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I know that a lot of you will be able to relate to the sort of work environment that we are running here.

We make edgy jokes, the sort of jokes that a lot of people would find offensive. We shoot each other with nerf guns. We ignore the corporate hierarchy within our team when we make decisions, and internally we try to run a meritocracy. We spend time outside of the office, and we always go to lunches together. I can safely say that our team culture brings us closer, and that we are all OK with it.

Before some of you say 'It may seem like you're all onboard with it, but someone might be offended' - I know for a fact that it's not the case. We all know each other very well, and it's not a problem. It's a team of intelligent people, and when something really is 'too close to home' we don't go there.

The Problem

We actually work in a big multinational corporation.

We have have this business analyst that doesn't really interact with our team much, but we've had to work together a little. She has made comments that our team is not being 'run properly' and that we have a 'culture problem'. I am confident that we are all smart enough not to have said anything to her, but she has probably heard us talk amongst each other and decided that for herself.

This is making the senior manager who is responsible for us look bad. Personally, I'm not even sure that this isn't a pure politics play. Our team has a strong reputation for delivering. But nonetheless, the issue has been raised amongst the higher-ups about us, and they are looking to 'fix' 'the problem'.

The Question

How do we deal with this? We are past the point of running a sterile environment, and my impression is that if it starts being forced on the team then that will lower the morale quite a bit. I'm not even convinced that we need to change. We work fine. This is coming from the outside. What to do?

EDIT

To be clear: when I say offensive jokes, I am talking about offensive against eachother. For example we make fun of one guy for looking like a hipster (and he does so himself). We would never do that towards anyone we don't know. There is no lewd or inappropriate comments. Most of us have families, and the team is mixed-gender.

EDIT 2

In response to comments in one of the answers: I don't believe this is a no-win scenario. I also don't believe that this is uncommon. Large companies are not mono-culture, teams and departments all behave differently. What goes on a trading floor in a bank does not go in the back-office where they run risk management reports, yet sometimes these people will run into each other. I am sure that others have faced the problem that I'm facing now.

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    So, you have a team and the team has a culture. But the company has a culture too, and part of the team culture should be to find ways to interact successfully with the rest of the company culture, no matter what that might be -- both so you all succeed and the rest of the company does as well. When the "outside" person -- who is really an "inside" person since she presumably works for the same company -- says your team has a culture problem, what she is saying is that your team does not adhere to the company's culture...and that's a different question than the one in your title. – jcmeloni Mar 13 '13 at 15:23
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    She may have a legitimate concern that something is not working for some people. Just ask her (nicely) what her concern is. You may be able to reassure her. – Jan Doggen Mar 13 '13 at 16:00
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    You fix the crude culture. There is never a place for that at work. Under no circumstances. – HLGEM Mar 13 '13 at 17:16
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    Have you considered the pile of assumptions you have here? More than a few times you state, "I know for a fact this isn't the case..." where I'd highly question the legitimacy here unless you are omnipresent as it could be that each person gave her part of a story or she overheard something that is causing the issue. – JB King Mar 13 '13 at 17:37
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    I think you need to decide what it is you want the out come to be and ask how you can achieve that given you current state. This question is basically I do not know what to do give me a list of options which I can choose ones I like. That is not considered constructive here on SE – IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 13 '13 at 17:43
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The Core Problem

The values of a large organization like a multi-national organization or government agency for instance typically do not coincide with that of a small team valuing creativity.

Creative talent requires individualism and free thinking, and a creative team requires a certain type of comraderie.

In a large organization however there are always politics and power plays going on. A large organization is made up of people, and certain personalities of people will seek to amass control over other groups and responsibilities. This happens because the further the chain of command is from the people on the ground, the more likely that managers will end up competing for importance to secure the ability to climb the ladder.

So essentially even if the shareholders or CEO truly do value and want to foster creative sub cultures in the organization, that becomes nearly impossible to translate that vision or value to those on the ground because it will become corrupted by land grabs and power plays as it filters down the chain of command.

Large organizations foster environments where people are expected to follow rigid guidelines and rules and attract power seekers that attempt to prove their own importance and control sometimes to the detriment of the organization itself. This runs counter with your creative group because your culture is such that you can't be tightly controlled and more importantly, a middle manager can't easily claim your successes as a group.

Google is largely a rare exception, however this is the way of things for most others. Coincidentally this same reason is why large internal IT projects have such a high failure rate when taken on in house, versus when such IT projects are contracted out to consultant firms or ISV's.

Your typical consultant firm is not as large and does not have as high a chain of command, so such creative cultures have the ability to flourish in such environments and create the cutting edge solutions that large organizations want and need.

