Andreas Hoffbauer: Networks, Knowledge, Culture | Work 20XX Ep14

Jeff Frick
May 29, 2023
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Andreas Hoffbauer, Founder & Director of Atelier Kultur has built a business helping organizations leverage organizational sociology best practices to build better networks in and around their organizations, to increase the discovery and dissemination of knowledge, reinforce and grow culture, and thrive in these increasingly dynamic times.  

Networks, and networking, be they physical or digital, face-to-face, via digital work platforms like Slack, Teams, or Webex, or external platforms like LinkedIn, or any number of professional associations, networks provide the ties that bind, and can be the path to new knowledge, information, and potentially cutting edge thought, design, and insights to provide new axes of competitive advantage.  Especially in fast moving industries like technology and media. And since every company's evolving into a technology company, the applicability of Andreas' lessons reach far and wide.

Weak ties, strong ties. Internal groups, and cross functional connectors,  information flows up and down and horizontal to the chain of command, direct connects and indirect relationships, we covered it all in this extended conversation.

We even got into the Ship of Theseus aka Theseus' paradox.

I'm sure you'll enjoy this conversation with Andreas as much as I did.

Episode Transcript


Hey, welcome back, everybody. Jeff Frick here. Coming to you from the Home Office for another episode of Work 20XX.

And we're excited for this next episode. You know, I came across this guy doing some investigation on some of my other episodes, and he’s got a really interesting take on networks and how important networks are.

And so let's welcome in through the magic of the Internet all the way from Manhattan, I think. Andreas Hoffbauer, he is the founder of Atelier Kultur. Andreas, it's great  to see you.


Likewise Jeff, thanks for having me.


Did I get that right?


You did, Very good


Great. Thank you. Well French, unfortunately, is not my first or second language, so I'm happy to do that. So give us a little 101. What is Atelier Kultur all about?


Yeah, Atelier Kultur is all about organizational networks and helping organizations build more highly capable networks.

My background is in organizational sociology, which is really just the study of human behaviors in the workplace. And I've always focused on how knowledge enters into organizations and gets produced within organizations and how it's able to flow through organizations so that people can come up with new ideas, creativity, innovation, take those ideas and turn them into something new.

So I started my company back in 2019 at the end of my doctorate, and really focused on helping organizations come over some of the biggest problems that they were having at the time.

And at that time pre-pandemic that I was working with a lot of organizations that had grown very quickly In that growth, they kind of always came to me like, Listen, like our secret sauce disappeared. And I was I was like, didn't disappear it’s just as you grew people got disconnected.

So we just have to focus on reconnecting people in an intentional way to make sure that those cultures of dense collaboration, creativity, being able to work really effectively and efficiently with one another is realized in a more expansive and growing organizational network.

And then since to 2020, the kind of the way that I've worked with organizations has really changed because the pandemic really disrupted a lot of organizations.

So it broke apart a lot of that connective fabric and unwound a lot of those relationships.

So what I'm finding now more and more is that I'm working with organizations to think about how do we intentionally reconnect people, how do we make sure that people have the right kind of connections so that they can get engaged with their work, They know where to go to, for what information that they feel part  of the organization, that they can build those relationships up with colleagues if they're working in a distributed environment, even in hybrid environments where we might not have the same ability to have that face-to-face interaction.

So how can we build that up in a way that allows organizations to scale, remain collaborative, creative, and find those new emerging opportunities?


That's great.

So let's talk about a couple of the specific things.

So one thing is,  you know, in high growth companies, a lot of high growth companies especially over the last several years, you know, forget about COVID for a minute. You know, often there's more new people than old people.

The rate of hiring at some of these companies is so high. So, you know, COVID aside, when you have such a high proportion of newbies you know, how do you kind of get that culture into those people? And then, how important is it for them then to bring in, though, this fresh perspective

Because, they are the new, they are the what's happening now. And, I'm sure there's some conflict there between, the institutional knowledge and this is the way you've always done it to, Hey, it's 2020. We don't do it that way anymore.


