Does your company have a textual or oral culture?

Are textual or oral cultures more successful?

You can see elements of these different types of cultures in any company. Company cultures are not one or the other, they are located on a spectrum, and few are on extreme sides. You could argue that a small business like a restaurant or hair salon is probably run almost exclusively on oral principles. On the other end, fully remote tech companies are probably mostly textual.

Are startups more oral?

Is the type of culture a function of company size and development stage? You could probably suspect that a small startup with a team of 10 people in a room would naturally have a more oral culture than a bigger company.

Lost in translation between departments

In a growing company, different departments are going to develop their own subcultures. That’s almost unavoidable. Frequently it’s a function of the respective professions. Engineering departments tend to be much more textual than sales departments or customer success, for example. That’s hardly a surprise. But the culture is often strongly influenced by department leaders.

How does remote work change this?

As a result of the COVID pandemic we all went through a forced experiment in remote working. Results have been mixed. Most companies report that their productivity has remained stable, but a large percentage feels that culture has suffered.

Why do VCs talk so much?

Finally, an observation about my own industry, venture capital. VC has a very strongly oral culture. That’s not necessarily a given, since most VCs are highly analytical people.

What to do about it

The preferred mode of communication — on an individual, team and company level — has essential impact on how a company works and in which circumstances it can be successful. It’s therefore essential for leaders to pay attention to this aspect. In my own career as an entrepreneur and investor I have seen disconnects in this aspect cause more problems and conflicts than almost anything else.

  1. Understand what communication type (reader/textual or listener/oral) you are yourself. Most people are not either or, but definitely have a preference.
  2. Understand the same about your colleagues and make them aware of it. Tools like the “Manual of Me” can help with this.
  3. Accommodate the different preferences in your management methods, depending on how your team performs best. Have meetings, but not too many. Produce written documentation, but stay comprehensive. Most of all: Use multi-channel communication. Any important piece of information should be shared in both verbal and written form to make sure it reaches everybody on their terms.

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Andreas Goeldi

Andreas Goeldi

Technologist, entrepreneur and investor. Likes startups, gadgets, movies, good audio technology and rambling about any of those topics. Partner at btov.vc