New projects are exciting. The energy, the enthusiasm, and the intellectual challenge can be invigorating both personally and professionally; however, before you charge into your first meeting you should take a few minutes and make sure you understand the culture of the organization you are stepping into. Understanding how the group works can be the difference between a successful project and one mired by setbacks, difficulties, and an abundance OfficeNPT (non-productive time).
Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, in their 1996 November – December Harvard Business Review article “What Holds the Modern Company Together?”, provide guidance on how to quickly assess organizational culture. Based on their research, they developed a 2 x 2 grid with axes of solidarity and sociability. According to the article, “sociability is a measure of sincere friendliness among members of a community. Solidarity is a measure of a community’s ability to pursue shared objectives quickly and effectively, regardless of personal ties” (Goffee & Jones, 1996). Knowing where your team plots on the matrix and the characteristics of those 4 quadrants can help you understand how to work efficiently and effectively within the team’s culture. For example, in a high-sociability team, if the new project leader gets straight to business, it might be off-putting and immediately mark them as an outsider; meanwhile, teams with high-solidarity would view this interaction positively.
The grid below summarizes the quadrants discussed in the article along with some defining characteristics. It is important to note that culture may vary even among groups or organizations within the same company. Considering an oil and gas well planning team, the Drilling and Subsurface groups may work one way within their individual disciplines but act completely differently when interacting together.
When accounting for things that could go wrong on a project, don’t let culture be something that derails you. It’s easy to identify, and spending just a few minutes thinking about the organizational culture prior to the start of a project can pay big dividends later and increase your chances for success.