In today’s changing workplace, the rise of freelancing, remote working, and virtual teams means many organisations are grappling with how to generate a shared culture. This is no easy task, and here at the Hot Spots Movement, we’ve been looking for new sources of inspiration on how companies can address this challenge.
One particularly interesting insight comes from a field that few of us would associate with organisational culture: social movement theory. This was the focus of my PhD and, at first glance, the two may seem strange bedfellows. But on closer inspection, this field reveals important lessons for companies on how to build what is known as ‘collective identity’.
Collective identity describes a sense of self that goes beyond the individual, placing the desire of a group above your own.[i] Many sociologists have pointed to it as an explanation of why unstructured or informally organised social movements, like the LGBT liberation or anti-nuclear movements were created.[ii] In these movements, a strong, shared identity was compelling enough to bind diverse, disparate groups of people into achieving a shared goal.
Likewise, collective identity is powerful in the organisational context too. Research has shown that when a person starts to identify collectively, there is a shift in their goals, and that even ‘selfish’ individuals become cooperative when they identify with a group.[iii] In addition, when people in a work setting have a strong sense of group identity, morale and productivity rise.[iv]
So, how can you go about creating a collective identity in your team or organisation? Here are three steps to get you started:
- Create A Clear Narrative: Whether it be the women’s, LGBT or environmental movement, what binds individuals in social movements is the feeling that they are part of a broader ‘whole’. For organisations, describing what the company as a collective has achieved in the past, or common values and shared characteristics required to be ‘part’ of the collective can replicate this.[v] An example can be seen in John Lewis Partnership, which places the views of their founder on co-ownership as a core part of their organisational and brand identity, ensuring that their employees feel connected to a shared past and mutual beliefs.[vi]
- Create Common Goals: Social movements are bound together by a shared desire for change, and similarly, identifying a common goal across departments can be powerful in ensuring people feel a shared identity, and don’t revert to identity by function.[vii] We saw this in action in a recent crowdsourcing project we ran with an Irish bank. The Bank invited their 11,000 employees from across divisions and departments to collectively craft five brand values they could all identify with. This provided an opportunity for the employees to work on a shared goal, resulting in a feeling of communal achievement.
- Create Opportunities for Co–Creation: Collective identity in social movements is solidified through actions, whether that be attending meetings or organising protests. For companies, creating shared tasks, which require discussion across the group, can help ensure that employees feel a united identity. For example, our Jam platform allows organisations to build on the power of their teams through crowdsourcing, empowering employees to solve problems together, and creating a shared purpose and engagement in the process.
So, next time you feel your team is not clicking, perhaps draw inspiration from social movements, and focus on building collective identity.
To find out more about our work on identity and culture, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
[i] Flesher Fominaya, C. (2010). Collective Identity in Social Movements: Central Concepts and Debates. Sociology Compass 4/6, 393-404. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/64c8/328c26d1819142d8ea6348db1b61ce475a1f.pdf
[ii] Melucci, A. The Process of Collective Identity. Johnston, H. and Klandermans, B. Social Movements and Culture (University of Minnesota Press, 1995).
[iii] Van Bavel J. and Packer, D. (December 27 2016). The Problem with Rewarding Individual Performers. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/12/the-problem-with-rewarding-individual-performers
[v] Seaman Jr., J.T and Smith, G.D. (December 2012). Your Company’s History as a Leadership Tool. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2012/12/your-companys-history-as-a-leadership-tool
Last week I was speaking at an event for an energy company in the Nordics.
The night before the event we were having dinner together and I noticed people avidly checking their phones for the latest score in a sports match of seemingly national significance. When I asked what sport it was I was surprised to learn that it was a chess match. How could a potentially slow-paced game attract so much attention in real-time I pondered?
Now contrast this with another sports event, when FIFA took football (soccer) to the USA. They were asked to shift the pace of the match from two 45-minute halves with a break (standard football timings), to more of a basketball format, with 20-minute sessions and three breaks. The US television channels claimed that an American audience shouldn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t watch 45 minutes straight without a breather.
While these are just anecdotes rather than careful analyses of each of the countries or cultures in question, they do hint at something we should perhaps pay more attention to in our lives: pace.
This is something I’ve examined in myself in recent years, when I’ve thought about what I’m good at and why I struggle with other endeavors. One example is when I first started speaking at events. My biggest challenge was to talk at a slower pace so that I could be clearly understood, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t do it.
I eventually realized that the speed at which I spoke was innately tied up with the speed at which I approached just about everything in life, perhaps under the impression that that made me more productive. This meant that in order to speak more slowly, I had to practice just ‘being’ at a slower pace. I made myself walk slower, breathe slower, eat slower…. and only by doing all of those other things was I finally able to master presenting at a coherent speed.
It turned out that what I really needed to do was step outside of my comfortable pace of being, and learn to operate in another rhythm. It was a realization that for me, made the difference between excelling at something that was critical for my role, or continually falling short.
Now, pace isn’t something we talk much about at work, but perhaps it should be. We all have a natural pace that makes us great at certain things, but holds us back in other respects.
Maybe take a moment today to consider your natural pace – are you a chess match or a basketball game? And then practice ‘playing the other sport.’ What does it feel like when you simply walk a little faster or slower? What would you be better at if you sped up or slowed down at work? It may be that getting comfortable with a different pace, a different rhythm is the key to helping you master something you’ve been grappling with for years.
 Surely a turn of phrase that gives away how little I know about sports, let alone writing about them
 I appreciate the advertising community may have had something to do with this narrative
by Emma Birchall, Head of Research, Future of Work
Thanks to Twitter, I came across this blog by Microsoft HR Director Theresa McHenry for HR Magazine. McHenry’s main thrust is to remind us of the big changes taking place in business, society and our day-to-day working lives. However, at the same time, her post highlights the confusing advice we all receive around flexibility in the workplace. She starts off telling the reader to: “encourage employees to work flexibly” and then, a few lines down, reminds them to “where possible, reintroduce boundaries… and encourage colleagues to switch off in the evenings and weekends.” So, which one is it? If we are to create truly flexible organisations whereby work is no longer a place we go, but a thing we do, perhaps we need to wave goodbye to the idea of a Monday-Friday working week.
Flexibility requires us to look beyond the false dichotomy of “work” and “life”. Rather than perpetuating the narrative of achieving “balance” between the two, we must be bolder and aspire to the harmonious integration of all parts of our lives. This aspiration will be particularly important for the future of work as people embrace portfolio careers, working for many organisations and individuals at the same time. Preserving the traditional work schedules in this context will be increasingly challenging and, likely, unappealing.
At the Future of Work Research Consortium, we collaborate with some of the world’s leading organisations to find new solutions to long-standing challenges, and gain surprising insights into issues such as flexible working by taking deeper look. To find out more about how your organsation can get involved, contact email@example.com.
- Flexible Working Shown To Be A Prerequisite For Productivity: Give A Little, Gain A Lot (modernghana.com)
- Skirting the Issue: Flexible working shouldn’t equal the Don’t Promote list (telegraph.co.uk)
- How Flexible Working Can Help a Business Attract The Best Staff (onsmb.com)
- Flexible working good for business (gulfnews.com)
- Why Leaders Need To See Flexible Working As A Strategy For Success Rather Than A Perk For Some Employees (forbes.com)
- Why Flexible Work Arrangements are the New Black (projecteve.com)