So this blog post got started 12 months ago, and I finished it in a rush today because I thought I better post something before the end of 2011!

So if we agree that creative cultures and more flexible workplace structures are better for dealing with the chaos of reality, create more space for innovation and can drive better results then how do we replicate this on a large scale?

Putting aside for a moment arguments against scaling up and bearing in mind that a desire to make things bigger is pretty hooked in with capitalist growth mentality – how do you take good values and cultures to bigger scale organisations without them becoming corporate rhetoric, but real lived culture?

I think it is pretty well recognised that we are living in an age of pretty ridiculous over beuracratisation of  our lives and in our work places. This seems to be partly driven by a litigation culture, with orgs and individuals worrying about covering their ass constantly and possibly partly by the levels of reporting  required by funding bodies for many NGOs.

There are a growing genre of airport stand pop psych management books that crap on about “change management” and “innovation” with snappy dynamic language around how to make your workplace more creative and innovative. Many corporations are adopting this language as well as triple bottom line reporting probably due to with climate change and the whole corporate social responsibility shebang getting on the agenda in the 90s. I think this kind of spin or “innovation wash” is really comparable to green wash and I reckon it is just as dangerous. It makes it hard to tell who is walking the talking and who is just talking when everybody says they care about community, the environment and creating dynamic innovative workplaces.

In my experience the larger an organisation the more risk averse it becomes, but is this really the case? Apple, google, large manufacturing companies must take risks – but perhaps it easier to take risks when you are already loaded up with cash? I feel like I probably need to get some more experience in the business sector because my work experience is so far limited to the arts, universities, NGOs, independent media orgs and government.

When I was in France last year I was surprised and inspired when talking to Anne-Louise from the Festival Avignon – known as the Cannes of theatre festivals and quite an event. The festival, along with the fringe festival AvignonOFF takes over the ancient walled city of Avignon for 3 weeks every July, and has done so for 64 years! The Festival employs 24 people year round and 800 people by July. They have to host over 1200 artists. The sell over 120,000 tickets and have an audience of over 40,000 people. And according to Anne-Louise is it a ‘brilliant management case study’. Who says that about their workplace?

She describes a highly efficient and positive workplace where information channels work well, everyone knows who to talk to for what and are really helpful to each other. She also said that given the scale of the event and the number of external relationships the core team of 24 “can’t afford not to work well internally”. Now essentially no-one can afford not to work well together internally, but this often isn’t a reason enough to stop squabbling and ugly practices emerging, so how did they build such a trusting culture?

Anne-Louise says she has never worked somewhere so smooth and positive. She doesn’t think it is necessarily a French thing either, she praises the attitude and the leadership of the co-directors, and the fact that there are two people at the helm, not just one. She cites the time that they take to greet staff by name, check in with people, not make themselves seem too important etc.

Even though I talked to her about the org for quite a while I couldn’t really get a sense of what made it different other than the leadership of the two co-directors. So I wonder then if it is about structure or is it about the culture of leadership that management provide?

How you maintain positive workplace cultures and processes in a larger workplace is a big question. I understand how to get 5 people on track together, but 800? This is when systems become really important – when you think about how you communicate with them team about itself and how you share information. Who makes decisions and how? And how do 800 people find about all the decisions and policies that are being made?

I don’t have any answers but I am interested in your thoughts? More about the “innovation spin” in my next post…

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