Setting Team Foundations

I’m studying Building High-Performing Teams on Coursera. These are my revision notes for weeks 1-2.

Team Culture

  • Cultural differences are at the heart of performance problems.
  • Team culture: the formal and informal rules a group makes to solve problems and get things done
  • Team culture is one of the biggest factors determining the collective success or failure
  • Culture is a set of guidelines controlling behaviour.
    • e.g. we communicate using memos (not powerpoints)
  • High performing teams are explicit about culture, because they know if they don’t activily shape their culture, one will form anyway (which might not be the one they want)
  • Team manifesto
  • Are you clear on the formal and informal rules you are going to follow

Goals: Getting SMART

  • Goals are one of the most important rules you can make on a team
  • Goals answer the question: “Why are we working together?”
  • Some people believe it’s enough to have an inspirational vision (e.g. “We’re going to have the best product”)
  • Vision is important because it creates passion, but if you don’t connect the vision with reality through specific goals, the vision will fizzle out
  • How can you create goals that get results? Use SMART and WIIFM.
  • SMART:
    • Specific (focus on what really matters)
    • Measurable (no confusion over whether goal has been achieved)
    • Achievable
    • Relevant
    • Timely
  • Teams that create SMART goals are better able to fulfill their big visions

Goals: Answering the WIIFM Question

  • WIIFM: What’s in it for me?
  • CEO: walked around asking everyone “What was your proudest moment?”. He was looking to see that his strategic goals aligned with their interests.
  • Any group, project or task we’re a part of has to fulfill some sort of personal goal or need for us, otherwise we disengage and lose commitment.
  • Setting team collective goals need to consider the individual’s goals, and how the shared goals can contribute to them.
  • Extrinsic motivations: you do a task because of external reasons
    • (e.g. financial incentives)
    • Recognition
  • Intrinsic motivation: you find the task interesting or enjoyable in it’s own right
    • Impact is important. e.g. Connection to customers
    • Learning a new skill or role
  • You can head off motivation issues in your own team by asking the WIIFM question as soon as your team forms

Team Roles

  • A persons’ role is who they are, and what their responsibilities are.
  • Roles answer the question: what do we do?
  • It’s important to define clear roles for each person on the team.
  • One way to do this: RACI matrix
    • Responsible: directly involved in doing the task or carrying out the project
    • Accountable: delegates work to those who are responsible, and approves major decisions
    • Consulted: gives advice and ideas as needed
    • Informed: kept up to date on what is happening
  • Interdependent roles: the reason for needing a team (otherwise individuals would suffice).
    • Who else do I need to work with to get this done?

Setting Norms for Communication, Decision-making and Conflict

  • Norms: shared understanding of how a team works together
    • Goals: why we work together
    • Roles: what we do
    • Norms: how we work together
  • Norms for communication. Need to consider
    • format
      • communicating a message in the wrong medium can lead to miscommunication and bad results
      • e.g. “enthusiastic” exclmation point in email might be interpreted as anger or agression by the recipient.
      • In face to face, emotion is mainly communicated by body language and tone of voice. The words themselves don’t communicate emotion effectively.
      • Team can list all the “needs” for communcation (e.g. project updates, budget reviews, team check-ins, etc), list all the communcation channels (e.g. email, phone, meetings, instant messages), and then match them together
    • frequency
      • Face to face meetings are good for communcation, but they take a lot of time.
  • Norms for decisions. Need to consider
    • What decisions can be made by individuals?
    • What decisions need to be made by the whole team?
    • What process will the team use to make decisions?
      • Total concensus approach
      • Have the leader decide
      • Concensus with leader’s final approval (middle approach)
    • Even if a team member disagrees with a decision, they’ll be more likely to go along with it, because they consider the process to be fair
  • Norms for conflict. Need to consider
    • Encourage productive conflict
      • there should always be a sense of mutual understanding and respect
      • e.g. devils advocate rule

Interview: Mike Barger

  • Make Barger: COO of CorpU (previously Chief Learning Officer of JetBlue)
  • JetBlue:
    • Started with a simple vision: “Bring humanity back to air travel”
    • Address this with building culture/environment that supported vision
    • Harvard case study: starting from scratch
    • How to communicate to new employees: “This is what we stand for” ?
    • Workshop:
      • half a day writing issues on wall.
      • everyone took away home to answer challenges
      • every issue had a simple answer
      • “Radical application of common sense”
      • Grouped issues/answers into 5 areas. These became the 5 core values of JetBlue:
        • Safety, caring,integrity, fun and passion
      • These core values established who JetBlue is, helped them define the environment that they wanted. It helped them to define the practices and processes that would support those values
  • Building blocks to focus on when creating a new team:
    • Do team members have the right skill set?
    • Do they have the right experience?
    • Do they have passion for team goals?
    • Do their personalities fit?
    • Is everyone aligned?
  • The most common team-building mistakes
    • Not creating a specific common purpose
    • Not clear on roles and responsibilities
    • Not changing the team composition when needed
  • Common traits of high-performing teams
    • Not creating a specific common purpose
      • individuals need to perform their own jobs, but in such a way that the team performs better
    • Mutual trust
    • Open, transparent communication
  • Retrospectives are important!
  • Change things when needed, based on reflection
  • Norms/Principles that helped JetBlue
    • In addition to 5 core values, guiding principles for leaders were needed
    • Five Principles of Leadership at JetBlue
      1. Communicate with your team
      2. Do the right thing
      3. Treat your people right
      4. Encourage initiative and innovation
      5. Inspire greatness in others
  • Dealing with difficult team members effectively
    • Not a good fit for the team?
    • Need enough backbone to make it really clear about the rules of behaviour (trust, safe environment to raise concerns)
    • Teams need to be able to call each other out
    • It’s not OK to just “let it go”