Yeah. I mean, you bring up one of the most important things within organizations, right? You want to bring people in. There's kind of this culture that allows an organization to grow.  What differentiates it, The way that they think, the way that they approach problems, but that constantly needs to evolve. And like you said  in technology, media and those incredibly high growth organizations,  we're constantly having turnover, we're adding new people in. So oftentimes we see a very small percentage of those original people, people who have tenure over five years.

It's a small proportion. So you want to build networks that allow that culture to propagatethrough the organization.

So making sure that there's strong connections between those people who, you know, embody the culture, the norms, the values, the aspirations that the organization has and are able to work with individuals to kind of impart that, show that through their everyday actions, what are the small rituals and routines that they do to enact, what those values are.

But we also don't want it that when people come in, they're they're forced into that culture, right? Because that then stifles all this new thought coming into organizations.

Because the best way for an organization to grow and evolve is to constantly have new people coming in who are, like you said, they're bringing in new perspectives, new ideas.

And if you're bringing them from competitors, different industries, people fresh out of school, you're bringing in emerging insights, you're bringing in those new ideas and those new perspectives approaches, ways of thinking about doing things, ways of doing things. So it has to be kind of a two-way street, right?

Like we need to learn from the new hires and make sure that they're coming in in a way that they can express themselves, that they can be connected to individuals in a way that they can impart, that if we bring one person in by example into a really established group, oftentimes what we see is that person edits out what makes them interesting.

I see this all the time.

Organizations hire somebody aspirationaly somebody who worked at a company where there's really interesting projects going on. They have an incredible back story, experiences, and what they find then is like these individuals come into the company and that's lost because people edit that out.

They're not going to push against the inertia of a group. So there's 15, 20 people in an established way of working.  It's really hard to push the inertia of that group

So if we bring in people strategically, bring in a few people who can work together to bring in those new ideas and perspectives into a group, we see that they're able to shift the perspectives of those groups and are able to actually effectively introduce new ideas into those work, like those organizational groups, and then allow the company to learn from them.

Otherwise, we see, you know, the company kind of eliminates what makes them interesting.


So are there specific kind of behaviors or exercises to get kind of this two-way kind of cultural exchange?

Because it's very different, kind of the older folks, this is the way we do it and this is the cultural norms and the work norms versus, you know, kind of the new people where you're looking for fresh perspective is, as you said, you know,  that's a big important piece of bringing new people in their specific behaviors, and especially now, let me back up a step in the context of the world in which we live today, where a lot of people aren't in the office together all the time, every day.

So how has that changed and what do you telling people to to build those bonds between the old and the new and get that culture exchange?


Yeah, I mean, one of the things is when we bring people in if we bring them into the center of a group right where there inertia is the strongest, it's going to be really hard for individuals.

So if we start on the right from the onboarding experience, as we start to bring people into those organizations, we find people who are a bit further away from the center of a group, people a bit on the periphery, and that could be we can set those people up.

And so there's a bit of shielding from the inertia of the group and allow people to start to exchange ideas, bring in those ideas.

And what we're really looking for when we're bringing people into organizations and we're trying to, you know, from the perspective of somebody in the organization, we want to see some social proof of what they're bringing. Right. If it's a bleeding edge insight, an emerging idea, a new practice, behavior that that again, pushes against the norms of the group,

We want to see some proof of its legitimacy, its efficacy. So if we bring in a few people into that group, people who can work together to demonstrate the efficacy and the value of it and start to nurture that relationship with somebody who's maybe more senior within the group, who can then start to see the value of that idea, see the utility of those new ideas or a way of working. They're able to very effectively start to build that momentum in the group and as you slowly let that kind of move through the group, it has a best ability to change the perspectives of of the organization as a whole.


I'm curious from kind of network dynamics, the difference between kind of anchor nodes, if you will? You know, there seems to be certain nodes within the network that that are the gravity nodes where most of the action is is centered around.

And then you've got, kind of connectors and then you've got kind of different nodes. And then there's a special kind of connector that that kind of crosses those nodes.

One, can you just speak to kind of the attributes of those two types of of anchors in the network, if you will, both the the critical nodes that are that provide gravity as well as the really key connectors who bring different pieces together.