The Solution

To keep your job and not be labeled as a trouble maker, it is best to try and make the case that your culture is important largely to the success of your team. Try and gather a meeting with the BA whistleblower and your respective managers to hash out a compromise that will be beneficial to everybody.

Make your case, give some concessions, and above all make everybody feel like their concerns are legitimate and important and that the meeting is productive. The worst thing you can do is challenge her because she is apparently consistent and stays within the bounds of what is expected of her. Since you operate out of the normal bounds as a creative person your opinion and implied rank is below her so know if you challenge her directly then you will probably lose and look bad and she will only look better.

The important point to take in such a meeting is to sacrifice a little, retain the important things you are fighting for, and let the opposing side feel like they are victors.

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    So we actually have a meeting scheduled. The point of starting out with concessions is a good idea. My plan is to talk about more obvious, provable things like "Sure, we can stop bringing in nerf guns, but please look at the record of our releases... bla bla how we work works for us." Any other specific points on what to prepare for that meeting? I have a feeling that that will be my one shot to save the day :). – MrFox Mar 13 '13 at 16:57
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    @MrFox: In addition, you might want to grab a copy of Peopleware and read out Chapters 19 (The Black Team) and 20 (Teamicide). I managed to cultivate a similar team personality in a mid-sized company with a very contrary culture and it worked, but it did get me into trouble a few times (fortunately, you're usually ok, IF you're successful). I have since left that company and, from what I hear, the company did go ahead and commit teamicide. (javatroopers.com/Peopleware.html#Chapter_19) – pdr Mar 13 '13 at 17:38
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    @MrFox Well certainly don't lead with your concessions! When negotiating you always aim for the best solution for yourself first, and assume that you won't get it. Only then do you play your concessions and pretend that you are sacrificing a great deal. – maple_shaft Mar 13 '13 at 18:30
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    "Any other specific points on what to prepare for that meeting?" Bring a nerf gun. Shoot her with it. :) – reirab Apr 1 '14 at 2:19
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    Concessions is not a good idea. Tell them that your team does good work, gets good results, and the good results are due to the quality of the individuals, and how well they work together due to your team culture. – gnasher729 May 11 '16 at 10:01
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It seems the whole thing is your manager's problem.

He is running a team. The team has a certain culture. I assume that the culture of the team doesn't interfere with the quality of the team's work, or your manager would have done something about it. I also assume that trying to change your team's culture would create resentment and decrease productivity.

And there is an outsider who doesn't like your teams culture and says the team is not run properly and has a cultural problem. Which shows a low opinion of your team, but mostly is an attack against your manager.

That manager needs to speak up, saying that what this outsider perceives as a cultural problem isn't a problem at all because the team works very well with it's culture, and that there is no problem with the way the team is run, because it produces results. He could then ask the trouble maker what problems that person actually sees: Is there anything that went wrong because of the teams culture? Is there anything that the team didn't achieve that they would have achieved with a different culture? Any examples how "the team not being run properly" having a negative effect on the company? Or is it just that this person wants to impress their personal preferences on a team that has nothing to do with them?

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    +1 As long as it's within normal bounds, team behaviour is no one's business but the team's. The outsider should learn to mind their own business and the manager should indeed speak up. – rath May 11 '16 at 14:54
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I see this question from a different angle than most here: My optinion is: You have a culture problem, and you should accept some advice.

You can have a creative sub-culture without offensive jokes and nerf-guns. In the question, and also in some answers i read that it is the right of people to behave as they want, just because they can. After some time this becomes some kind of mechanism which actually isolates the group. Even if everybody (including new members, who possibly are offended) in the group approves, how does this affect cooperation with other groups?

I suggest the following approach to it:

  • "This is coming from the outside": "outside" seems to be "outside this team" but reporting to higher management (otherwise you would not need to worry). So "outside" actually seem the be the people which enable the person signing you paychecks to sign your paychecks.
  • Try to make the fix as non-invasive as possible. Accept their recommendations as advice and show them that you are trying to work on the most pressing issues, but try to preserve to positive attitude and communication in the team
  • Try to find the bottom of the problem: Was there a communication problem between your team and the analyst? Did somebody offend the analysis in some way unknown to you? Is there something else (like a project gone wrong, where your team delivered but it was not visible?). Did the analyst come in between 9-5 and not find anybody in the office to address an urgent issue? Did the analyst try to find somebody presenting a technical decision for the group but nobody felt responsible?