The Foundations of High-Performing Teams

A Small Data Approach to Managing Teams

Why WIIFM Matters

Effecting Cultural Continuity and Change

I’m studying The Power of Team Culture on Coursera. These are my revision notes for week 5.

Culture in Time

  • “Cut the end of the meat” story:
    • woman cuts the end of the meat before roasting. Didn’t know why; learned from her mother
    • mother didn’t know why she did it either, she had learned it from her mother (the original woman’s grandmother)
    • grandmother explained that her roasting pan was too short
    • lesson: culture gets passed down over time
  • Culture is a living, dynamic phenomenon.
  • Culture is always changing
  • The culture of the team may be very recently created
    • for example new working group
    • new team culture formed by cultural boundary crossings of initial members
    • actual team culture may have a very short lifespan
  • Other cultures may have greater time depth
    • e.g. American culture, and the flag of America
    • Flag changed with each new state that was added to the union
    • culture changes over our lifetime

The Inertial Forces

  • Existential inertia: someone learns some element of culture because it is there to be learned. It already exists and its existence precedes the learner. Examples:
    • native language
    • brushing teeth after dinner
  • Habitual inertia: the result of doing the same thing over and over again. The result is often embodied cultural patterns, part of the bodily habitus. Example:
    • accent and speaking
  • There is a close relationship between culture and neurology – children of foreign born parents can speak with native accent
  • Habit is second nature
  • Habitual interia resists change

Habit and Drift

  • What side of the road do you drive?
    • American driving in NZ – had to be very careful making turns.
  • Principle of cultural inertia: culture in motion tends to stay in motion at the same rate unless some other force acts upon it
  • Entropic forces (drift): when culture gets copied from one person or one group to the next, it doesn’t necessarily get copied precisely. Changes can be introduced. They can be largely random changes
  • Language is always changing, but we can’t perceive this.
  • Over time, the drift can move a long way, and the langauges can become mutually unintelligible.
    • Latin is a root langauge for both French and Spanish

Inertia and Change: An Ancient Egyptian Case, Part 1

  • Reflective culture (metaculture): new ideas are a part of culture – so they have to move through space and time just like any culture. But they are also peculiar in that they are about culture.
  • Pharaoh Amenhotep IV (later called Akhenaten)
  • Ruled from 1353 to 1336 BC
  • He wanted to change culture
  • Effected change by actively spreading new culture, and removing old culture
  • Akhenaten want to replace polytheism with monotheism. God Bes (Besu)
  • Akhenaten had the power to make change because of his position
  • New religion based on the sun (Aten)

More on Reflective Culture or Metaculture as a Force

  • Rules or laws are part of metaculture (e.g. laws about which side of the road to drive)
  • Natives of the culture don’t need to refer to the laws, as they are part of the habitus.
  • Metaculture was a force controlling driving, compelling to drive on a particular side of the road

Inertia and Change: An Ancient Egyptian Case, Part 2

  • Akhenaten made a number of cultural changes:
    • changed to monotheistic religion
    • changed the artistic style of representations of his family
    • introduced a new type of building construction utilising smaller bricks
  • Egyptian empire can be considered a huge team.
  • Pharaoh as the head of the team has enormous power to influce the culture
  • However, culture is still subject to intertia
    • people will tend to worshipping the old gods in the same way
    • decrees are a reflective culture, and are made about culture (a metaculture)
  • The motion of the habitual inertial culture exercises a counterforce to the metacultural force. It in effect resists the change.
  • Quote from Garth in Wayne’s World: “We fear change”

Inertia and Change: An Ancient Egyptian Case, Part 3

  • Review – three cultural forces:
    • inertial: keeps things the same
    • entropic: random drift
    • metacultural (or reflective): deliberate changes to culture (or resistance to change)
  • How successful was Akhenaten in changing culture?
    • many old gods still worshipped
    • people resisted the change
    • Akhenaten was succeeded by Tutenkhaman.
    • under Tutenkhaman rule, policies were reversed
    • Akhenaten was expunged from official lists of rulers
    • it was like Akhenaten never existed
    • habitual culture won in this instance
  • There are similar examples from the modern corporate world
    • Ron Johnson, VP for retail sales at Apple
    • Developed “Genius Bar”, a concept that had great appeal
    • Because of huge success at Apple, Ron was hired by JCPenny as CEO
    • He did away with discount coupons, not realising how popular they way
    • Ron lasted 17 months, after “one of the most aggressively unsuccessful tenures in retail history”

Secret to Successful Cultural Change

  • Good team leaders know when to stress the similarity or continuity. They usually do that when there is a pervasive feeling that too much change is creeping in.
  • Conversely, they can declare two elements to be different een though they are very similar. Again, good team leaders have a sense of when to stress the differences despite the recognisable similarities
  • These examples adjust the transmission of culture by emphasising or de-emphasising aspects of the culture through the description of the transmission. This is an example of the force of entropy
  • The description exerts a kind of force. It is encourages you to think about the replication in a certain way, also to reason about it in a certain way. In this case, in terms of differences between the element and its predecessor. The emphasis is on the difference.