You know, who are those people? How do you get more of them? How do you, build that that connective tissue so that all these pieces really get tied together?


Yes. You bring up two really important concepts, and I'm going to add in a third at the end there. 

But like when you have those people who are highly connected individuals, they have a lot of relationships of different people. They really help anchor an organization. They're the ones who connect different groups, They help connect different individuals, and they're the people that are typically what we see there. They've been around for a longer period of time. If they were new to an organization and they assume that role its typicaly because they have some type of authority, but then you'll see  other individuals who at different layers within the organization who take on these critical roles of being what we consider super connectors.

So they work really well to bring this cohesiveness into organizations.

And one of the things that we saw during the pandemic is that you know people accepted that new roles. People moved on to different positions. Life choices changed.

So a lot of these individuals left, which kind of left a vacuum and a lot of the groups too, to dissipate.

So they're very important for keeping the organization together.  But because they have so many people around them, they're typically not the ones to introduce new ideas because they have all these different individuals watching them and they typically want to stay pretty close to what the individuals are that are following them.

So the other kind of like the converse of that would be more peripheral players within an organization.

So people who are connected but they're not, at the center of gravity, they're not people who are everyone are watching.

So they're the ones who are able to introduce new ideas that might push against the norms of the group because they have a bit of that shielding and they're able then to work up, build the social proof, build up some efficacy, build up like proof of the legitimacy of a new idea, and then through that, start to push those ideas out.

So we need to kind of have both. If everyone's kind of sitting on the periphery, we'll have a really porous network that can’t come together.

But if we have too many of these central nodes which then becomes really like a hierarchical organization, we see that they become very stifling, groups become very disconnected, and there's a lot of rigidity to change within that.

The other ones I'm going to like I would talk about too, is, is these cross-cutting ties.

So these are individuals who connect completely different aspects and different parts of an organization so that can be regionally or can just be very diverse parts of a company, like a different functions, different groups within those organizations. And what's so important about these individuals is they they start to connect the organization,

They start to understand the realities, the constraints the commitments, so people in different parts of the organization and by understanding that, they bring that back into their groups and that helps people understand what's going on in different parts f the organization.

As organizations get larger and more complex, oftentimes people have a disconnect between like, let's say, the end consumer, the impact that an organization is driving, understanding what's happening in like R&D maybe

So by having these individuals, it brings the organization together strategically, intellectually, and really importantly culturally to make sure that there's kind of this this unified understanding of what's going on within the organization.


That's great.

I want to talk about the difference between physical networks and digital networks, and specifically in the context of work where, back in the day used to carry your Rolodex around and you had physical cards and you didn't share it with anybody if you were in sales, there wasn't such a thing as a LinkedIn.

Now, there's digital networks. And then if you're a younger person, you've kind of grown up in digital networks between the behaviors and the platforms.

How has digital changed the the impact of networking and how can some of the older folks, incorporate some of these newer tools  as they move their networks from a physical space into more of the digital realm, on some of these digital platforms.


I mean, the power of LinkedIn is just so incredible. If you think about access to new ideas,if we reflect on how you and I met, right, you saw me chatting with Ryan Anderson on his podcast, you're very well connected with Ryan. You and I started very like, you know, chatting back and forth, kind of very passively over the time. We'd like start to understand who each other is. All of a sudden I had access to you which I would never have probably had access to you, right

I wouldn't have been able to get in contact with you if my local network was just stuck here in New York and it was just in a very physical. Who can I, you know, face to face to interact with, 

So that helped me expand my world and the opportunities I have access to the ideas I have access to. And that's that really power of, I think LinkedIn, if you use it correctly.

There's still individuals on LinkedIn who have very closed networks where everyone is kind of connected to one another, which then creates these kind of echo chambers, right?

But the platform allows you and I to get connected people, you know, across the world and exchange ideas.

And if you engage with those ideas, you interact with those individuals and you start to really form those relationships with people, you just expand your vision of what's possible, right?

Your opportunities, spaces open up your ability to solve problems just grows so tremendously.

And I think you gain more empathy for different players, right?

Like if you're just sitting in your local network you're seeing one reality.

