We live in a world where each of us creates our own subjective reality. In doing this we are susceptible to believing misinformation that fits our reality. My daughter, Alie, gave me this cute Father’s Day card last month, which reminded me of how we fathers might be the worst offenders of spreading misinformation.

Last week at the end of an interview with a young management candidate, she asked, “How would you describe your culture?” Several of us answered her, and, understanding that “culture” is really a myth and perhaps an example of misinformation, I said something like, “Our culture is based on our teams.”

Fresh in my mind were the lessons I had just learned in Chapter One of the new book Nine Lies About Work by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall. The first lie I learned about in this chapter was “People care which company they work for.”

Lie # 1 – People Care What Company They Work For. The bottom-line lesson here is that people care which team leader they work for and then the teammates on their team, not the “company.” The authors used updated research originally done by the Gallup Organization and published in Buckingham’s 1999 book, First, Break all The Rules. At that time Buckingham formed 12 questions that could be asked of team members to get a sense of how strong the organization was.

Myths and Intersubjective Realities. While the authors explored this first Lie I was intrigued when they referenced Yuval Harari’s three key reality and myth concepts he wrote about in his books Sapien and Homo Deus. The first is what is called objective reality, which is a fact that exists regardless of whether you believe it or not. An example is gravity – even if you don’t believe in gravity you will still fall to the floor when you jump off your chair.

The second is subjective reality, which is solely dependent on your personal feelings and attitudes. An example might be if you go to the dentist because you have a toothache and after the dentist x-rayed your tooth and finished a complete assessment tells you nothing is wrong with your tooth, but your tooth still aches. To your dentist your toothache may be a myth, but to you it is a reality.

The third type of reality described by Harari, which is really relevant to Lie #1 and is unique to humans, is intersubjective reality. These are things that do not pass the test of objective reality and exist only because we collectively believe them. One example is money – the only reason you can go into a store and buy a scratch ticket with a green piece of paper with a “1” on it is because the store owner shares your belief that it is worth 1 dollar. If tomorrow the Federal government devalues the dollar, then the shared belief we had yesterday goes away.

Another relevant example of intersubjective reality is when a group believes in the concept of a Company, which exists only because of common laws we all agree to. If those laws change, so does our belief in the Company.

Photo by Patricia Maxwell Wood

Photo by Patricia Maxwell Wood

Culture is Plumage. Buckingham and Goodall go on to suggest that Company Culture is definitely an example of intersubjective reality and is really a myth – a myth we want to believe, and we really want our applicants to believe. However, they go on to explain that Culture is what people feel locally – what they feel from their managers and teammates.

When companies, or their leaders, push Company Culture this is really “plumage” or a “signifier” to lure applicants into the business. We leaders should spend more time understanding how to build successful team leaders at the local level – that is the better way to build and sustain the intersubjective Culture reality that likely will retain people.

Eight Important Questions. Adding 20 more years of research to Buckingham’s original work, they have refined the 12 questions to these eight questions that are more impactful:

  1. I am really enthusiastic about the mission of my company.
  2. At work, I clearly understand what is expected of me.
  3. In my team, I am surrounded by people who share my values.
  4. I have the chance to use my strengths every day at work.
  5. My teammates have my back.
  6. I know I will be recognized for excellent work.
  7. I have great confidence in my company’s future.
  8. In my work, I am always challenged to grow.

The authors importantly note that none of these questions asks how a person rates their company or team leader. Instead each rates the person’s feelings and experiences and if those scores are high, there is a direct correlation to a strong team leader.

The answers to the questions give us insight into how people view their “We experiences” and “Me experiences”, two feelings people need at work to thrive.

They go on to tell the reader that when you look at just the odd questions (1,3,5,7) you get insight into how the person rates the “back-and-forth interactions with others on their team…and what we all share as a team or as a company.” These rate “We experiences.”

When we look at the even questions (2,4,6,8) we get insights into how the person feels as an individual performer at work. These rate the person’s “Me experiences”, and how they feel about self is definitely correlated with the team leader experience.

Where do you go from here? If you believe the authors’ research resonates with you I suggest you pick-up their book because their later chapters give us suggestions on being more effective team leaders. As an example, about a month ago I wrote about their insights into better feedback, which is their Lie #5, People Need Feedback.

Who would have thought “company culture” is really a myth? However, I do believe “workplace culture” is a reality because it is “local”…what do you think?