As many organizations are currently considering post-covid work expectations, I thought others might find value in Robert Quinn’s January 2020 talk “Social Excellence: Detect It, Learn from It, Create It.”
Below, I’ve embedded and summarized three sections of Quinn’s talk that helped me think through and discuss cultural tradeoffs when considering the spectrum of options between all-remote and in-person working models:
- Supporting the Culture We Have
- Navigating Conflict or Disruption Based on Culture
- Maintaining Social Excellence
Quinn’s talk further convinced me:
- Atomic is great at what we do because we have created a culture where social excellence thrives.
- Atomic’s flexible, co-location work model is critical to our culture and the nature of our work.
- Our plan to return to our offices will be a long-term, competitive advantage.
Disclaimer: These concepts are a bit heady and worthy of a deep dive if you are interested. Quinn’s entire talk is worth watching. I’m sharing a taste of Quinn’s work and providing highlights in the hope you might be inspired to learn more.
Before jumping into the section excerpts, let’s touch on what social excellence means. Social excellence has been defined as:
- A state of perpetual generosity, curiosity, positivity, and openness to limitless possibility.
- A desire to intentionally connect with others.
- The ability to engage in deep, meaningful conversation.
- Acting in a responsible and respectable manner, with high expectations of others.
- Being authentic and living every day with integrity as the best version of yourself.
- Being confident and vulnerable. Being fun and compassionate.
- Being open, kind, and bold. The deepest level of societal participation and contribution.
I believe cross-disciplined teams doing creative work will perform better when thriving in a culture of social excellence.
Social excellence in the workplace is something we’d all enjoy, but it may not likely occur without intentionally fostering it.
The first section below highlights how social excellence can be affected by competing organizational values. I believe co-location is also part of the magic.
1. Supporting the Culture We Have
Robert Quinn co-developed the Competing Values Framework with Kim Cameron in the 1980s. The framework has been used in a number of ways. The image below is the culture version of the Competing Values Framework (I created this image based on a few slides in Quinn’s presentation and other references).
The Competing Values Culture Framework categorizes organizational cultures based on the organization’s prioritization of competing values. The vertical axis shows prioritization between stability and flexibility. The horizontal axis shows prioritization between inward focus and outward focus. The resulting four-box model classifies cultures in the quadrants of Hierarchy, Market, Clan, or Adhocracy. Each culture type has traits for effectiveness, communication, employee needs, etc.
This framework helped me see how the nature of Atomic’s poly-skilled, co-located working model thrives in the Clan and Adhocracy quadrants. Atomic’s balanced blend of Clan and Adhocracy cultural elements helps us be some of the best at software product design and development.
In the segment below, Quinn tells us that people understand hierarchy from a young age and are rooted in it. That rang true to me, and it reinforced why it’s so important for Atomic to be intentional in onboarding new Atoms into our culture. Our team-based, collaborative, and creative culture is neither common nor a natural set point for new people joining our team.
During this segment, I reflected on the importance of our office environments and the value of our co-located working model. I considered how working in close physical proximity with one another supports the following Clan and Adhocracy cultural elements:
- Effectiveness: Collaboration, Teamwork, Adaptation, Growth
- Climate: Trust, Unity, Creative, Energizing
- Employee Needs: Inclusion, Validation, Stimulation, Growth
I also considered how a fully remote working model would likely struggle more to achieve or maintain the elements above.
2. Navigating Conflict or Disruption Based on Culture
In the following segment, Quinn discusses how individuals might resolve conflict or disruption in different quadrants of the Competing Values Culture Framework. He tells a story of going from denial, to rational debate, to a place where you matter and how it’s then easier to get to the co-creation mindset and discover emergent outcomes.
In the clip above, Quinn explains that it’s a leap to get to the Clan and Adhocracy quadrants. As I watched this segment, I reflected on how co-location helps us work in these quadrants and how remote work could limit the ability to leap into—or thrive in—these quadrants.
3. Maintaining Social Excellence
In this final segment, using the image below, Quinn discusses assumptions of social science, exchange theory, and the transactional mindset.
Quinn outlines that social science and economic theory assume:
- People are rational, analytical, self-interested actors
- Resources are scarce
- Conflict is inevitable
He notes most people come into organizations with the normal assumptions and behaviors of:
- Transactional relationships
- Threat monitoring
- Filtering the truth and being less likely to tell the truth
- Restricted engagement
Quinn states we all carry these assumptions, generally live by exchange theory, and how this:
- Governs our interactions
- Doesn’t produce high-quality connections
- Produces secular space
- Determines reality and creates culture
In the video segment above, Quinn describes:
- How most of us show up to work in the middle of the curve
- We normally live in the Hierarchy and Market quadrants using theories of exchange and stay on the left side of the curve
- Organizations in the middle of the curve risk sliding more to the left
- Sociology has historically focused on studying the middle and left side of the curve
- Social science hasn’t focused on positive deviants and the right side of the curve
- Due to our general predisposition of exchange theory, the right side of the curve can be hard for people to conceive of, but it is supported by Positive Organizational Scholarship and Complexity Theory
As I watched this section of Quinn’s talk, I considered the importance of our office environments, co-located model, regular social events, and intentional culture nurturing. These set the stage for social excellence and thriving on the right side of the curve.
This section also reinforced the importance and value of Atomic’s intentional paced growth, Accelerator Program, and onboarding practices. New Atoms are likely to arrive rooted in exchange theory, and our thoughtful and intentional onboarding helps us maintain an environment of social excellence.
I also reflected on how remote teams trying to work collaboratively and creatively would struggle to move towards—or stay on—the right side of the curve.
Co-location and Social Excellence
I’ve watched the video clips in this post many times over the past year as we’ve discussed the future of remote work at Atomic, coming out of the covid-19 pandemic.
I believe remote work is quite suitable for routine, transactional work, but I expect—at best—it limits culture to the middle of the curve and people anchored on individual optimization and transactional relationships.
I continue to believe Atomic’s flexible, co-located working model is critical for our future success and achieving our goal to be a 100-year-old company. Co-location fosters and supports:
- Movement to the right of the curve and an environment of social excellence
- The collaboration and creative work that creates success for our customers
- A greater source of fulfillment and rewarding career growth for Atoms
- Atomic’s ability to develop future leaders and stewards of our culture
What considerations do these frameworks and concepts from Robert Quinn bring up for you?
How might these frameworks and concepts shape your plans for future working model expectations coming out of the covid-19 pandemic?
- The Flourishing Triangle: Why Remote Work is Kryptonite for Positive Connections - July 25, 2022
- Pack Your Higher Purpose for the Long Haul - July 6, 2022
- Return To Office – A Time for Context-Based Leadership - May 16, 2022
- Resilience Doesn’t Come From Being Resilient - August 11, 2021
- Pursuing Social Excellence through Co-located Work - May 10, 2021
Jon AlderinkMay 11, 2021
Thanks for this incredibly insightful article! It’s actually given me insight not only to the work environment, but also where my personal relationships fall within those quadrants and curves. Great stuff!