But by being able to contact, by seeing stuff on people's feeds, just even passively consuming it, you're just getting a different perspective on the world.

You're able to consume that information understand where somebody else might be coming from, and then you can incorporate that into your own thinking, which to me is one of the

most powerful aspects of LinkedIn, is just having that access to those new ideas.


Yeah, I think, it's it blows me away the information that we have at our disposal when people I mean just to get a phone number before was not an easy thing to do much less an address or find out who the person was in the role that you were trying to find.

It's crazy.

What about when you're in an engagement with the older folks, how do you help them adapt to digital tools?

How do you help them  break over, getting beyond the business card and the phone call and start to use things like LinkedIn and start to use other networks or even social networks within the company, whether that be a Slack or a Webex or, you know, whatever kind of  the digital, Teams, whatever the digital workplace tool is, you know for older folks, it's potentially is a problem. 

They're not used to working in communicating and exchanging information that way. How do you help them out?


So oftentimes, I mean, most people who are really engaged and really want to build networks they're going to understand the value. But oftentimes we just have to show that that value to them. Right?

So that's an exercise that I like to do with people. It's just name off the top 3 to 5 people that you seek out for advice. If you have a new idea within an organization that could help the company from a product perspective, how you engage with clients, how you find new opportunities who are the people that you would vet those ideas with right.

Who are the people that you would talk to that you trust for that, that gut check, that advice?

And if you start to get people to write those down and then start to reflect on how long have you known those individuals, how closely are they connected to the other people that you looked for, for advice? How connected are they in your group?

Oftentimes you'll like, you'll be able to visualize in a very simplistic way that a lot of those connections sit in a very constrained box. But our most powerful connections to new ideas, new people is having those weak ties that are in different parts of the network. 

So just by showing that visualization and demonstrating that it's really hard within most floor plates of offices to really go and meet other people in different parts of the organization because maybe they're split apart, different floors, different areas, it can really constrain us.

And even if we say, okay, we're going to go out on the street and we're going to bump into people, you know, if you're in certain parts of the city, you're going to bump into a lot of people who are probably like you. Right?

And certain areas you’re just going to bump into a bunch of investment bankers. If you're in different parts, you’re just bump into a different field.

So how can we use these tools to expand that horizon and oftentimes once you just show them that like that small exercise and let them see where their networks are sitting.

They start to like recognize the power of using stuff like Slack, using stuff like LinkedIn, using whatever other internal communication tools there are to start to connect with people in different parts of the organization or to set up zoom calls with people in different regions, recognizing that you know, what’s happeing maybe in APC eventually those trends are going to come over here.

So if you start to connect with those individuals, you have that common bond that you're interested in the same thing within the organization.

But just by having that connection, it doesn't need they don't need to become your closest friends. They don't need to become the individuals that you're going to call every day that you're going to go out for for a coffee or for a meal with.

But certainly by having access to them, you're going to be exposed to those new ideas. And that typically is a really nice way to shift that mindset on. Okay, it's really great to build those strong relationships face-to-face in your community, in your organization. Of course we need that. But by just leveraging these tools, it's not just gimmicky, like there's actual power in those tools to help us.


So two thoughts that you triggered and they’re kind of related.

One is, what about the introverts who, I'm just not comfortable reaching out. I'm kind of quiet. You know, I'm not the first to speak when a question is answered, so I'm not necessarily really comfortable reaching out. So how how to introverts, you know, kind of manage in this world.

And then the other thing I was going to say, the weak ties, strong ties which get talked about a lot. And I think a lot of the evidence coming out of COVID is we hear is that, you know is our strong ties got tighter and are weak ties got weaker.

But the net-net of that is not goodness.

So, kind of combining introverts and weak ties, strong ties, how do you How do you help people who aren't necessarily comfortable, you know, jumping in with both feet and being a big networking person.


So, listen, I think one of the things that really came out there was so empowering of going into a more distributed hybrid work environment or at least understanding that there's different modalities of work, is that individuals who typically I mean, floor plates in offices, those were places that really worked well for extroverts, people who were willing to walk around the floor plate tap people on the shoulder, go and meet someone and really build those relationships.

