strong relationships that work really well for collaboration and really complex coordination of tasks, but also those weaker ties across an organization: to people in different parts that build cohesiveness and gives people the insight to see further within the organization.
From a people side, there are multiple types of connections. But the two fundamental types of connections are strong and weak ties. They both have their advantages.
One of the primary methodologies is looking at people's relationship structures within the organization, both formal and informal connections.
We typically don’t look at individuals directly asking: "how's Tom doing?" I'm looking at Tom's team structure, how it's connected to the other teams that we know they need to be connected to, or how is that, at scale, leveling up with the desired outcomes the business is after. We look at what's changed in the composition of those groups and ask: are we building the kind of connections between teams that we know facilitate effective communication and good decision-making? Or are they the kinds of relationships that prop up silos and limit peoples’ ability to assess the value of information or how to use it?
We look at shifts because we know where a company started when we do an organizational network analysis. hen we can track it over time to see how those structures have changed as a result of the interventions that we have implemented and if they're moving towards our aspirational state of a very highly capable network. That's something we do with our implementations and that I advocate all the time for organizations to really think about making that a KPI.
As organizations think about all their other key performance indicators, oftentimes human connectivity is less developed and not systematically measured. But that's something that you can incorporate into your surveys just to get a good pulse on: “Are people connected? Are they having the right relationships?" Because if they're not, it's going to cause lags in an organization, cost inefficiencies or lead people to drop projects and tasks. That's going to cause them not to have the right pickup of innovation, creativity and collaboration with their strategic partners.
Having that top of mind helps channel people leaders where they can help and maintain what's working really well.
When we think about the divide in organizations right now, probably one of the most prevalent themes is junctures between executives and leadership to frontline managers, and individual contributors.
There's a disconnect between different parts of the organization, where executives are not forming informal relationships with people in middle management, and middle management isn't forming informal relationships with frontline managers and independent contributors. Nominally, they're connected through the org chart and through reporting structures, but not in ways where they have at least an opportunity to connect with them and chat about something different: maybe they like watching football or could go play soccer together after work.
When we have those informal moments I can learn what you're thinking, how you're thinking about the vision of the organization and what change is on the horizon. That is critical for building strategic alignment and adoption within an organization.
There's the formal side of interactions that help drive work, but it's also those informal relationships that you build in these different moments where you get together that help convey all the texture and nuances to getting work done, like why a decision was made. We need to make sure that we're providing those other opportunities outside of formal meetings for people to connect and interact and get to know about each other, build those relationships.
We hear a lot about organizations that have poor culture or where the culture isn't transmitting, because they just went through a lot of turnover over the past three years, and they're continuing to grow. There's a ton of new people coming in and there are individuals who were there before the pandemic, who really know the culture that defined an organization at one point - but are struggling to diffuse it out. Oftentimes it's because they don't have these moments where multiple people can get together and create relationships, where they can understand why the company is doing what they're doing. And that takes more than just one person.
We're finding oftentimes that people are just connected one-on-one and don't have those structures to get the social proof they require from different people within the organization. That is why the moments that we come together, whether virtual or in person, need to be structured to foster relationship building.
One of the simplest things that we find so effective is taking the time to get to know each other.
We find it really effective with teams that have a lot of new people - or when a new team is formed and people didn't have the opportunity to meet before that, to have a daily standup: 15, 20, or 30 minutes. If there's no pressing business or there's no fire alarm that you're dealing with, you can take that time to just shoot the breeze and ask people to share a bit about what they're interested in or working on. And then people discover those shared similarities, learn what they are passionate about, what the commitments, concerns and realities of their teammates areThen people will start to understand how they can relate to one another and form strong relationships where they can learn how to empathize, how to communicate with each other and what drives them.
Ultimately, once you start to share common passions and interests, it just connects you at a different level, which helps teams connect internally. It's such a small lift where, in 15-20 minutes, if you do that consistently over time, you'll find that the connectivity within your team really builds.
There's something about the energy when people are around. For the most part, I don't think that organizations need to be fully in person, but there are those moments when people come together where you really build momentum and energy.
There's also aspects of work that are far faster to do in person, like really complex coordination and collaboration, and oftentimes that's really accelerated when you're in person.
But there's also driving towards building the momentum, to move a team forward. If you're connected, if you're around each other, there is a collective energy. And when you are able to channel that towards driving business and relationships, it can become really effective.
When people come together, what really fails is when you have different individuals from a team coming in and spending 90% of their time on Zoom calls, tucked away in a phone booth.
They don't actually have those moments where they're coming together. We like to make sure that if you're coming together with your team, if you're hybrid, distributed by design or whatever that structure is, that you're using that time to really connect. It's using those interactions that you can't have in a virtual space to really focus on what we get out of being in person and using that to drive our work and our relationships forward.
And then obviously leveraging the not in-person time for the head's down and other tasks that are easier to communicate and document asynchronously. It's really understanding that balance to benefit from the in-person time.