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Posted on: Tuesday, June 30, 2009 by Rajiv Popat

Building Remarkable Work And Play Environments - Part 1.

One of the thing that fascinates me is an environment and the vibe that I get from an organization when I walk into it.

As a consultant I've worked at countless client offices around the world. During this period of my life as a consultant I have seen a few environments that are capable of housing genuine builders and giving them room to maneuver; thrive and flourish. I've also seen a few environments that would make a genuine builder uncomfortable to an extent that he runs and never comes back.

The fact of life however; is that most environments fall somewhere in the middle. Smack in the realms of mediocrity which is good enough to get your work-at-hand done but not cross the chasm of innovation and build something that is genuinely remarkable.

This is why most software companies; irrespective of where they are located hardly do anything which makes big or small dents in the universe.

When I talk about your organizational 'environment' I'm not just talking about how your office looks; how big it is; or what your decor looks like.

Environment is more a state-of-mind; a reflection of your organization's personality.

From the very first vibe that you get when you walk into an organization to the feeling that you develop for the organization after working there for a couple of months --- that's what I like to call your work environment.

That is exactly what I've been interested in observing for quite some time.

Observe a wide range of organizations long enough and you can't help but ask a few simple questions:

  1. Why do some environments have the best of the builders; while others struggle to find even decently good candidates?
  2. Why are some organizations able to make really big dents in the universe; while others are unable to make even a tiny dents on their own backyards?
  3. Why do some organizations need teams of just three builders to change the world; while others find it hard to survive even with armies of consultants?
  4. Why do some organizations have builders sticking around year after year; while others struggle to keep their revolving doors from stopping for sometime?
  5. Why do some organizations have style; finance and brand loyalty; while others are just cheap body shops selling cheap brainless bodies?

These are questions; most managers and organizations; have been trying to answer for a very long time. The answers I believe lie in observing some of these teams and organizations very-very closely. 

Everything you will be reading in this section of this book comes from an exercise which involves taking three simple steps:

  1. Studying companies that are successful and observing individuals who have been able to made a big dent in the universe.
  2. Observing the organizations that are getting it wrong and trying to figure out why they are going wrong.
  3. Trying to figure out what is so hugely different between these two organizations or should we just say --- trying to figure out what's wrong in the underlying approach of the two organizations.

Google is often regarded as the holy grail of software development world. It is one company that has undoubtedly changed the face of the world and how we interact with the internet. 

Stories, articles and videos of the great work environment at Google are littered all over the bathroom walls of the internet.

CEO's; CTOs and Vice Presidents look at these stories, videos or pictures littered all over the place and cringe at the mere thought of spending millions in trying to build environments which can compete with Google environments.

The safe line of defense you hear these folks speaking is --- 'We're not Google'.

Now that is one line I've heard from friends, acquaintances and sometimes even professionals in offices of the clients I have worked with.

If you've said this before; I've got to be completely honest with you dear reader and give you a little secret you can use.


You do not have to be Google.

In fact; you should strive really hard to see to it that you do not become Google.

The Google element of charm and surprise is  taken. It's old. Trying to mimic Google is going to get you nowhere. 

As a matter of fact; trying to mimic any work environment is stupidity at its height.

When I say that; I also mean that trying to mimic the typical-factory-floor model of how people do stuff in 'big companies' and 'body shops' is also something you might also have to consider stopping immediately.

What you need to do is think and come up with ideas that will work in your organization.

Creating work environments for builders is easy. Whether you are a CEO; a Vice President; a Manager; a Programmer or just another employee; I am here to tell you; dear reader; that you can make a difference in the overall thought process of the organization and the overall work environment by making small changes at your very own personal end.

What I intend to do in this section of this book; dear reader; is show you how easy it is to create an environment where builders can not just thrive; flourish and grow but also feel proud enough to spread the word and attract other genuine builders to join in.

It goes without saying that as we move along I will be expressing my ideas and proving my points through the act of story-telling.

The intention here is not to try and preach the list of 'N' things they can do to create awesome work environments.

I wish it was that easy as that and I wish I had the list of those 'N' things but I am really sorry; I don't.

When it comes to creating the best of environments I personally believe that there is no one right answer. My intention here is to give you an insight into the builders mind and what makes a builder happy; motivated and productive not just to stick around but to rope in other builders he knows.

At the very grass-roots level; creating an environment of this sort requires three fundamental things:

  1. Time.
  2. Thinking like a true builder and having genuine empathy for your employees. 
  3. Common sense.

That's easy Pops --- you say. Well personally I believe that getting your organization to genuinely adapt to these three simple bullet-points is going to be the hardest thing you might every do in your current job.

During the course of this book we'll look at some obvious common sense driven aspects most organizations; managers and HR professionals seem to miss out on completely. We will also talk about a few things everyone sees but no-one cares about; even when some of these things are hugely important.

Before we start with these stories in the posts that follow; lets end this one with three simple questions for you to think about.

Do you look forward to going to office on a Monday morning?

How would you rate your work environment on a scale of one-to-ten?

Is your organization even interested in collecting your rating and then acting on it, dear reader?


Note: This article is a part of a Work In Progress Book. To Read connected articles read the Builders At Work category of this blog.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009 12:04:41 AM UTC
Dangerous is a place that wants to change it's work environment! Well, at least the place I was at, it was pretty nice. But it was also full of empty promises. Constantly they ask for input that gets slowly filed away into nothing. Just a facade of trying to impress the employee enough to get work done.

After many months of this, with much struggling, I discovered that many people stop caring. Why care, when it will never happen? I find that it's even harder for people to discover what they want, when what they want is seemingly unattainable.

I have worked in fantastic places too with amazing people. We do what we want, when we want to. Maybe because they are small, unstructured groups that act entirely autonomously in being awesome. I think the burden of making a place great does come from the top, and it means they have to, as you have said many times in your builder series, is back off. When people are left to their own devices, I believe they will create great things, because people are creative.

I hope you find this constructive.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009 1:02:47 AM UTC

Some quick reactions to your comments.

> When people are left to their own devices, I believe they will create great things, because people are creative.

Couldn't agree more.

If you've got the hiring correct and have learnt to leave your genuine builders alone by getting the monkeys out of their way, you've taken care of most of the environment problems.

There’s a post on hiring lined up pretty soon followed by a series of other posts on building remarkable work and play environments.

> I hope you find this constructive.

Very constructive.

This is in line with the chain of thoughts I was planning on addressing in my future posts.

Do keep your comments coming.
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