Introducing the Force of Interest

  • The Secret to Successful Culture Change: the new culture must appear to grow organically out of the old culture. It must be new enough to be recognisable as different, but also sufficiently similar that its relationship to the old culture can be sensed.
  • Feelings or affections can propel the motion of culture, or inhibit it. These feelings are hugely influential.
  • Examples:
    • positive feelings: the “Rachel cut” (people copying Rachels’ hair style)
    • negative feelings: eating horsemeat

Interest at the Interface between Different Inertial Patterns

  • Interest is shaped by culture: although affects and emotions are related to our biological processes as human beings, their mapping onto specific elements of culture can vary
  • Strong affective responses, and therefore the forces of interest, frequently appear when two different inertial patterns come into contact
  • Habitual culture is not really thought about, and hence the force of interest does not come into play there
  • However, when the habits are removed or retarted, the force of interest can be very powerful (e.g. craving food from native land when away for a long period)
  • Spacial distance between two people having a converstation. Depending upon the comfortable separation distance for each of the speakers, the force of interest may be neutral, compel them closer or compel them to separate. Habitual inertia is interest neutral
  • Force of interest can either work to keep culture static, or it could drive culture to change.
    • It’s at the heart of successful culture change
  • Model T Ford worked on the same model every year
  • GM used a different strategy: a new model every year (though only slightly new)
  • Incremental new-ness can a positive attractive force.
    • cars
    • language
  • Interest appears as a driving force, moving the culture forward in a way similar to evolution.

The Conditional Motion of Culture

  • Culture seems to move directly because of the interest in it
  • Sometimes the movement of culture is more obviously just a condition for something else that people are interested in
  • For example, culture can be changed because a powerful person decrees it, and can threaten punishments. People have a strong interest in avoiding punishment. See Egyptian example earlier.
  • Regime put in place by military: the interest is in the consequences of accepting or not accepting the culture
  • Wages of employment:
    • employment involves culturally acquired practices
    • the reason for engaging in those practices may not be a direct interest in them
    • interest may actually be in the money earned, and the things the money will allow them do do (eat, leasure time)
  • Sometimes the interest actually is for the thing they do.
  • Work culture over time can become habitual intertial culture
  • The conversion of conditional into habitual cultural motion: a conversion can take place between the conditional and habitual motion of culture, such that the interest that is initially in something else can become interest in the cultural practices themselves


  • The inertial forces: culture gets passed on first and foremost because it is there to be acquired and because it becomes habit
  • Entropic force (drift): the tendency towards disorder in the transmission of culture
    • this works against inertia
    • this means leads may have to step in to keep cultural elements the same, or try to affect changes
  • Reflective or metacultural forces: metaculture is culture that is about (or reflects upon) other culture. Metacultural force result from reflection about culture
  • The forces of interest: these are produced by the feelings and emotions.
    • they impel or retard the movement of cultural elements
    • a good leader understands the emotional responses to cultural elements, and uses this to affect change
  • People in teams are motivated by more than money, or the fear of punishment. They are guided also by the shining ideals that the team embodies, ideals that they try to live up to in their daily lives and activities

Rules, Ultimate Causes, and Cultural Motion

Team Rituals and Symbols

I’m studying The Power of Team Culture on Coursera. These are my revision notes for week 4.

Burning the American Flag

  • How do teams tap into emotions? Symbols and rituals!
  • For example at U Penn: Carolyn Marvin (associate professor at U) burned a flag
    • This was a previously illegal activity
    • Intended to allow the students to fully appreciate the meaning of free speech.
    • Background:
      • Pledge of allegiance recited every morning in American schools: “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America…”
      • Burning the flag seems to go against the pledge
    • Student tried to take the flag away from Marvin, because the student felt it was was unconscionable.
    • One student: “I was infuriated”
    • Calls for lecturerer to be fired
    • Penn State Congress voted to condemn the lecturer nearly unanimously
  • It flag is a symbol and emblem of American culture, of “We the people”
  • It has the ability of the flag to stir powerful feelings

Team Mascots

  • 6 marines raising the American flag at Iwo Jima – very serious stuff!
  • Mascots: emblems of a team, for the team. A light side to things
  • Lighter side: team mascots
  • Examples:
    • e.g. Panther mascot (American football team)
    • e.g. Knight
  • Army versus Navy football
    • Army: mule mascot
    • Navy: goat mascot
    • In 1991, navy personnel stole the Army’s mule mascot
    • Helicopters and federal marshals were called
    • Army commander claimed control, and sent the marshalls away

