Culture is hard
The culture of a group can be a tricky thing to architect. Behind every dysfunctional company culture lay the shreds of good intentions. Sometimes a good culture comes together with heavy doses of luck and serendipity. That’s when you get too scared to make any changes because you don’t know how it came together. One false move will unravel it all. Think Indiana Jones and the stepping stones in the Temple of Doom. At least there aren’t any snakes.
Maybe there is a way forward
Mental models seem like they can be a good tool for building a company or team culture. They serve as your map for an explored territory. You have some squiggles and loose direction, but you have to constantly make interpretations of what you’re seeing in the real-world, and if it is getting you where you want to go on the map.
“Begin to look at maps with the narcotic tingle of possibility” -Rolf Potts
But what if we start falling off the path
As with any rough map, the real-world changes. There are just too many factors, too many variables in the real… and a map’s legend is limited. I once learned that your map for life can be misleading. Say for example that you grow up near a river. Your map’s legend indicates that squiggles are river water. But what happens when you encounter the ocean? You interpret those on your map as a river, and you’re wrong. You need a more refined legend. Or what about these slightly different squiggles? Are they a different type of water? Nope, those are trees.
The point is, like a map, a mental model is a great starting point but it’s your leadership, your interpretation of life and interpersonal signals, that evolve it and make successful navigation possible.
Establish guardrails as triggers to re-evaluate
Even if our map, our mental model, has a couple items in the legend, we can set up guardrails to bounce us back on the path. Without any guardrails, we go careening off the side of the path and into danger. So we can set up guardrails on the edges of our mental models by doing a pre-mortem.
A pre-mortem would be evaluating our mental model and looking for what failure will look like. How can it all fall apart? There are some hilarious and extreme answers here, but the closer to likely or probable signs of failure we can stick, the tighter our guardrail sits to the path. And that means we can correct our direction sooner.
Maybe it’s worth a shot
So over the next few posts, I’m going to explore mental models for crafting a company and team culture. I’m going to look for other lenses and frameworks to bring into to some tried and true culture models and see if we can’t reinvent a new map to explore.