How a cultural manifesto can prevent an office smackdown

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Surely there's a better way. Image source:
Surely there’s a better way. Image source:

We’re constantly being told that we need to collaborate with colleagues. But how much collaboration is stifled by disharmony?

In order to work together in a team, you need to understand each other as people first. It has to go well beyond staff policies and values.

Take my friend Katerina.

Katerina works in a legal firm. Her firm uses an open plan office, without partitions, so people are coming and going all the time. The company chose this set up because it wanted to encourage people to talk more together.

And they do.

About the weather, about the football on the weekend, about Taylor Swift.

The problem is that while Katerina likes the company of her colleagues, she often needs to disconnect from them to concentrate on the work she’s doing. And with their constant interruptions, she never feels like she can get anything done.

She’s tried all sorts of not-too-subtle hints. She’s taken to wearing heavy over-ear headphones. She’s given one word answers when her colleagues come over to talk, to try and kill the conversation before it started. She’s even tried to schedule more regular meetings with them so that they have a specific time to talk together.

None of this seems to work.

“Why won’t they just leave me alone?” she wonders.

Over time, more discontent and resentment brews. One day, she catches herself thinking some horrible thoughts. She secretly wishes one of them would have a car accident on the way to work, just so she could avoid being interrupted. She is shocked that this thought could even enter her mind.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has had this fantasy before. Am I?
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had this fantasy before. Am I?

If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because it’s an all too common scenario. Some experts suggest that interruptions cause up to six hours a day of lost productivity.

What if Katerina really couldn’t afford to be interrupted? Imagine if she was doing open heart surgery or flying a plane.

In aviation, many airlines use a concept called the sterile cockpit. The sterile cockpit is based on the idea that as the plane is taking off or landing, the people in the cockpit need to have their full concentration on the task at hand.

At these times, crew are only able to talk about the operation of the plane.

Once the plane is over 10,000 feet, they can talk about whatever they like.

Wouldn’t it be great if workplaces adopted the same principle?

At OIC, we value open and direct communication, but we also need quiet time to finish off individual tasks. And so, the first hour of the day is dedicated towards this. No interruptions, no meetings, no phone calls.

Some people have commented that they get more done in this hour than the rest of the day.

Surely this is a better way to deal with interruptions and conflict in general?

Simple do-not-disturb signs used during the first hour of the day
Simple do-not-disturb signs used during the first hour of the day

In my experience, organisations tend to deal with conflict poorly.

A company policy or code of conduct doesn’t work, as it is something handed down by management, and often read briefly and filed away. What we need is something that everyone has a say in creating, right from the beginning.

Enter the Cultural Manifesto – an overarching agreement between the whole team.

It answers a very important seven word question.

How do we do what we do?

In coming up with OIC’s Cultural Manifesto, we had a look at a bunch of similar manifestos online, but they didn’t suit our purposes. They were either too glossy, too corporate, or even worse, too vague to be meaningful.

So we sat down and wrote our own.

We wanted something that was broad enough to cover a range of different situations but specific enough to have real meaning.

Every person on the team had to agree to every word on the page, or else it was reworded until consensus was reached.

The result – the OIC Cultural Manifesto.

Huge thanks to Elise Tong for her graphic design work, and to Wesley Hedden for facilitating this discussion.

What practices do you have in place to get people working better together?

OIC - Cultural Manifesto-2


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