The Concept of the Symbol

  • Symbol: a something that stands for something else (something can be an object, a behaviour, a word, an idea, etc)
  • We access object or meaning through symbols (we don’t have direct access to objects or meaning)
  • Symbols are not just about understanding the world, they are also about getting people to respond to them in particular ways.
    • e.g. the radiation symbol makes you take precautions
  • Two types of symbols:
    • Referential symbol: stands for something known to consciousness (e.g. “cat”)
    • Condensation symbol: evokes affect or feeling, without any necessary awareness or consciousness of why. A mascot may get us excited, but we don’t necessarily know why or how. These are particularly important to team culture

Transference of Affective Quality

  • Symbols have dual aspects
    • they represent the group
    • the also call up feelings about it
  • Dominant symbols do those two things at once
  • Transference of affective quality: the summoning of emotions in order to transfer those emotions on to an idea of the group
  • Transference occurs during the deployment of the symbols
  • Example of a dominant symbol:
    • Ndembu hornpod tree
    • Exudes a milky sap when the bark is cut
    • This can be associated with breastfeeding
    • Which can call up positive feelings of connectedness
    • Symbols is deployed when girls are married, and moving away from their parents
  • All domininant symbols have 2 poles:
    • Sensory pole (feelings, emotions)
    • Ideological pole (norms, values, etc)
  • American flag is another example of a dominant symbol

The Motivational Video

  • Rituals are just very complex symbols
  • Harley Davidson motivational video
  • For a certain segment of americans, it called up very positive feelings (though not all americans)
  • People from other cultural backgrounds, it actually produced a negative response
    • e.g. Japanese woman who feared that the people in the video might be racist.
  • Video was made during a period of major internal strife. It was made to call up positive feelings for the company

People as Symbols

  • Can people become condensation symbols?
  • Historical figure: e.g. George Washington
  • Washington: dominant symbol?
    • Often called the father of the country
    • Regarded as a strong, guiding presence during uncertain and scary times
    • He guided the fledgeling republic during the early days
    • He took on assocations, especially over time
  • Other examples of dominant symbols:
    • Mahatma Ghandi in India
    • Mao Tse Tung in China
    • Steve Jobs in Apple
  • Power of culture radiating from a visionary individual
  • Even a team leader can be a condensation symbol for a team

The Pragmatics of Motivational Speech

  • Meaning of words:
    • overt (semantic) meaning
    • covert (pragmatic) meaning
  • e.g. Enron code of ethics
    • overt: honesty
    • covert: criminal fraud
  • Words can function as condensation symbols
  • Aragorn’s speech to his men (“but it is not this day”)
    • Like poetry
    • Two parts (parallel) plus a coda
    • Rising intonation
    • Transformation into coda
    • All help in calling up emotions
  • Knute Rockne’s speech
    • We’re going to run inside ’em, and outside ’em, …

Symbolic Meaning of Stories

  • Stories that are told within teams are often examples of condensation symbols
  • Story from a company:
    • Company had annual holiday party
    • New employee at party
    • Waiter walked past carrying plate of sushi, and he picked a piece off
    • Security took employee arrived and took him outside, and explained that the sushi was only available for the CEO
    • Story would put an edge of fear to new starters
  • Better be careful: what are the do’s and don’t of this company?
  • Story acts as a dominant symbol in this respect

Instrumental Symbols: The Gavel

  • Not all symbols are dominant
  • Instrumental symbols are ones used to accomplish a specific goal.
  • Rapping the gavel has the purpose of indicating that a bid is closed
  • Or that proceedings are opened or concluded
  • The gavel is instrumental: it is doing something specific
  • However, there is more…
  • The gavel has become a symbol for authority in various contexts
  • Example of story of Greg using a gavel to control a meeting better
  • Effective instrumental symbol as part of the ritual part of the faculty meeting

Individual and Collective Rituals

  • Rafael Nadal’s superstitious rituals
    • 2 water bottles
    • This is symbolic rituals for Nadal
  • Businesses as teams develop various invented rituals
  • These don’t always seem like rituals
  • Walmart cheer.
    • Call and response pattern
    • Owner got idea from Korean manufacturer
  • Nadal’s and Walmart’s rituals are both condensation symbols

Types of Rituals in Business

  • Every business has its rituals
  • Many of these rituals are just seen as “doing business”
  • American “right to fire” versus Japanese “teamwork”
  • Redundancies (firings) – it’s amazing how fast news of a round of redundancies spreads
  • Firing is designed to help motivate the (remaining) team to achieve their goals (fear as a motivator)

Initiation, Enhancement, and Group Worship

  • Initiation rite (on-boarding)
    • introduce new employees to the team culture that they will need to acquire to function as part of the team
    • act as a condensation symbol to get the initiates to feel that they have crossed a threshold, become a new person and a team member
  • Awards ceremony
    • individuals or teams get recognised for their achievements
    • has effect on other members of the group
  • Annual holiday party
    • the group worships itself
    • related to totemic rites
    • collective effervescence
    • good feelings get called up, and transferred to the group

Corporations in Culture

I’m studying The Power of Team Culture on Coursera. These are my revision notes for week 3.

