In Part 1 of this two-part series, we investigate the Competing Values Framework to understand how it can showcase the benefits and risks of four different types of organisations.
Mapping Team Effectiveness
We are often approached by organisations wanting help to improve the way they work. They might see cracks appearing in teams that were once dependable, or might be struggling to collaborate effectively, or perhaps their teams just aren’t delivering as expected. Having worked with hundreds of product teams in organisations of many shapes and sizes, we’re in a unique position to understand many of the challenges teams face, as well as the ways they might improve. One of the tools we use to identify how teams are working and what might be holding them back is the Competing Values Framework (or, CVF). We use this tool, amongst others in our Ways of Working Review.
Early learnings of our first Ways of Working implementations
In the beginning, there were three main components of a Ways of Working Review:
- Interviewing stakeholders
- Observing meetings and rituals
- Reviewing documents, tools and processes.
Before COVID, we would sit with teams, observing the dynamics of the office and the way individuals and teams worked together.
Each time we went through that process the insights we gained all pointed towards culture and leadership as a major influence limiting how well teams performed, and in turn the potential for an organisation to achieve its goals. So we started to think about how we might make use of this knowledge to make our reviews even more powerful and deliver more impact. The reviews that we were doing were focused on tools, processes and practices. What we wanted to know, and what the insights were showing us was that it was team mindsets and team culture that was the hurdle that, quite often, our customers weren’t aware was holding them back. We realised that without the right culture and leadership, our recommendations would have an immediate effect, but the benefits wouldn’t last and we’re interested in long-lasting impact.
It was then that we adopted the Competing Values Framework.
What is the Competing Values Framework?
The Competing Values Framework has been named one of the 50 most important models in the history of business. It’s derived from empirical research to answer the question ‘what makes organisations effective?’ Cameron and Quinn, 1983, were two leads within a broader team that were trying to make sense of performance at organisations and how people relate to one another. It’s a pretty complex area of work, so we’ve taken a very simple approach to the model. It’s used globally, and if you’re interested in the broader application and use of it the 2nd edition of Cameron & Quinn’s book is available. In this first post, we’ll spend our time describing the model and draw heavily on these references to provide the descriptions.
There are four quadrants to the CVF, drawn across two dimensions. The framework helps illustrate that some organisations are effective if they demonstrate flexibility and adaptability, and organisations can also be effective if they demonstrate stability and control. It’s normal for attributes from all quadrants to exist, and it’s this interplay that helps define an organisation’s cultures. It isn’t right or wrong to be in a particular quadrant, but it’s useful to understand how an organisation is working with the explicit understanding of what dominant culture is in play.
Each quadrant represents a different way of working as an organisation or team, a different way of seeing an organisation or team, a different way of managing an organisation or team, and the way the organisation or team is organised.
The Collaborate quadrant represents the kinds of people, purposes and processes that give rise to cooperation and collaboration1, as the name suggests. The authors describe the attributes of a team that sits in this quadrant as more likely to be committed to their community, have a focus on shared values and communication. Often their culture is oriented towards involvement and building commitment within that community over time2. The premise of the framework then states that organisations within this community often seek to be seen as an employer of choice.
The culture type of this quadrant is Clan, giving the sense that it represents people working together as a community.
The driving purpose for the Collaborate quadrant includes cohesion and commitment3. Leaders tend to build the organisation by encouraging trust, relationship building and nurturing as a focus. The view is that unified behaviour across the group produces a really strong image in the marketplace and those that deal with organisations who are more biassed towards this Collaborate quadrant are often considered partners and part of the extended community of the organisation.
It’s important to point out that there’s no better or worse quadrant, but as in any model, taken to the extreme, each of these quadrants can have negative effects. The risk of ‘Collaborate’ is where an organisational team becomes permissive and relaxed on achieving outcomes because results are generally not emphasised in that type of environment.
The Create quadrant represents the type of people and practises that are associated with creativity, innovation and vision4. Teams with this perspective tend to be quite change-oriented. The culture to support that type of work is characterised by experimentation, flexibility and future-focused5. Early-stage startups often fall into this quadrant, where the focus is on generating ideas and entrepreneurial activities, and where founders and leaders create companies that seek to innovate.
Vision, new ideas and technologies, flexibility and adaptability are really important in the way leaders lead in organisations like this. Because the “Create” style describes companies being able to capitalise on quite turbulent environments as well as disrupting the norm, it’s a style that often fits with startups.
The author’s description of the extreme of this style, is that organisations and teams can become chaotic as they move from one new idea to the next, quickly. As a result there may also be a lack of emphasis on the achievement of predictable outcomes, or BAU type activities.
The Compete quadrant is associated with aggressive competition and achievement6. If on the Collaborate side, there’s sometimes a lack of achievement of tangible outcomes, competitive organisations are focused on rivalry. People and opportunities are seen to be either won or lost, and there’s a high focus on performance and goals. There’s an emphasis on quick wins, velocity and getting results.
Companies here tend to deliver results as quickly as possible and beating the competition is key. Sometimes that competition comes from within the organisation, not just the external market.
The Control quadrant is all about predictability, dependable performance and a systematic approach. Planning is crucial, systems are efficient, and there are goals to increase efficiency7. There’s a lot of enforcement and compliance through those processes and systems. Thus the model sees this culture as one where the goal for teams, organisations and leaders is to keep things running smoothly and efficiently. The driving purpose here is about obtaining high quality optimization to become predictable.
The negative side of the Control quadrant is that it can lead to bureaucracy, organisations that stand still, and people & teams that stagnate because they’re limited by the structures within the organisation.
Reference: Cameron and Quinn, 1983
Now that we have an understanding of the CVF, in Part 2 of this blog, we’ll take a deeper look at applying the framework.
Find out more about our Ways of Working Review service.
Thanks to Liz Blink’s advice and editing powers on this blog post series!