Thursday, December 21, 2017

Cool Event: Culture Counts - Event Recap

I attended an excellent, uplifting event with my friend Hsuan-Hua Chang on Tuesday called "Culture Counts".  It was led by a very fascinating woman, XXX.  The leader was from South Africa originally and has lived in 15 countries.  She has gathered many principles and practices that she now shares with organizations to help them create environments and experiences that help people be their best and perform optimally.  It was an inspirational topic and very professionally led.

When I showed up at the place in Ballard after work, I was amazed by the impressiveness of the facility: it was someone's house that they had rented, but by no means your typical, run of the mill house at all.  The inside of the structure was large and sprawling and open and lovely.  It was in an industrial neighborhood but once you were inside you felt like you were in a womb.  The large, open structure was expertly decorated and arranged with beautiful artwork and laid out in a very interesting and intentional way.  Our hosts were kind and provided us with hot cocoa and warm greetings on entry; it was the week before Christmas indeed and a large Christmas tree greeted us as well. 

About 20 of us arrived and the session began as we sat around a large table called the culture table.  We were led and asked to write down three things on post-it notes with colored Sharpies: 1) the first word that came to our minds when we entered the space 2) the reason we were there 3) three things that spoke most to us when we walked around the room and took in the experiences.  We were asked to share our findings with peers and soon learned that each of our reactions, perceptions and beliefs were quite unique and different from those around us.  For example, Marc shared that he liked the exposed brass pipes which I had looked right past and still didn't mind.  Another person shared that they loved a jellyfish painting that did nothing for me.  I stated that I liked the kitchen, the velvet couches and the open space.  A third person, Russell, explained that he felt dwarfed when we walked into the space but my feeling was the exact opposite: it made me feel great since I am quite tall.  We learned that we were all quite different and experiencing things in very different ways; we were diverse.

The leader explained some of what was happening: she said that the soul of a building is not the artifacts or thing itself but rather what we, the people, bring into it: our senses, observations, selves and stories. 

It was a great event and we had a lot of good nuggets: culture could be the corresponding personality of a place or group.  We read stats about just how important happy workers are and the many negative consequences of unhappy workers.  We learned that culture always has a purpose or goal.  A culture is the soul of an organization or group.  A few questions came up for me: Is culture the sum total of the intangible benefits and beliefs of an org?  Is culture the compensation, benefits and value that people receive from a group that come for free, organically and naturally?  The goal of creating and influencing a good culture is to have people become the best versions of themselves and sustainably do the best work of their lives.  Some degree of bottoms-up, organic, authentic culture is required and we talked about the idea of leading from the edge.  The idea of an organization's edge is important and is a major place from which change can and does happen.  Yes, organizations do indeed have centers and tops and power structures but also, each person, on the edge may be armed with the same tools and power and ability to influence people and shine a light on opportunities and possibilities.  Taking steps can be risky and sometimes we just need to plunge in.  We can take calculated, planned, intentional  steps that have fallback plans, too.  Or we can just say screw it, go for it and see what happens.

We broke out into small groups to discuss ratings we created of the cultures in our organizations.  In my small group, there was one area where we all agreed was weak in each of our areas: managers.  And we talked about the role of managers and the org for creating a space that feels safe and inspiring. 

We watched a video about a non-profit in Seattle that helped the homeless and then met the star of the video, the founder of the non-profit and got to hear more about her story. 

In all, it was a wonderful, well-planned and executed event.  Thanks to Hsuan-Hua and all the others I met.  I look forward to getting to know the speaker more as well.

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