Two Examples of Cultural Boundaries

  • A cultural boundary is any difference in culture, such as socially acquired preconceived routines for a specific situation, between two individuals or groups or between an individual and a group
    • Brushing teeth in the morning – some do before breakfast, some do it afterwards
    • Vietnamese couple: ask parent’s permission to start eating (or not)
  • Whenever differences exist, this is a mini-cultural boundary
  • Even small differences can affect team performance.

Why Police Boundaries

  • What are boundaries?
  • When we are talking about he control of movement across physical boundaries in space, we will call them social boundaries (or socio-spatial boundaries)
  • Most business enterprises have boundaries, as well as national countries
  • Sports team – maximum cooperation and coordination is required. Strategy and tactics must be secret, and the discussion must protected by guarding the boundary
  • Companies have trade secrets, keep outsiders out
  • Sometimes the boundary is required to keep things in (e.g. museum or cinema)
  • Since the movement of people affects who can interact with whom and since culture is transmitted through interaction, social boundaries also affect the movement of culture

Culture in Motion

  • Boundaries are about channelling or controlling the motion of culture
  • Culture can move across boundaries, but it can be resisted.
  • Example:
    • Vietnamese couple: in girls’ family culture, no expectation of “permission to eat”, but placed in boys’ family culture there is that expection. This clash  of expectations (a mini boundary) is upsetting.
    • If girl had adapted to different expection, this is an example of cultural movement. The upset feelings of the girl is an example of resistance.
  • Physical boundaries are there to stop cultural transmission.
    • Theatre or museum: boundary used to restrict access, commoditise culture and charge admission
    • Company: boundary use to restrict cultural move outside (trade secrets)
  • National boundaries: prevent national culture from being “watered down”

Golden Arches East

  • McDonald’s opened in 1955
  • Success can be attributed to standarisation and assembly line
    • e.g. Ford: any colour they want, as long as it’s black
    • In McDonalds, every burger should be “the same”
  • McDonalds moving into India was a problem:
    • Hinduism rejects eating meat.
    • McDonalds adapted: removed Big Mac from menu, replace with chicken replacement
    • Alternative: vegetarian McAloo Tiki burger
  • Culture moved across the boundary in both directions

The Art of Smiling

  • When and how to smile is are embodied cultural routines (part of the habitus)
  • In different cultures, using smiling (or not) can give the wrong impression
    • McDonalds in US: wants employees to smile (smiling = “friendly”)
    • However, in  China waiters are expected to be serious (smiling = “laughed at”)
  • “American smile” is considered insincere and insidious in Russia.
  • Japenese businessmen in India:
    • Indians preferred American businessmen, because they smiled more
    • Japanese businessmen took “smile training”
    • American s

The Right to Fire

  • Clash of business cultures:
    • American businessmen: focused on short term (quarterly) profitability
    • Japanese businessmen: focused on long term growth in market share
  • Right to fire:
    • American: emphasis on individual accountability, and the right to dismiss incompetent personnel in order to improve team performance
    • Japanese:  emphasis on teamwork and group responsibility, did not like to dismiss personnel. Team performance can be maximised by finding the right place on a team where an individual best fits.
  • Firing someone is a type of ritual.
    • Example: Donald Trump in The Apprentice: “You’re fired”
  • Many companies have laws that prevent firing without cause (especially in Japan and Europe)
  • Current moves in Japan to change rules to move towards American style “easier to fire” culture

The Law of Jante

  • Case study of globalised company “Scandanavian Technologies”
  • > 5,000 employees, but < 350,000
  • Based in Denmark, with branches in many countries (including US)
  • Company experiencing difficulties.
    • US employees feeling that their contributions were not values
    • Danish management worried that company was becoming too “Americanised”, and looking to keep control in head office
  • The Law of Jante: expression of Danish law from A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks
    1. You’re not the think you are anything special
    2. You’re not to think you are as good as us
    3. You’re not the think you are smarter than us
    4. You’re not to convince youreself that you are better than us
    5. You’re not to think you know more than us
    6. You’re not to think you are more important than us
    7. You’re not to think you are good at anything
    8. You’re not to laugh at us
    9. You’re not to think anyone cares about you
    10. You’re not to think you can teach us anything
  • Cultural norms regarding the presentation of the self
  • Self promotion is not valued. Boasing and bragging would be frowned upon.
  • Would the Americans be viewed as braggarts and blowhards?
  • Would the Americans be viewed as violating Jante law?
  • How should we respond to the discovery of cultural boundaries?

