What’s Your Organizational Culture? (or Baseball as a Bonding Agent)

It sounds odd, but La Piana Consulting is a “virtual organization” – virtual, in this case, referring to the fact that although we do business out of a central administrative office, most of our consultants and operations staff work from home offices throughout the U.S. (Among us, we represent seven states!)

A dispersed work force has both advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, it enables us to assemble an outstanding staff from across the country, to live and work in regions where our clients operate, and to keep facilities expenses low. On the other hand, it can make it difficult to maintain a sense of connection with one another, which is an important element of a strong organizational culture. I think we’ve all found, from time to time, that despite the conveniences of email, Skype, and other tools that make working remotely increasingly attractive for organizations like ours, being “virtual” can be an isolating experience.

This is why I was surprised and delighted this past week when baseball – of all things – revealed itself to be a rallying point for our sometimes neglected organizational culture. One of our consultants (Michael, you met him a few weeks ago in a staff profile where he introduced himself as a “base ball” enthusiast) proposed via email that when we convene in the Bay Area for our next in-person staff meeting we meet up afterward for a Giants game. Well, after an initial round of polite RSVPs and thank yous, this email thread caught fire to become one of the longest in recent La Piana Consulting history, as reserve gave way to a spontaneous sharing of personal attitudes toward baseball, reflections on what the game has meant to us as individuals, and (of course!) a lot of lively ribbing and trash-talk pitting favorite teams against one another.

Coincidentally, I had just been working on a piece for a client on organizational culture, and how it includes shared customs, traditions, beliefs, and stories. Well, little did I know that when I went online that morning, I would see us write a new chapter to our own story. What started as business-as-usual changed to Brenda and I exchanging memories of baseball broadcasts as part of our childhood summers, usually reserved Bob and Scott participating in some epic trash-talk, and Rosalyn (a diehard basketball fan) thinking we’re all crazy for enjoying “boring-ball.” David even divulged that he brings a secret weapon: a 93 year-old Sicilian mother (a Giants fan herself) who can put a mean curse on the opposing team’s pitcher.

Sharing this exchange, even if only via email, gave us all a new window to one another as human beings and colleagues (yes, we are all a bit competitive, but also quick to share a good laugh), lending a greater sense of closeness and cohesion as we went back to business later that morning.

What is the bonding agent that holds your organization together, whether virtual or otherwise? Do you have stories and traditions? How do these manifestations of organizational culture strengthen the work of your team as you serve your clients, stakeholders, and communities?

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