But that really preferenced people who were extroverts.

So what we saw, though, was a lot of people who said that they were introverts before the pandemic,that they found having these virtual calls, maybe because they're in their living room, maybe because they're in their home, they felt more comfortable that they were able to make more connections.

And that the other aspect I would say to that, like, you know, having those networking where it feels, you know, okay, we're going to go to this networking event that feels really contrived and really like a chore, and few people enjoy that. I think the only people who really like networking events in its most explicit and overt way are the extreme extroverts, right? And they'll probably meet each other anyways.

But if you start to wrap stuff that really brings people together in meaningful ways, that's where like we can pull out people who are introverts, extroverts and put them on a common plane.

And I've seen this so many times where, you know, it can be things just like shared interests, small informal groups,it can be more structured events, but if they pull people around common interest, we know that those those events, they pull people in and now all of a sudden they have a commonality that they feel breaks down a lot of those barriers.

Maybe it's something that's very salient, very important to the two of us. And then I might feel, if I'm the introvert, a lot more comfortable going to you and chatting with you about that.

And I'll say, like I, I can kind of like flex in between introvert, extrovert, but if I meet someone who's into bicycling, into running, swimming or something like that, I'm just going to jump in and just start chatting with them because we have that common connection, we have that interest.

So I like to like to when I work with organizations when I'm talking to people about how they can start to build these networks up and create more quality within those networks, that it references, both introverts and extroverts, is find those things that are going to really pull on people's interests

What are those salient interests, whether that's work, whether that's something outside of work that can pull people in and build that common ground that's typically what I found has been incredibly effective. 



So one of the things you focus on, even in  all your marketing materials, even in kind of your top level messaging, is the process you're doing this for the process of kind of new knowledge discovery as well as, you know, kind of finding knowledge.

But one of the biggest problems that companies have is they don't even know the knowledge they have as an institution. So much knowledge is locked up either in someone's head or on local documents on their laptop or in their e-mail or whatever.

So before we even get to kind of new knowledge, how are you teaching organizations to use networking to just to know what they have?

I mean, a funny interview with the other day where (Kate Lister) said wouldn't it be nice if you're working on a PowerPoint presentation and suddenly the computer, you know, vibrates and says,

Oh, by the way, do you know we have a lot of other people that are cheaper than you and do much better work and are approved and, you know, maybe you should have them doing your PowerPoint.

And it's a simple story, but a really interesting problem because most companies don't know the all that knowledge that they have inside the proverbial four walls. How do you get it and spread around?


I mean, it doesn't matter the size of an organization, the amount of knowledge that resides in individuals, and then, a lot of knowledge that's also becomes created by just interactions and just the opportunities to interact and recreate and reproduce knowledge is so immense within organizations.

But like you say, oftentimes one of the biggest challenges I see right now in organizations, especially as we're kind of moving kind of into this shift of of how we're working, is I don't know who to go to for what information.

And that's kind of a signifier that people know the people inside their groups. But once they leave their groups, it's really hard to access.

And most people aren't going to go look at an org chart to see who might know something and speculate on that and reach out to them. Most internal databases are cumbersome, bleeding edge ideas.

You're not really going to put them in there because you're just grappling with them yourself, right?

So one of the things that I work with organizations on is building more of those connections between teams, right? So there is an expectation that everyone's going to be connected with everyone. Of course, as you get that scale, that's just impossible. And we only have so much time, energy and interest.

But as we start to build more of these connections, these bridges between groups, between teams, we can start to leverage our peers connections in different places to start to ask those questions. And as we start to vocalize and talk about the work that we're doing, people might be like, Listen, I know somebody in this group that's kind of been working on this. They might have been working on this a while ago. You should go talk to this individual.

So what I'm seeing is when you start to build those bridges, that there's a lot more knowledge, diffusion because it just starts to distribute the search and retrieval of information.  If I'm not connected to another group and I'm always going to my manager, they're one First, they're going to be burned out and overloaded with all the requests. And that assumes that they know where to go to for that information as well.

