Company culture as interaction design

"Artificial cultures are instant. They’re big bangs made of mission statements, declarations, and rules. They are obvious, ugly, and plastic. Artificial culture is paint.

Real cultures are built over time. They’re the result of action, reaction, and truth. They are nuanced, beautiful, and authentic. Real culture is patina.”
—Jason Fried, You don’t create a culture

I’ve been thinking about office culture a lot lately—how to develop it, how to foster it, and how to create it. I’ve long felt that a lot of company cultures feel fake—that if a culture is mandated or initiated from the top they are actually inauthentic within the company.

I’ve started to think about culture in the same way I think about interaction design. And like interaction design, culture is not static, it is ever-changing and always moving. Companies are built by teams which are built by departments which are people by people and each new employee adds a layer to the culture and they bring their own perspectives, insights, and backgrounds into the fold.

A principle I return to often in thinking about interaction design is the idea of frameworks and platforms. Designing frameworks means the designer has the first word, not the last. It means the designer gets to start the conversation but leaves room for improvisation and for others to add and contribute.

Real culture isn’t rigid and can’t be mandated. You can start the conversation, but each employee brings their own experiences to the table. Each new employee, each new voice will change your company culture in a small way and that’s okay. That’s good! Trying to enforce a particular company culture will be fake and leave employees disconnected from their work. All you can do is add your contribution and create space for the culture to move and grow and evolve and patina.

Further reading:
What Your Culture really says
When Culture Turns into Policy