Cultural Relativity and Ethnocentrism

  • Methodological cultural relativity: trying to understand an aspect of culture on its own terms, not in terms of your own culture
  • First problem in dealing with cultural difference: defining them
  • When dealing with problematic team performance, ask the question: is there a culturally acquired set of behaviours or thinking that is contributing to the problem?
    • If yes, it’s time to make use of “methodological cultural relativity”
  • Example:
    • Very beautify friend visiting US from Brazil
    • Noted that on the streets of Rio, she received a lot of male attention. Whereas in US, male attention was much more muted, making her feel “ugly”
    • Conversely, american woman travelling to Rio was very uncomfortable with the amount of male attention.
    • Example of culture shock.
  • 3 kinds of cultural relativism:
    • methodological cultural relativism: a methodological principle
    • epistemological relativism: the clam that knowledge and beliefs are relative to the culture; no culture is closer to the truth than any other (not making this claim in this course)
    • moral relativism: the claim that values are relative to the culture; no cultural system has the one ultimately correct set of values (not making this claim in this course)
  • Think of cultural relativity as a tool in your kit.
  • Ethnocentrism:
    • Judging another cultural element in terms of your own culture
    • This is the opposite of cultural relativity

Avoid Stereotyping

  • Stereotyping: assuming that some general, or even specific but highly distinctive trait, found in a group or team applies equally to everyone in the group
  • Because cultural elements are socially acquired, their prevalence is usually a matter of statistical frequencies
    • e.g. Not all Brazillain men are demonstrative, and some American men are demonstrative
  • Some team members will learn cultural elements in different ways
  • Smiling is culturally aquired
    • e.g. Kanye West: don’t smile
    • e.g. bicycle shop employees didn’t smile
  • Shedding workers:
    • Toshiba in Japan – did lay off 7000 employees
  • To avoid sterotyping, when you think about a specific aspect of a culture (such as smiling), think in terms of a normal distribution. You can compare different cultures as a pair of overlapping distributions. e.g.


A Checklist of Little Differences for Business

  • Good books inteneded for a general audience. Expecially recommended book:
    • Global Dexterity: How to Adapt Your Behaviour Across Cultures Without Losing Yourself int he Process
    • How to better adapt to the teams you join, and learn new routines
    • Need to be aware of cultural variation
  • Formality:
    • The amount of deference and respect your are required to exhibit
    • How formally or casually should you dress?
    • Is it customary to engage in small talk?
    • … or should you confine your interactions just to the business at hand?
    • How much personal informaiton about yourself can you reveal?
      • e.g. is it appropriate to talk about your family?
  • Speaking your mind
    • This refers to directness
    • Should you only hint at your meaning
    • … or should you come right out and say it?
    • What is the conversational style?
    • e.g. story about 2 brothers who were always fighting. Father didn’t comment on the fighting, but he did tell a story about 2 brothers who were fighting
  • Expressing your feelings
    • What kinds of feelings can you openly express in business interactions?
    • Is it OK to appear enthusiastic?
  • Self promotion
    • e.g. Law of Jante in Denmark
  • Aggressiveness

Gestures as Boundary Marker

  • Gestures are hugely important and powerful in defining (and crossing) cultural boundaries
  • e.g. Story of Nixon, who visited Brazil in teh 60’s. Nixon gave the American “OK” gesture, which is obscene in Brazil
  • Gestures that mark team membership (or exclusion)
    • e.g. Bryan brothers chest bump
    • e.g. High fives in a team
    • e.g. Scooby Doo “keeping it real” gesture

Corporate Personhood

  • “We” intentions versus “I” intentions.
  • The use of the pronoun “we” is important to the creation and maintenance of group boundaries and identity
  • The use of “we” also implies a contrasting “they”, indicating the people who are not in the group
  • When people form a team, the can both think and speak about themselves as a group
  • Part of the power of team culture is the create the idea of the team. The use of “we” can contribute to the creation of the team
  • e.g. the constitution of the United States, has a pre-amble that starts with “We the people…”
  • The legal idea of a corporation…
  • Corporation: a body formed and authorised by law to act as a single person
  • The collective corporation can own property, and be sued in court.

Why Culture Matters in Organizations

I’m studying The Power of Team Culture on Coursera. These are my revision notes for weeks 1 and 2.

What are Teams?

  • A team is any group of people that performs some collective task on which they have to work together, that is, they have to cooperate
  • In businesses, there are many tasks that require coordination. It’s the job of management to make sure that people coordinate on these tasks.
  • It is the cooperation in the performance of a task that makes a group a team
  • “We” intentions versus “I” intentions

A Closer Look at Culture

  • Culture is whatever people learn from other people, and transmit to other people, especially by interacting with them.
  • Embodied culture is the things we don’t event need to think about (e.g. dribbling ball, singing anthem, attitudes to horse meat)
  • Values and goals that guide our actions
  • Teams need their preconceived routines, their ways of reasoning about the world and their goals and values

Culture as Cultivation

  • Cultivation of children – trying to make them more closely conform to the kind of people that culture wants them to be, giving them instruction or discipline
  • Modification of bodies through cultural practices (e.g. foot binding, ear piercing)
  • Performance in sport depends upon cultivation of the body (e.g. weight training)
  • Schools are institutions for the transmission of culture
  • Many teams do their own cultivation (e.g. McDonalds has Hamburger University, JetBlue University)

Being Unaware of Culture

  • We are not even aware of a lot of culture we acquire from others
  • For example, how close we stand to each other
    • Proxemics is the study of the amount of space people feel necessary to keep between themselves and other people
      • Intimate zone (0 to 18 inches in America)
      • Personal zone (18 inches to 4 feet in America)
      • Social zone (4 feet to 12 feet in America)
      • Public zone (beyond 12 feet in America)
    • These distances vary based on your cultural upbringing
  • Cooperation on teams involves expectations of this sort.
  • When the expectation are violated, the performance of the team can suffer