But as you start to build more of these bridges between teams, as you create more of these cross-cutting ties, we can collectively leverage those connections to start that search and retrieval function.

So that's one step to really get at that information that is tacitly sitting in us people start to recognize as we interact with each other, what they're working on.

So making sure that we're building that communication, making sure that there's those connections between teams that helps people access that.


It's funny as you're saying that I can just think of, in the traditional non-digital world, right?

The hierarchy is actually in the way of getting that information, even if we know who the right person is, the politics of even being able to ask, you know, are so, so different versus, you know, if most of the information or as much as you can is digitized and it's in a repository so you don't actually have

You don't actually have to ask the person, maybe you can check their posts because they, you know, they're an expert on it.


And that kind of goes Sorry that goes back to what you were saying earlier. Right. Like groups have changed how we work has changed. So a lot of like that connective tissue is broken up.

So what we're seeing is that so many more organizations in like technology, media, that  traditionally are very flat, just by the nature, the virtue of that, that massive turnover of the growth is that they've started to resemble more of those silos. The groups are just staying connected with each other, but there's fewer weak ties in between them.

So companies that you traditionally think would be far more nimble and active in being able to retrieve that information, they've created so many silos.


I want to ask you something that you don't cover explicitly, but I wonder if you have an opinion on and that's one of the biggest problems in communication networks is bad news getting to the boss because nobody wants to tell the boss bad news.

And whether that's a function of I'm afraid that it's going to go after the messenger and not the message or, you know, we see it all the time in terms of filtering of information up.

And in a super dynamic world that's changing faster than ever and probably nothing more dangerous then than the boss not getting bad news. How to healthy networks, help on some of the the more difficult, kind of communication flows.


So what I've seen over the years in the most effective organizations is it's not always just knowledge trickling up, right?

Like if you look at the informa network with an organization, oftentimes you'll see sheets where people are really only communicating with within a few layers so that their most trusted individuals are maybe up or down one or two steps, but the organizations that can pivot very quickly can identify emerging threats within their organization, outside the organization the leaders have really good informal ties throughout the organization.

So they're not just connected to, you know, if you're an executive leader, you're not just connected to a senior leadership team. You're connected down right down to the ICs (individual contributors) like you have like a good idea of what's happening and through informal conversations, maybe you're not having these every day and maybe you're not having them every week, but you're able to get a gut check through those connections on what's going on so that it's a two way street. So the managers, the leaders are kind of aware, okay, there's something going on here, so I need to be attuned to it.

So I need to start to signal to individuals that, you know, this is something that we should be paying attention to, and then it doesn't catch them off guard.

So I think we can’t always just think about how people build connections upwards.

We also have to think about how leaders build those those informal connections throughout the organization. So they're accessing that beforehand 


It's interesting, right?

A lot of news lately with both the Starbucks CEO spending time as a barista, as well as the DHL CEO spending time, you know, out in the delivery trucks, you know, because it's hard for them to get that information.

And actually, both of the reports, I don’t know if they were Insider or Wall Street Journal were really insightful, right what these guys in this case both gentlemen learned, you know, being on the front lines, I think I just read the Starbuck’s guy said there was like I don’t know a thousand different cup-lid combinations that he discovered.

And just what you know. So it's tough to get bad It’s tough to get tough news upstream.


It also speaks to the fidelity of ideas, right. If it's something, if you're just trying to create awareness and it's just like a sales figure, that's some of that can travel very easily through a network.

But when you're talking about like the people on the ground and as a barista in a delivery truck, you're seeing emerging insights. You're seeing these new ideas. And oftentimes they start to break down as you go through a network

These like really bleeding edge ideas, you need to have direct exposure to them. That's how they get passed on through networks. So while they might understand something's happening, they might not understand the full context.

So in the case of like Starbucks and DHL, by being on the ground, you're getting the context of what's going on. Like, why are these decisions being made what’s the genealogy of that decision making process on the ground?

