“Building a ‘Googley’ Workforce”

Earlier this week in my Strategy and Policy class we spent time talking about the culture of organizations. One student brought up the unique example of the Google culture. I was so intrigued by the distinctive atmosphere of Google that I decided to do some research on the subject. I found a particularly interesting article in the Washington Post entitled, “Building a Googley Workforce” that supported my theory that Google is the epitome of an informal organization.

Do you know of any other company that installs Japanese commodes with heated seats in their restrooms? I highly doubt it. Furthermore, on the back of each bathroom stall is an ever-changing flyer that quizzes the reader on how to test programming codes for bugs. In a subtle way this is the Google management team’s way of encouraging productive thinking during an employee’s down time.  The Google office complex is full of “generous, quirky perks [keeping] employees happy and thinking in unconventional ways, helping Google innovate as it rapidly expands into new lines of business.” These exciting bathrooms are only one of the myriad luxuries that Google offers to its employees in order to foster a fun, creative environment in the workplace.

Google employees are encouraged to be innovative and fearless with their ideas. Management permits them to allocate 20% of their work time towards fostering and pursuing their own research and ideas. They are encouraged to propose “wild, ambitious” suggestions on a regular basis. Every employee is given a very generic job title, such as “product manager.” This broad title gives them the freedom to explore numerous aspects of the business so that they do not feel constrained by set duties and/or obligations.

The Google culture is purely an informal organization. Employees are respected for being individuals and are valued for their unique personal contributions to the company. They do not have a set of defined tasks as do employees in formal organizations. There are no boundaries to what they can and cannot do at work which serves to fuel creativity and imagination. This Google culture fosters a strong sense of communication amongst employees of all levels. No one is afraid to approach the CEO and spit out their ideas and opinions. It is actually encouraged. This communication develops a very honest and trusting atmosphere where the fear of failure is nonexistent. According to Scott and Davis in their description of an informal organization, “Individuals are never merely ‘hired hands’ but bring along their heads and hearts: they enter the organization with individually shaped ideas, expectations and agendas, and they bring with them distinctive values, interests, sentiments, and abilities.” Employees at Google are encouraged to bring their own thoughts and opinions to the workplace. They are valued based upon their unique offerings and they are never thought of as merely ‘hired hands.’

In the words of Google’s Chief Culture Officer, Google does not want their organization to be “too formal. That would be un-Googley.”

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9 Responses

  1. I agree with you that Google definitely epitomizes a company with a strong informal culture. Interestingly, I do not think that Google merely has an informal culture; they are defined by their informal culture and it is so pervasive and widely accepted by the organization that I think in many ways what we view as their informal culture is not very different from the formal structure of the company. That is to say, there is little formal structure – strict rules, rigid job duties, and an inflexible hierarchy do not exist at Google. For most companies, their informal culture is something that exists within the formal structure. For Google, the distinction between the formal structure and the informal structure barely exists.

    I think that much of Google’s success can be attributed to this company culture. Having started in a garage in Silicon Valley, the company never lost its informal, casual nature. In doing so, it has attracted creative talent, encouraged innovation, and fostered the development of crazy, yet widely successful, ideas. It makes me question why more companies do not model themselves after Google.

  2. Google is an amazing company and I am very happy you decided to address their innovated business atmosphere. The post made me wonder why more companies have not adopted this laid back energy for their work environment. Imagine if investment banks started having Fat Tuesdays on Wal-Street. Do you think this approach to business is practical in other organizations?

  3. This is a very interesting post. I think that what Google does works greatly to their advantage. If more companies would adapt their way of operation, I think they, too, could be successful. This post is a 180 degree turn from my post about “haters” as rliberati calls them. I would love to work for a company like Google that gave people the opportunity to take sweet quizzes while using the facilities, or incorporating their own ideas into the company. That’d be gnarly.

  4. Thanks for the feedback Ross, Brooke and Alex! After writing this post I read a book called “Let me People Go Surfing,” by Yvon Chouinard, the founder and CEO of the Patagonia company. This book details the history of the Patagonia company and the philosophies that make it so unique and diverse. Patagonia is an extremely informal company, very similar to Google. As the title is suggesting, employees get the day off of work when the waves are awesome for surfing. This laid back style encourages creative thinking in the workplace. Ross posed the question, “Do you think this approach to business is practical in other organizations?” I would have to answer no. This approach to business will only be effective if it is implemented in the right type of environment (variant upon location, people, product/service offering). Some organizations, like finance and accounting firms for example, operate more effectively under a much for rigid structure that is tailored towards the personalities of the employees and the industry they are performing in.

    I strongly recommend Yvon Chouniard’s book to anyone who has a little extra time on their hands!

    • Molly, thanks for the replies! I’ve not read the book, but I’ll add it to my pile.

  5. ALL organizations have an informal side. The questions are how do we describe it, how does it relate to performance of the organization, and ho or what is trying to shape or control it.

    Google is well-known for emphasizing playfulness and individual creativity in their business. What makes them capable of fostering that atmosphere? The culture that emerges alongside the deliberate attempts to foster atmosphere has its own structure and pattern. That is the key insight to informal organization. Any manager anywhere can formalize free time or creative practices. Whether those practices are reinforced in the culture is a separate process and question.

    PS- I love the subtle reference to downtime in the bathrooms. How much great thinking happens while one is _ahem_ otherwise occupied?!

  6. I love Google and I love them even more after reading this blog post. I wish more companies would make use of fun and creativity to bring results and innovation. Giving employees 20% of their work time to pursue their own interests is genius—Google will absolutely benefit from their innovations and I remember reading somewhere that much of Google’s new ventures come from this 20% of employee time.

  7. After discussing innovation in class, I find this post to be extremely interesting. Obviously, this innovating work environment is contributing to the success of the company. What is most interesting is that employees are able to spend 20% working on their own projects. This is a great idea in order to ensure that employees are passionate about their work and therefore productive and hardworking. Do you know if other organizations might follow in Google’s footsteps and start creating a similar type of environment in order to be successful?

  8. After discussing innovation in class, I find this post to be extremely interesting. Obviously, this innovating work environment is contributing to the success of the company. What is most interesting is that employees are able to spend 20% working on their own projects. This is a great idea in order to ensure that employees are passionate about their work and therefore productive and hardworking. Do you know if any organizations are following in Google’s footsteps and creating this kind of environment in order to be successful?

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