Expectations and Realities

  • Study about the difficulties people experience when they travel across cultural boundaries
    • Researchers wanted to know how the expectations that people had before they travelled abroad compared with their experiences to people who’d never left the United States
    • Groups: students who had never left the US, Peace Corp workers, and Chinese students living in the US
    • Draw up a long list of 33 things that might differ across cultural boundaries.
    • The students evaluated each of the other items on the list based on how difficult they expected their adjustment to the cultural differences to be
    • They ranked the items in terms of difficulty adjustment from 1 to 33
    • In many cases, expectations versus reality matched. However, some surprising differences with pace of life and punctuality. People expected that these would be easy to adjust to, but were actually quite difficult

The Little Cultural Things that Matter

  • Examples of differences based on Prof. Urban’s travels in Brazil:
    • Don’t waste time (US expectation) versus take it easy (Brazilian expectation)
    • “Game” of trying to run over pedestrians
  • GlobalPharm example:
    • hired top sales people from competitor, but a significant number had left in less than a year
    • possibly due to method of reporting expenses made new hires feel they weren’t trusted
  • All examples of culture shock

Culture Shock

  • A definition: Travellers are initially optimistic and have positive expectations regarding interaction with their hosts. As they actually become involved in the role relationships and encounter frustrations in trying to achieve certain goals when the proper means are unclear or unacceptable, they become confused and depressed and express negative attitudes regarding the host country.
  • There is a relationship between culture and feelings or emotions
  • Culture shock is related to mazeway disintegration
  • A mazeway as a kind of a mental map for life


  • Habit is second nature
  • Habitus: many of our habits are acquired as part of the culture in which we are immersed
  • Examples:
    • Brazilians ignoring lane markers
    • Food we like and dislike
    • Clothes, music, books, movies, hairstyles
  • Look at the teams you belong to, try to identify some of the habits, and likes and dislikes that are typical of the group

Characteristic Ways of Speaking within the Team

  • The team often develops recognisable ways of speaking
  • Unfamiliar acronyms, like AOB means “at or better”
  • Motorola: “the dog will eat it”
  • General Motors: “keep brands within their swimlanes”
  • Teams develop a specific habitus
  • We can regard the team habitus as contributing to the motivational basis for team success

What We Say Versus What We Do

  • Businesses come up with statements about what their corporate culture is
  • Can’t assume that what people describe is the same as what they do when they actually live the culture every day
  • Statements about culture are not necessarily accurate descriptions, but ratherserve some other purpose
    • e.g. Enron: public culture statement “We’re honest”. In actuality, fraud and deceit

Hiring and Cultural Fit

  • McDonald’s has “standard phrases”. e.g. “do you want fries with that?”
  • Example of employee hired as “sandwich associate”
    • let go 2 months later because not a “good fit”
    • they looked for a certain type of person who’s able to follow directions and to not take matters into their own hands
  • In developing a team designed to achieve specific goals, it is crucial that recruitment efforts be focused on finding new team members whose existing cultural orientation fits the culture of the team
  • The question hiring managers should be looking to answer is, “does this candidate’s values align with those of the company”

High Culture

  • “High culture” is cultivated tastes for the high arts and for learning (as opposed to the everyday things that we learn and transmit to other people)

Shakespeare in the Bush

Hiring as Cultural Matching

Hiring as Cultural Matching: The Case of Elite Professional Service Firms
Author: Lauren A. Rivera
Source: American Sociological Review, Vol. 77, No. 6 (December 2012), pp. 999-1022
Published by: American Sociological Association
Stable URL:


This article presents culture as a vehicle of labor market sorting. Providing a case study of hiring in elite professional service firms, I investigate the often suggested but heretofore empirically unexamined hypothesis that cultural similarities between employers and job candidates matter for employers’ hiring decisions. Drawing from 120 interviews with employers as well as participant observation of a hiring committee, I argue that hiring is more than just a process of skills sorting; it is also a process of cultural matching between candidates, evaluators, and firms. Employers sought candidates who were not only competent but also culturally similar to themselves in terms of leisure pursuits, experiences, and self-presentation styles. Concerns about shared culture were highly salient to employers and often outweighed concerns about absolute productivity. I unpack the interpersonal processes through which cultural similarities affected candidate evaluation in elite firms and provide the first empirical demonstration that shared culture—particularly in the form of lifestyle markers—matters for employer hiring. I conclude by discussing the implications for scholarship on culture, inequality, and labor markets.

Joe’s note: the above study looks into what happens, but is this actually a good thing?

The Great Convergence

I was looking for something to read on my commute, when I saw a tweet:


@KentBeck:I *knew* The Great Convergence was going to be awesome. 3% read and it’s already paid for itself. Tx @BaldwinRE

Of course I had to buy it! For what is in effect an economic text book, there are some fascinating insights.