And what's what's the context that surrounds that? Right. We don't make decisions. We don't act in isolation. Typically, there's all these extraneous things going on. And if we're just communicating in a very, you know, succinct message, oftentimes all that context and texture gets disappears, which then  limits the leader’s ability to take that in and really position what's going on in a way that they can say, okay, this is an issue, let's figure out how we can streamline this, 

Let's figure out how we can make this more effective. And it also helps them empathize with the people on the ground, right. With their, the Starbucks, you're able to empathize with the realities of what's going on on the ground and now when you're pushing for maybe increased throughput, whatever that might be, you can understand, well One of the barriers is how we're thinking about our cup combinations right

So by just alleviating that, maybe that's really the problem that you need to solve for. So by having leaders go into those positions, having that immediate interaction with what's going on, they can really uncover what the real problem is versus maybe a store manager’s kicking that up and then a regional lead’s kicking it up and then it’s like Oh, it's the people Well maybe they're doing everything they can, but it's really something that's that's process driven.


I think it's really fascinating in the fact that it's both getting so much play. And I think the Starbucks guy said he's going to do it on a relatively frequent basis. It's great because they're going to learn stuff that that’s not going to go upstream. Like you said, maybe people think it's a relationship problem between the store manager and the regional guy or whatever. 

I want to shift gears a little bit and talk about interventions which is just something that that you do is that, you know, kind of the process. What are some of the early things or the easy wins that you can suggest, sort of an engagement that people should focus on?


Yeah, I think one of the easiest things or not the easiest, but one of the most the most effective things is understanding what those outcomes are.

And that's what I'm always talking to clients with from engagements  to education, is you have to start by understanding what the outcomes are, what's going to actually drive the business, what's going to impact the business, what's going to solve the problems.

And once you understand those outcomes that you're looking for, at least from a people perspective, you can start to understand what are the relationships that we need to build that.

So do I need to have a lot of people have incredibly strong relationships where there's multiple people densely overlapping so they can collaborate in a very dynamic kind of ambiguous environment or right now do I just need a lot weak connections to pull in information?

Do I need people to be building bonding relationships where people are just taking those weak ties within their teams and starting to form more stronger relationships?

The list goes on, but by understanding what the outcomes are that are actually going to drive business impact, then you can go  back and understand what are the relationships that are going to enable those outcomes. And then from there you can start to map out, well, what are the contexts to allow that? What are those moments that matter? Is that digital? Is it physical? Is it a hybrid of those two? Is it something completely different, like using third spaces, whatever that might be? Then you can start to really start to back engineer it and kind of really build those impacts

So something from an executive leadership position, right? That’s something where you can actually have that strategic role  and change the number and composition of groups, how people get together and how they interact. But there's a lot of stuff on the ground

Whenever I do client engagements, whenever I'm doing education work, it's just a small rituals and routines, right? Like something as innocuous as saying,

You know, we're going to do a 15  to 20 minute standing call every day if there's nothing on, pressing immediate that needs to be discussed, which is going to shoot the breeze. We're going to ask some questions. We're going to see what people are interested in.

And what I found is those little things, One, they're sustainable, right? Because you're not asking people to do extra work. What happens is you build those relationships, you help people understand people on a different level, which creates a stronger relationship, a better rapport within those teams that then creates far more effective relationships that increases time to decision Increases decision effectiveness, Increases communication.

So taking that 15  to 20 minutes a day is such a small lift for the overall impact that that will drive and we start to see companies doing that ot only within their teams that really strategically deciding, okay, I know my team needs to really interact with this other group pretty closely.

How do we start to build those small ties up?

How do we start to build those bridges up between those groups?

How do we foster those relationships that people can start to learn who's working in those groups, who to go to, for what information, and just simple stuff like who?

Who do I know that I can start to build that rapport with?

So when information is coming to me at a really fast pace  that I can trust it, that I'm not trying to parse it out, figure it out, because that's where  we see a lot of stress and unnecessary stress within organizations.

When people don't have those connections, is that they're constantly nervous, right. And who would feel comfortable taking a piece of information, doing whatever you do with it, putting your name on it and passing it along? That creates a lot of that inherent stress and burnout within organizations So just those small practices by connecting individuals, occasionally bring groups together to do lunch and learns, chat about what's on their horizons, what they're working on. It really builds those relationships up and in an overview of who's doing what so that people have a better understanding of kind of the social mapping of the organization.


