Understanding How Company Culture and Organizational Models Drive Motivation

With the recent publication of Susan J. Fowler’s exposé on her sexism-laden year working at Uber, workplace culture has been at the forefront of the national conversation. With further revelations that sexism is considered “systemic” by many in the tech sphere, business leaders from all industries have begun reflecting more deeply on their own company’s workplace cultures.. This is important considering that company culture has been shown to shape employee motivation, and even more pertinent to small business owners, who have a much more direct hand in molding and defining workplace culture and identity. So how do you identify, change, and maximize your small business culture?

Defining the Kind of Company Culture You Have

Organizational models

Business author Cole Mayer, writing for Fiscal Tiger, claims that organizational models precede company culture models, and lists five of the main models that companies tend to adopt:
  1. Adhocracy, as the name implies, is an organizational model where roles aren’t clearly assigned. This is great in one respect, as your company can enjoy being fluid, versatile, and flexible. On the other hand, employees who need more direction may not work as effectively, and a lack of assigned roles might mean a lack of accountability, causing projects to stagnate and become abandoned.
  2. Holacracy is the opposite of adhocracy, where roles and power are evenly distributed and meticulously defined. This type of organizational model benefits from an abundance of accountability. However, without a manager, it can also suffer from a lack of enforcement.
  3. Meritocracy models are rewarding of performance and innovation first. This is great for the company’s bottom line, and can drive organization’s to great success--unfortunately, it can also cause tension and in-fighting between teams who should be working together, instead of against each other.
  4. Clan Cultures are designed after familial structures that are collaborative instead of competitive. This is defined by employers and employees who are committed to each other, but stands as a corruptible model that can quickly become unproductive. The harm is that real, constructive work may end up replaced by either gratuitous back scratching, or even grave backstabbing.
  5. Hierarchical models are the traditional market models that we think about, with managers, competition among employees, and a vibe that is pretty much the exact opposite of clan culture models.
Organizational models tend to directly affect the type of company culture model your company has adopted.

Company Culture Models

Mayer continues his article by listing the types of company culture models that have begun popping up as more businesses innovate and vary organizational models.
  • Team-first models emphasize, as the name would imply, working, thinking, and acting as a team. The goal of a Clan culture is to give rise to the team-first mindset, and is generally marked by things like team outings, flexible work times, and a work-hard-play-hard mentality. Team-first models are popular, so much so that Anne Catambay of Clarizen lists both “supportive workplace culture” and “collaborative relationships” as two of the four pillars of employee engagement. This type of culture works much better in smaller companies, as teams that are too large tend not to foster inclusive feelings, and multiple teams can foster negative competition.
  • Horizontal cultures arise from holacracy and adhocracy organizational models. This culture emphasizes that everybody’s ideas are important, and that the company is willing to change based on employee/customer feedback. Sustaining this model, like the team-first model, is much more complicated in environments with a large amount of employees.
  • Elite cultures stand in opposition to the team-first model. In elite cultures, individual skill and performance are valued highly, and expectations and pressure are also elevated. These are adopted by larger corporations to “separate the wheat from the chaff,” so to speak, but have also driven smaller companies to new heights (think Elon Musk’s Tesla and SpaceX).

Using Culture to Motivate

While the above focuses on the different types of cultural models and organizational models, it’s just as important to know what makes those models tick. According to Lindsey McGregor and Neel Doshi’s “How Company Culture Shapes Employee Motivation” via the Harvard Business Review, three motives should be inherent in your workplace culture to maximize productivity.

Play is the motive that causes people to work because they enjoy that work itself. Coders who like solving challenges and puzzles, and social workers who enjoy interacting with others - these people enjoy the active engagement of their careers.

Purpose motivates people via definition of identity. This is the teacher who believes in their core that bettering children through education is the right thing to do, or the public official who feels it is their civic duty to serve.

Potential is like purpose, but is more focused on the worker themselves. This is the dance teacher who enjoys getting better at their craft the more they practice, or the QA software analyst who dreams of building videogames someday.

The HBR also lists negative motivators, such as emotional pressure, economic pressure, and inertia, which kill employee motivation and can either create or arise from a negative company culture. This is because people are not focused on doing work to satisfy their motivations, but rather because they are stressed by their motivations to do work. Other negative motivators can be external, such as slow or spotty internet, which can be perceived by employees as skimping, or a lack of support by the organization. This leads to a lack of actual engagement, which costs American businesses between $450 and $550 billion annually.

Molding and Changing Culture

When it comes to selecting the right type of culture for your company, you have to remember that you can only influence and watch that culture grow. You - whether you are a business owner, a manager, or an employee - are an integral part of that culture. However, you are not the end all and be all of that culture.

Leaders can set up activities and processes to achieve desired organizational models, but motivation is going to come from the actions of leaders, company mission statements, and even atmosphere and decoration.

It’s important to realize that culture isn’t changed overnight, and that there’s no silver bullet to negative culture. However, by understanding cultural organization and motivating factors, as well as how things like sexism and favoritism can undermine them, you can begin reshaping and molding your company’s culture to your liking.



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