Collaborative Culture Challenge

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One of the main challenges I encounter every time I participate in launching a new venture is striving to create a culture that is open and collaborative, as well as informal and fun to be a part of, yet not obsessed with soft consensus to the point of drowning in details.
On one hand you don’t want to stymie discussion and lead people to self-censor because they perceive you as a fascist boss or project manager. On the other hand some people don’t know when it’s time to table a discussion, agree to disagree, or even accept they won’t win the argument. You do want to listen and gather the best from everyone but a small business can’t be dragged in UN-like discussions either. Irresolution and the lack of a feeling of urgency are a big business syndrom smaller companies can’t afford.

It’s something I mentioned last year but I still have no perfect answer for. It’s hard to find the right tone and the dryness of online written media doesn’t help. At this point my feeling is the problem can be addressed with firm diplomacy, but it’s even better to preempt it with proper recruitment. Mature team members who have been there and done that know when it’s in the project’s best interest to move on, even if their own personal perspective is not 100% reflected by The Plan. It takes humility and experience to listen to oneself and to stop short of entering the high maintenance zone (but you don’t listen!) that drags things down.
Even though businesses don’t pretend to be democracies, this mirrors on a much smaller scale the struggle between the executive and legislative branches. The Bush/Cheney duet probably takes it too far, but I also understand where they come from: when you have a mandate it is your duty to execute it. Discussion doesn’t amount to action; the former is a means, the later is an end. What this really shows at the end of the day is that management sometimes involves taking unpopular decisions. If there was no arbitrage to be made under pressure and within constraints, it wouldn’t be called management. And if a team can’t get past these natural tensions, something is probably wrong in the chemistry between people or in the objective of the venture itself.

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