Four types of productive workplaces – does yours fit the bill?

Companies take vastly different approaches, but the best fit into one of these boxes

What matters is whether the goals that drive your company are in sync with the values that motivate you. Photograph: iStock

What matters is whether the goals that drive your company are in sync with the values that motivate you. Photograph: iStock

 

We all want to be part of a great organisation and a high-performance workplace. We want to be at our best, surrounded by colleagues who help and challenge us, doing work that is financially rewarding and personally meaningful. But there’s more than one kind of successful organisation, and there are many kinds of productive workplaces.

What matters is whether the goals that drive your company are in sync with the values that motivate you, whether the culture that defines life inside an organisation is compatible with your personal style, and whether your colleagues make you think, grow, even laugh.

“Someone who is exceptional in their role is not just a little better than someone who is pretty good,” Mark Zuckerberg told the New York Times. “They are 100 times better”

Over the past two decades, I’ve immersed myself in some of the world’s most creative, energetic and productive workplaces. These organisations have achieved tremendous success in the marketplace with vastly different approaches to the workplace.

Based on this research, I’ve identified four distinct kinds of workplaces:

The company as community: This kind of workplace exudes an all-for-one, one-for-all spirit in which trust, teamwork and peer-to-peer loyalty are bedrock principles.

Customers matter, of course, as do the interests of partners and investors, but this workplace elevates the needs of employees above all other constituencies. The formula for business success starts with what’s right for the people in the business.

A constellation of stars: These organisations are a collection of hard-driving, fiercely competitive individuals who measure their success against personal goals, and even against one another. The ethos is sink or swim . It’s a tough environment, but it’s the right one for talented people who aspire to be superstars.

“Someone who is exceptional in their role is not just a little better than someone who is pretty good,” Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg famously told the New York Times. “They are 100 times better.”

Not just a company, a cause: In this environment, employees worry less about individual triumphs and more about their collective impact. There’s a willingness to make sacrifices and go to extraordinary lengths to keep promises to customers.

No company better captures this model in the United States than USAA, a successful financial services company that does business exclusively with active and retired military members and their families. USAA has become renowned for its service, because grassroots employees identify so thoroughly with soldiers and their families, and put those interests above their own.

Small is beautiful: Certain people, whether they’re motivated by a sense of mission or a thirst for individual achievement, are at their best in environments that are easy to navigate, where there are few obstacles between ideas and action and where a sense of urgency defines the pace of life. In this kind of workplace, human scale matters more than massive revenue and big market share.

There’s nothing like doing work that matters, but that means finding a workplace that’s right for you. We all deserve the chance to be at our best and to be surrounded by colleagues who bring out the best in us.

  • Copyright Harvard Business Review 2017
  • William Taylor is cofounder of Fast Company
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