Nurturing a culture is challenging enough when a team is contained within the same four walls. However, the real struggles start when you try to transpose them across boundaries. 

How much control are you prepared to give away?

During the early phases of a start-up, roles and responsibilities are blurred as teams pull together to get the job done. As companies grow, we know boundaries become clearer, and culture becomes established. This is reinforced through more rigid roles, responsibilities, and the development of hierarchies. It’s a classic dilemma that every start-up faces sooner or later, and it’s amplified when businesses expand beyond borders. The company has changed, but is this change for the better? Leaders face choices that will define the company and its culture for the future. The question is: How much control are you willing to give away, and could you do more?

Become a macro manager

There comes a point in the evolution of every business where leaders can’t stay over every detail – and that’s OK. The most successful organisations – and effective managers – are giving away more control than ever.
Evidence and anecdote tell us that modern leadership isn’t about command and control; it’s about establishing a culture of collaboration and creativity (or so say the experts). Nobody likes a micromanager. But on the flip side, nobody respects someone who isn’t exerting an influence on a business. So instead of bosses imposing control on individuals, macro managers focus on creating an environment conducive to success. Culture does the heavy lifting.

We all know that culture isn’t a series of statements on a page but a manifestation of the lived experience of everyone in the organisation.

The aphorism “culture is what happens when people aren’t looking” is cliched, but there’s a kernel of truth to it. Saying you respect someone while shouting at them will do more to influence behaviour than any bland statement.  Nurturing a culture is challenging enough when a team is contained within the same four walls. However, the real struggles start when you try to transpose them across boundaries.

Games Workshop: Carrying culture across borders

A case study makes it easier to illustrate the potential of culture and its impact on people and profit. Games Workshop is a classic example of a business reaping the benefits of freedom for its workers. The model-making company may not be cool, but it’s just reported stellar profits for 2022 – and shows no signs of slowing down.

So, what’s its secret? Games Workshop has a singular vision for delivering an incredible customer experience. Its staff are almost always tabletop gamers. They implicitly understand what their customers want – because it’s the same thing, whether you’re standing behind the counter or in front of it.

The Games Workshop team is free to create unique in-store experiences, engaging with customers for hours who, in the end, may spend just a few pounds on a new model.

What’s fascinating about the success of Games Workshop is that the leaders have transferred the culture from the UK to the USA – but have empowered local teams to exploit regional differences.

The success of Games Workshop provides a valuable case study into how culture can influence behaviour and drive a better business. Of course, this doesn’t mean that any international office should be given free rein to work independently – but it shows that freedom to operate is often a license to innovate.

By giving away control, the Games Workshop team has developed a culture that’s 100% focused on its customers. The impact? Games Workshop shareholders enjoyed a 90p dividend, and all staff shared in a £10m bonus package.

Don’t lift and shift 

The lesson from the success of Games Workshop, and hundreds of other innovative businesses that have developed flexible cultures, is that simply ‘lifting and shifting’ a model and attempting to apply it somewhere new won’t cut it.

At Saragossa, we’re expanding into the US. We’re allowing local teams to apply their expertise to international markets. It’s not easy, but we’re challenging ourselves to relinquish day-to-day control while driving in the same direction.

We’re learning to give away more control, as we recognise it’s critical to building a thriving culture that crosses borders.

Ask yourself: How much control are you willing to give away – and could you do more?