The Ingenious Workplace Handbook

—An Antidote to Common Workplace Maladies
A Powerful How-to Handbook for Culture Change

The power of an organization’s culture to affect its bottom line is widely recognized. We propose a common-sense approach to tap into this power for your organization. The first step is to clearly identify your organization’s intent (the reason for its existence). Next comes the communication of that intent in a well-crafted, captivating story. Stories or narratives are one of the oldest and most compelling modes of human communication. Your organization’s narrative tells the story of how its intent unfolds over time.The intent becomes the plot that ties together the particular chapters of the organization’s history. This history is thereby transformed into a vital, ongoing story that guides and drives organizational success. Participation in the story is what allows people to see themselves as contributors, associates, and owners (not mere employees). Further, such participation helps ensure an innovative and successful organization.

Infusing the story throughout the organization creates a vital and stimulating culture. In such a culture, the organization relies on its narrative to create solidarity and ensure unity of purpose. The narrative informs the “what, how, and who” of workplace activity. Communal practices emerge–norms and rituals which guide the activities of the workplace. Participants come to have productive and meaningful work identities when their individual narratives find a place and have value within the organization’s story.

Designing a kind of workplace that makes sense in terms of the company’s narrative is critical to the perpetuation of organizational culture. This is a matter of designing an organizational structure that facilitates the essential participation of all members. It is a matter of organizing the workplace in ways that make sense to the people doing the work and make it possible for them to be vitally engaged in carrying out the organization’s intent.

In sharp contrast to a system of rules, regulations, and hierarchies, this kind of organizational design is a work community in which people make common cause in generating valuable products and services. Working together to fill necessary roles and ensure best practices, participants are flexible in organizing themselves in ways that are appropriate to the task or project at hand.

Like any successful organizational design, a work community provides for organizational cohesion, direction, and coordination. The specific ways that these are generated is closely tied to the organization’s culture and thus ultimately to its intent. Thus the design of the workplace is determined by and reflects the organizational narrative rather than a predetermined flow chart. Organizations are designed as work communities–social structures arising from the organization’s story. They are communities brought together by the organization’s shared intent.

In general, a work community is a more horizontal workplace design in which common practices—both norms that guide how things are done and rituals by which people remember who they are and why they do these things—maintain organizational cohesion.

Participants themselves provide direction by actively taking leadership roles informed by the culture and organization’s intent. Leadership teams or councils are formed to attend to both strategic and operational concerns. Key to all levels and forms of coalition leadership is participation in the narrative. Leadership decisions are informed and guided by organizational intent.

Communities begin in shared intent and are built and maintained by communication. As a work community (and not a work machine), coalitions engender the communication necessary to successfully coordinate activities.

In a work community, bound together in a common narrative, participants become ingenious by using the narrative to dis-solve common, everyday problems and to clearly recognize opportunities for innovation. In an Ingenious Workplace, routine operations go exceptionally well, and excellence and innovation are routine.

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