Some suggestions

  • Play is play, work is work. Nerf guns and jokes don't need to be banned, but should take place in the breaks
  • I also like it that decisions get input from everybody, but formally somebody need to present, explain and defend the decisions
  • Make sure that there are enough people present at times when it is expected
  • Maybe there are issues which would require constant attention between you and whoever is behind the analyst. Possibly schedule a regular meeting to address these issues
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    Suggested compromise: Tone down the rude jokes drastically, make the nerf battles a semi-scheduled even so folks know when not to schedule phone calls or meetings --Friday after 4pm would be an obvious time --, and remember that anyone not opting into the battles is not a fair target. In other words, tone it down from weird to quirky. – keshlam May 28 '16 at 16:29
  • Personally, when nerf guns come out I take cover :-) – gnasher729 Jun 9 '17 at 18:47
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    In effect, the team is adding tolerance of crude jokes and nerf guns as qualifications for membership in that team. You may be excluding otherwise highly qualified team members. – Patricia Shanahan Dec 14 '17 at 23:04
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The problem : Your team culture and qualified people in the team as you believe are the factors that makes the team meeting organizational goals for the team. Lets call your team X, organization Y. X is a part of Y and X culture is contradicting with the culture of Y.

Referring to your statements, "business analyst that doesn't really interact with our team much", you are attached to the team and think the BA as an outsider. And you said "we are all smart enough not to have said anything to her", so there is something to say her. You relied upon your attitude on team to arrive to this assumption not any fact.

You said, "We ignore the corporate hierarchy within our team when we make decisions, and internally we try to run a meritocracy.". It doesn't matter what you are running inside the team, BA expects different people to do certain things. She has a point there. She wants someone (say your supervisor) to decide upon something and let her know, not just anyone from team X.

Solution 1: Can you look for someone who usually get offended by those jokes and have less connection with the reporting manager/ HR and ill talk about colleagues. Probably a new person to the team or someone who involved in those jokes less. Someone who is secretly closer to the BA (Secret relationships are possible even if the team is so dynamic). If you found, deal this with that person

Solution 2: If you are defending culture of team X against culture of organization Y, you will need to find common values between X culture and Y culture. Promote the team as having those values (You should be already doing that) and as much as possible try hide other values from the company. Your team members should not talk about the team or its individuals with the BA. If team X is not respecting organizational hierarchy within the team but organization Y does. Since team X is a part of organization Y, team X should pretend like it is respecting the organizational hierarchy.

For Example-: Say team leader should let BA know about event A. Non of others except team leader should let BA know about event A.

Solution 3: Try to recruit the BA to the team. Ask someone in the team who is closer to do that. Try to make her participating any of your get together outside the company. This is a bit dangerous thing to do, because she could be a cancer.

2

I think you have to be willing to accept that perception is reality. With some cooperation, the team and your supervisor should be able to inform and educate the company on the benefits of this team. Hopefully, your supervisor had some foresight into allowing this team to develop the way it has that there will be people who object. Extra effort has to be made to demonstrate you team does do quality work. If I were your supervisor, I would suggest the analyst bring any concerns to me first out of professional courtesy. There may be some legitimate concerns. I don't see this as all or nothing and the only solution is for all of you to pretend you're working in Corporate America circa 1950. Is leaving the Nerf fun at home too much to ask?

You also have to be careful how you interact with other people. When someone presents an emergency, being glib ("I'll get to it just as soon as I shoot the hipster.") can give the wrong impression. And yes, impressions matter. People notice your group "playing" and object because they are actually working. They don't see the long hours, bug fixes under pressure and the weekend upgrade. A good supervisor would point out these things and make an effort to convince the company to take the good with the bad.

Another point for a supervisor to make is to consider only one person is complaining. Of course there may be more, but we're trying to make a case in support of this group's antics. It's possible the analyst needs to get to know everyone. This is why it is important for technical staff to get to know everyone on an appropriately work personal level. The attitude needs to be, "I'll ask Mr. Fox to do it, he always gets things done." and not, "Great! Now I have to go over to the Boy's Clubhouse to get something done and hope they don't put my eye out with a Nerf Gun."

  • This is why team leaders/supervisors don't have to have the best technical skills as long as they have influence and can run interference so the team can do the job. – user8365 Oct 9 '14 at 15:08
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Has anyone actually asked her what problem she sees? If she and your manager have discussed it, then it's being addressed. If she brought it up and your manager blew her off or patronized her, then yes, you have a culture problem. If she brought it up and your manager has decided that you guys work best that way, then he's decided to take the hit. I'm assuming this is part of her job. If it's not her job, then she may still have valid points, but she shouldn't be passive-aggressively griping at you guys. You can still defuse the situation by genuinely asking for more details, from a perspective of "We might always gain some new insight," even though you seem certain you can't learn anything from what she has to say.

Incidentally, you shouldn't be wrapped up in your boss's reputation around the company. He's got big-boy pants and he should be wearing them. You should be concerned with contributing to a culture of reliability and support.

Remember that your team is actually also a member of a team, and the company doesn't care how productive you are or how productive your team is in isolation. They only care about it in terms of how much it contributes to the company's progression toward its goals.

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