Some snippets from the book:

In Phase One, globalization consisted of the gradual “humanization” of the planet. Globalization in Phase Two meant something quite different. The Agricultural Revolution allowed humans to settle down in villages, cities, and eventually civilizations, so globalization in this phase meant “localizing” the world economy.

Phase Three radically changed globalization yet again when the steam revolution launched a century-long sequence of developments that made humans the masters of intercontinental distances. Falling cost boosted trade, but moving goods hardly made the world flat—quite the contrary. By the late twentieth century, two-thirds of economic activity was clustered in just seven nations—the G7. Manufacturing was even more concentrated. To keep complex industrial processes working smoothly, manufacturing processes were microclustered inside industrial plants located in the G7 nations.

Phase Four has seen the economic foundation of this microclustering crumble as the ICT revolution lowered the cost of coordinating complex processes across great distances. Once it was possible to separate manufacturing processes internationally, firms pursued the option with gusto. They started moving labor-intensive stages of production from high-wage nations to low-wage nations.

Globalization was transformed by this North-South offshoring since advanced know-how accompanied the offshoring stages of production. It is these new knowledge flows that put the “New” in the New Globalization. They are what allowed a small number of developing nations to industrialize with a rapidity entirely out of line with historical experience, and this, in turn, reshaped the world economy in Phase Four.

The book goes into much more depth, and talks about the breaking of 2 constraints to globalisation (cheap transport, and effective long range communication)

Changes to XTC in 2017

The 10th January 2017 XTC meetup was a very active affair. I had asked the question “What shall XTC do in 2017?”. This involved a lot of talk of the history of XTC, and asking philosophical questions like “What is XTC?” and “Why would anyone come to XTC?”. I had a major a-ha moment as a result of these talks (more on that later). I think that there was also a sense of positive optimism and enthusiasm, and I left the meetup with a renewed sense of energy for XTC.20170110_all

Changes for 2017

Firstly, some concrete changes to XTC starting from now:

Fortnightly instead of weekly

For the moment, XTC will be held once a fortnight (instead of once a week, as it has been previously). The pool of XTC regulars has dropped from previous years. We recognised that we’re spreading ourselves too thinly. By cutting the number of meetups in half, we hope that on any particular meetup night there will be a bigger and more diverse group, and hence much better conversations. Depending upon how XTC goes this year, we may decide to tweak this further (in either direction).

Seed topic

The organisers will ensure that there is always a seed topic. Many people have noted that when someone proposes a topic to discuss before the meetup, it will naturally ensure that someone will be there, and that people know at least 1 thing that will be discussed. Sometimes the topic will give the incentive for people to turn up to argue a point 🙂

Jeff started things off by getting everyone who attended to propose a seed topic that they would be happy to talk about. After there were a good amount of topics, we all voted on topics that we would be interested in.

It so happens that the first time we voted, the most popular topic was “The Silver Bullet Fallacy”. Hence, this will be the seed topic of our next meetup on the 24th January.


New Co-organisers

Nader and myself are both organisers of XTC. However, both of us find it hard to find time to help with the organisation and promotion of XTC as much as it should. I asked for help, and @jtf, @sleepyfox and @tomwhoscontrary all volunteered to dive on that grenade. Thanks, all!

The Nature of XTC

With the XTC changes out of the way, there is one thing that I wanted to talk about: what is XTC? The website at talks about the nature of XTC as follows:

Working in XP can be hard so its good to meet other people and discuss common problems. It’s a professional network and support group.

  • It’s more than just XP
  • XTC encourages people to write papers, books, articles and run events to publicise XP.
  • XTC allows people to gain experience in XP practices when their day-job doesn’t.
  • XTC introduces people to the XP community.
  • XTC is a social club for like minded people to have a drink after work and put the world to rights! XTC has an anarchic spirit

Personally, I have found the above points seems to miss the essence. I agree wholeheartedly with the first and last points, but the middle 3 leave me a bit uncaring, as Extreme Programming seems such a minor part of what XTC is these days (at least in my experience, though YMMV).

I asked people who turned up what XTC was to them. Some initial answers:

  • People who do the things I want to do
  • People who have tried different approaches
  • People who I like to talk to (but maybe not like)
  • Extended colleagues
  • Colleagues you wish you had

I found these unsatisfying, in that they were all self-referential (XTC is the people who like XTC).

Then someone then hit upon the phrase “Continuity XP” (or “NextP”). XTC started off as a group of people trying to understanding the implications and context of Extreme Programming. It was a place to discuss the problem domain, and share experiences of different contexts where XP worked and didn’t work. Thas is, a Community of Need (using @PapaChrisMatts name). XTC is the continuation of that group. Some consider XP to be a mapped solution (now the nucleus of a community of solution). However, the original group didn’t just disband and go home. XTC continued to be the locus of a community of need, moving on to different problems in the software development space (lean, agile, large scale agile, action science, among many others). This was my major a-ha, the description of XTC that I always had a problem articulating: XTC is the group of people who look beyond the canned answers in software development. We see “solutions” as a limiting goal. We are the people who are always questioning the established wisdom.

What do you think? Come along to the next XTC and discuss! 🙂