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Super Bowl Edition: Cults vs. Bares

Ind_rChi_lOK, for those who are searching blogs looking for some football insight, seeking whether Dungy's Indianapolis Colts can beat Smith's Chicago Bears, wondering if the Bears defense can go up against the Colts offense, contemplating how Manning will match up with Grossman... well, you've found somebody who'd rather talk about two different types of corporate cultures and the impacts each has on office politics.  Sorry, but the pun was too sweet to pass up.

2007_0121_ne_1215_macht On one end of the corporate culture continuum, there are "cult" companies.  Just like religious cults, these companies thrive on controlling their employees.  The leaders maintain a double standard, holding followers to higher standards of discipline while allowing themselves an absence of accountability.  The "cult" company emphasizes isolation as a means of controlling its members; if they are not communicating with "outsiders" then they are easier to command and manipulate.  As part of that, they "brainwash" their employees with an elitist mindset:  there's really nothing better out there.  If somebody ventures out, the "world is flat and you'll fall off the edge" doctrine is pushed.  This overbearing culture is a hotbed for office politics, as it creates conflicts over scarce resources, jockeying for position in the "kingdom," and egocentric issues that make facts and objective information difficult to prevail.  Silence is perpetuated through a culture of "don't ask, don't tell" and "if I told you, I'd have to kill you" - so nobody says anything that could get them in trouble.

Imagescaevguc1 By contrast, a "bare" company focuses on openness.  Collaboration is encouraged and rewarded.  Information is shared willingly among employees.  Relationships are honest and open (even when the truth hurts), and trust is fostered in a spirit of teamwork.  Leaders lead, but they also serve in a spirit of humility; there are no naked emperors in a "bare" organization.  Commitment is a natural by-product of how the employees feel; it is not forced through an overbearing culture.  Networking is encouraged, both inside and outside the company.  If an employee leaves, it is celebrated because it is believed that the employee and the company can both grow from the separation.  Office politics have a hard time finding a foothold in an organization such as this.  Resources are shared, healthy competition propels the company forward, and data balances passion to allow for decisions to be made with eyes wide open.

While you are shouting for your team tomorrow, you might stop and think if you are a fan of your own organization.  Do you wear your corporate-wear with the same pride that your sport your Bears shirt?  Do you cheer for your colleagues the way you screamed for the Colts a couple of weeks ago during their amazing comeback against the Patriots?  Do you celebrate your milestones in the same fashion that you revel in the halftime festivities?  In short, do you work for a cult or a bare?

FIRST HALF UPDATE:  Thought you might like to see a few of the sites I used as sources on cults.  All have some interesting checklists that you can apply to your organization.  Looking at them was interesting from a professional perspective, comparing them to actual companies with whom I've worked.

Again, look at these lists from an organizational view rather than a religious view.  You'll see some interesting parallels.


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Blaine Collins

Let's hear it for the Bares, Tim!

Great reminder of why we work so hard to build and keep an open, collaborative culture.

At any given time, an organization might find itself somewhere along the middle of the spectrum between Cults and Bares. However, because both cultures tend to be self-reinforcing, it is best to quickly start driving toward the openness end, lest isolation become the norm.

Phil Gerbyshak

I can't believe I'm saying this (being from Wisconsin and all), but I'm rooting for the Bares! Openness, honesty, and togetherness are key parts of success, though I would say that the loyalty exists more towards the people I'm working with than the company itself. It's all about the relationships that I've developed at work that I can't replace. So I'll give you a half-yes in that I'm cheering for all the folks I work with and cheering them on to greatness. And lest folks think I'm not faithful to my company, I am drinking this morning's coffee from a porcelain corporate mug. I just feel MORE loyalty to people than to a corporation.

Jane Greer


This is spot-on, Tim. Our fathers' workplaces were "Cult"; "Bare" is what we now know is more humane, respectful, and effective. I love to see prospering small businesses that are completely Bare.

But it's easier to be Bare when you have a dozen employees than when you have a thousand or ten thousand. If you're a behemoth Cult organization, is it even possible to go Bare? And if you're a small Bare organization, is it possible to become a behemoth and remain Bare? Bareness will happen only where the top trusts the bottom, and it's easier to trust a dozen employees that you've chosen than a thousand that your middle managers have chosen. If there are Bare behemoths, how do they do it?

Tom Haskins

Tim, you ROCK when you said:"Office politics have a hard time finding a foothold in an organization such as this." Going bare (a.k.a transparency, naked conversations, trust-based)is like an immune system. Bareness is cult-repellent. If a small infection of office politics takes hold, the truth, trust and transformational leadership kicks in and dismantles the premise of backbiting, etc. Great post!

Timothy Johnson

Blaine - great comment. Yes, it is a continuum, but openness rocks any day.

Phil - I totally agree... our loyalty eventually is to people. However, we can't discount the overarching entity or its culture.

Jane - it is possible to go bare with a lot of employees, but it takes more effort from the leaders in the organization to make it happen. Many big corporate leaders are not on the same page, so perpetuating a positive culture becomes difficult.

Tom - that is the two-edged sword of cultures is that they are self-perpetuating. In a positive culture it's great, but in a negative culture... well...

Jane Greer

Cults 29, Bares 17. Guess we have some work to do!

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