Applying the Competing Values Framework

Scott Rogers

Scott Rogers

Product (special sauce) additive. Thinker and creator. Most comfortable with sleeves rolled up.

In Part 2 of this series we’ll go deeper into what the CVF means when looking at an organisation and how best to interpret the framework. Read part one here.

Introduction

The real value of the data behind The Competing Values Framework (CVF) assessment is being able to talk objectively about something that often seems subjective. At Cogent, we work with companies and teams to build a culture that helps them succeed over the long term. The CVF tends to place those types of businesses as mostly Collaborate and Create, and less Control and Compete. It’s not a hard and fast rule but it’s mostly oriented towards those areas of the quadrant. 

When we use the CVF as an analysis tool with our customers, we assess across six dimensions of the framework and we’re able to devise maps to show how their culture is experienced by their employees. For a modern product organisation, we want their maps to be ‘north-heavy’. That is, their employees experience healthy levels of collaboration and creativity. Our conversations tend to explore what aspects of culture may be helping or hindering teams from achieving their potential.

We supplement these conversations with staff interviews, qualitative data we also get through a CVF survey and our own experience of working with hundreds of product teams.

Figure 1. To create the right context for a culture conducive to developing software products effectively, the ideal dominant quadrants are Collaborate and/or Create.

 

Many large and incumbent organisations tend to be dominated by the “Control” and the “Compete” quadrants. These organisations will tend to struggle to develop software products effectively, according to the research by Cameron and Quinn, 1983. Their dominant culture is generally not congruent with the levels od autonomy and empowerment that modern product companies have adopted to create thriving teams, market-leading products and successful organisations.

When values conflict

Diagonally opposite quadrants represent conflicting values, and that can lead to a culture that is incoherent, and where conflict tends to emerge. Conflict can be seen between teams, between leaders and within teams themselves. We also see divergent leadership styles can have a significant impact on the culture that is experienced by their teams.

For example, if two product teams might need to support each other’s work in order to hit a milestone, but one team feels as though they need extra time to collaborate and another team wants to make decisions fast, there’s going to be a natural (and often unhealthy) tension between those teams. It’s important to understand what values and assumptions are driving each of these ways of working. 

Figure 2. Diagonally opposite quadrants represent conflicting values. Where both are strong, a culture is incoherent and teams operate in different ways.

 

As organisations shift towards more empowered product teams and evolve their ways of working, there can be organisational tension as the past culture and the new culture collide. Similarly, as organisations grow and more priority is given to stability and control, we often see a bottom half framework dominance (controlling and competing) as seen in Figure 3. 

Figure 3. Dominance shifts to the compete quadrant

 

In situations like these, diving into the data more deeply helps us see where the underlying problems may lie. Figure 4, shows how the boundaries between a team’s cultural experiences can lead to challenges, as they each experience leadership differently. Their expectations on autonomy, compliance with process, bureaucracy and variability of working styles across teams are different and so tension and conflict can ensue as a direct result of leadership.

Those same teams might also see that their criteria for success is very different (as seen in Figure 5). The pace of decision making will differ, and there are likely to be judgements between teams on their commitment to achieve results versus the inclusion and collaboration of all team members.   

Figure 4. Organisational leadership is experienced very differently between two teams.


Figure 5. Two teams who should be working towards the same departmental vision experience their criteria for success differently.

Alignment between teams and leaders

It’s interesting to understand what leaders think is happening versus what the teams on the ground are really experiencing. Figure 5 could just as easily be a comparison between a team and leaders – showcasing issues that can arise if each group is focused on different quadrants. Product Managers and Tech Leads within the product teams may be caught in the middle, left having to ‘manage’ stakeholders.  

This analysis can also reveal aligned (or opposing) perspectives within the leadership team. These perspectives can be derived from the current state of the culture as well as the desired state. Figure 6, shows an extreme example where leaders are not aligned. When there is a leader heavily embedded in the Control quadrant and another in the Collaborate quadrant, team engagement and team outcomes can suffer.

Figure 6. Opposing perspectives from leaders will affect organisational engagement and the success of teams. 

 

In addition, the CVF can show where a leader’s desires for their team or organisation may be misaligned. The data for a leader may show a strong pull towards Control and Create – two things that present as conflicting when put into practice. It can be helpful for leaders to get insights on their management style and the effect this can have on culture, and in turn staff engagement and company results. The CVF data helps introduce objectivity to conversations about how teams are running, and helps to focus leaders and teams on what’s required to move towards the culture they want.

Next steps 

This is the final part in our two-part series on CVF, diving into the application of the framework. We hope that you and your teams have found this useful, and can apply some of the tips mentioned to create a more aligned organisational culture.

If you found this interesting, we’d love to hear from you. You can also find out more about our Ways of Working Review service here. 

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