Today’s TED Talk made me think long and hard about the issue of culture in startups, especially about how to create a culture of helpfulness. The research on the subject is quite clear, that helpful cultures outperform unhelpful ones hands down.

I’m struggling though with whether a culture of helpfulness is at odds with a results oriented culture. Is it possible to have both? If helpfulness leads to better results, should you focus on the end goal or on the process to get there?

I’m disturbed that I may have been mistaken my whole life, trying to create results oriented cultures when I know I would much rather work in a culture of helpfulness without the competition.

I left an organization a number of years because I just didn’t enjoy working there. I had ended up in a job I didn’t like and that was a good enough reason but fundamentally I didn’t like the organization.

Since then, I’ve struggled to define what it was exactly that I didn’t like. Over the years I have identified a number of factors that influenced my decision but until I watched this TED Talk, I didn’t see the whole reason. And that reason was that there was not a culture of helpfulness.

There may have been helpfulness within various teams in the organization but fundamentally there was no helpfulness between teams. Each team had its own budget and there was intense competition for and jealousy of other teams budgets. Results were team based and not organization based and there was intense competition to see who could be the shining star, individually or as a team.

This resulted in a general lack of helpfulness between teams, in fact it was so bad that teams would encroach upon each other, stealing good ideas and replicating programs. There was poor handoff of clients between teams and even a competition between teams for clients.

The problem was, that as bad as it was, the organization was not open to change. And his made it extremely frustrating when you needed to get things done in conjunction with another team. While the problems were easy to see and the consequences quite predictable, the organization was not open to analytical self criticism. Eschewing self-critical analysis, it buried conflict because candor was not safe.

Anyway, enough of my lamenting. Watch the video and think about your own organization. And if you need to either create or go find a culture of helpfulness.