That's great. So before I let you go, I know you’ve got a short time window here, I want to get your reaction on an old fable that just keeps coming up in my mind every time I I'm looking at your stuff.

And that's the story of the ship of Theseus,

Which I don’t  know if you remember by name, but you might remember the tale, which is, you know, if you have a ship and you replace every board on the ship, one at a time to where you've replaced all the boards, is it the same ship?

And, and I can't help but think of that in the culture realm, when people are hiring so many people and at some point if your hiring all these people and the newbies outnumber the oldbies by some big ratio, you know, how do you keep it to be the same ship at the same time, keeping it fresh with new wood

There's a reason that you swapped out some of the old planks. So, you know, how do you keep that culture, that’s why people joined and what the company's all about with keeping it fresh, keeping it new and really embracing, you know, kind of the new opinions and attitudes that are coming in with the new hires.


Yeah, I mean, I think first off, you like the recognition is that organizational networks are constantly evolving, right?

They're not static things and we don't want them to be static if they were static, we'd lock people into jobs, roles and functions that become outdated very quickly, especially in technology and media that move so quickly.

So they're constantly evolving. They're constantly changing.

One of the biggest conflicts that I'm seeing right now is you have people who are there in an organization before maybe five years, six year tenure and technology that's that's a rarity.

Like you see small, small percentages of those individuals. Then you see acquisitions, right? A lot of companies going on acquisition sprees over the last few years. And then you have all these new people that came in. And what that essentially did was really thinned out the organizational network, which makes it get really hard to propagate culture.

So you'll find these pockets of, okay, this was the old culture, this is what our secret sauce was. 

Then you'll have the acquisition culture that's obviously very different. But then you also have these new individuals who kind of are coming in with no kind of understanding of what the old culture is, where they're moving. 

So I don't think you're trying to reproduce the boat.

I think you're trying to understand, okay, If I’m trying to replace boards on that ship, if I'm trying to bring in new people, what kind of vessel am I trying to turn this into?

And I think always having a mindset of what's the right vessel to move me across the next body of water

With that in mind, understanding those outcomes and having that that vision, then you can start to connect people differently because maybe we want to really wait on what that new acquisition was or what those individuals that we're bringing in.

Maybe it's a whole bunch of new engineers or different marketing team because we're now pivoting into a different growth stage or a different positioning strategy.

So I think it's always keeping in mind what kind of ship do we need to cross the next body of water and how do we start to shift and mold that organizational network to best enable that.

So you're aligning your people infrastructure with the immediate needs that you have.


Andreas I love that make a new ship. It doesn't have to be the same ship. Well, that's terrific. 

Well, thank you.

Thank you so much for spending the time together. I mean, networks and networking is more important than ever before. You know, digital tools make it easier as well as probably more intimidating. But really, the tools, there's kind of really no excuse anymore. And so super important to to us as individuals and as organizations and then as leaders try to lead these organizations. So really good stuff.



Thank you for having me.

I appreciate it.


My pleasure. All right.

Well he's Andreas, I’m Jeff.

You're watching Work 20XX.

Thanks for watching.

Thanks for listening on the podcast.

We'll see you next time.

Take care.

Links and References


Andreas Hoffbauer, Founder & Director, Atelier Kultur


atelier kultur



Rebuilding our organizational networks | Looking Forward with Ryan Anderson, MillerKnoll, Ep9, 2021-10-19

Debunking the Myths about Change and How it Happens | Leadership by Design, a Global Talent Management Podcast with Heather Esposito - 2021-11-07 


Other Links and Resources 

Inside LinkedIn’s New Hybrid Office With More Than 75 Seating Types | Open Office | WSJ, Wall Street Journal YouTube, Jul 2022 - 

Designing a better tomorrow, MillerKnoll, Apr 1, 2022 


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Jeff Frick
Founder and Principal,
Menlo Creek Media

Jeff Frick has helped literally tens of thousands of executives share their stories. In his latest show, Work 20XX, Jeff is sharpening the focus on the future of work, and all that it entails.