#PunkHR – it’s about companions not compactions. The uncompany part 1.

Posted: March 16, 2013 in Uncategorized

Building on my totaalvoetbal analogy of the last blog (where anyone could play in any position in the Netherlands 1974 and 1978 FIFA World Cup campaigns) there is something very interesting going on in the world of work and our relationships with people in the workplace and outside of it.


My take on it is we are associating MORE with the people in our professional sphere who we don’t work with us and LESS with those people who share the same employer as us.  Why..?  Kind of obvious isn’t it really –   we are choosing who to associate with.  Why then in more detail is this apparently a shift in the dynamic of our social structure 

Well, when you work in a company above 10 or 15 people, you are kind of stuck with people – people you had no part to play in the recruitment process – who become your colleagues.  And there is some acceptance that these people will also become your friends.

I just don’t think it works like this anymore.  When compared to the fantastic connections you make with people you come across in a less forced sense, those work colleagues that become your compacted model, become all about transactional relationships.  Where often there is nothing in common, very little shared value or working approach and often playing out as destructive, toxic relationships.  And we wonder why stress is on the increase?  This could be – invariably is – one of the key reasons.  We aren’t around people we care about enough at work.  We are forced – compacted – into setups and teams where we probably don’t belong and maybe never will.  We waste a stack of effort in daft outward bounds centres building bridges with people we’d just rather not spend a lot of time with.  Team building?  My arse.


It isn’t always this way though, and our friend Professor Gary Hamel has often found places where good, choice-based relationships are found in a random collection of people such as WholeFoods and Gore-Tex.  Check his stories here at the Management innovation Exchange – MiX where Gary is asking us to hack management.


Here is another way to look at this. Lonely in a crowd. Stark that. Cold. Doesn’t sound like your workplace?  Well, see how many people keep in touch with you when you leave.  In most cases, whether you are a popular gregarious type or a little reserved, wallflower VERY few people will keep in touch let alone meet up socially.  Effort made by you is part of it sure.  But then when meetings get cancelled, things drift for months you realise: we were merely transacting. Maybe it ought to be let go of.

Compare that to the other connections you have outside of the place/company you work; from those who have common interests, align their passion in a way you admire, who genuinely inspire you. The polar opposite of transacting – a more transcendent relationship.  This relationship may still fall foul of things like cancelled hook-ups, the effort being a little 1-way etc; yet it endures.

Because at the heart of that relationship is you being a companion of someone and not being compacted with people.

When you care about people in a companion way, you do your best for them – you transform them/things.

When you are compacted with others in a corporate way, well you, erm, transact with each other. There is professional pride of course, there is some caring of course – so I am generalising. But largely, why would you get on famously with all those random people you are thrust together with at work. Or to put it another way that you are compacted with.

Because we are compacted together, we are often forced to get on. I am an incredibly socially-wired individual but I can tell you, some people I have been compacted with in corporate life, It wasn’t just that I didn’t get them, or we didn’t chime: I found them offensive;    dangerous and downright dislike-able. When either I left them behind, or they left (some got restructured out rather than performance managed out – hmmm.) it was such a relief. Several people became close friends and still are. In fact many people from past corporate adventures are still in my circle and I theirs.  Loads more aren’t, and that’s said with a huge sigh of relief.  When I was compacted with them, it involved a load of tolerance, patience and give to get on with them.  “Why not chirp up and challenge them”? you might well say.  Simply put, my stance was, it was not worth my energy.  I had too many other things to devote my energy and attention towards than people who I would only ever be transacting within compacted relationships

People who were part of my team in the past – surely the close proximity struck up tightness in relationships? Nope.  Those I am in contact with and have stronger bonds with were in often from the same organisation but NOT in my team. We found each other and had that shared passion; were still different (age, values, approaches, gender, ethnicity etc) but we CHOSE to be companions. We were only compacted by being in the same organisation but we chose to be companions.

Now before anthropologists and behavioural psychologists get all over my theories and experiences, I KNOW we are social animals and existed (still exist) in tribes.  We were born into them and made the best of it.

Lately I am though, thinking very much more deeply about why a random collection of workplace individuals should get on.  I just don’t think things can be forced that way. We don’t have to abandon units based on specialisms and corporate functions but do we have to sit with them?  Go on forced team builds with them?

I think not.  I think we agree what our professional endeavours are all about and stick to those.

We should we be able to sit with whomever we find the most inspiration from, in whatever part of the business they work in.  We should be able to work remotely when we need to.  We would OF COURSE join in with team meetings and tactical checkpoints.

It’s not about just sitting with your “bezzy mates” like in school.  It’s those who create FLOW not FRICTION.  Those who can support you emotionally and it means something to you; and those who have your back.

It’s not about avoiding supervision from your boss; it’s about being somewhere – and with people – that you are choosing to be with for all the right reasons.  You can and will have a decent amount of check-ins with your boss but this about, as I said earlier, companions and about friction.

Usual Punk movement moment now: Punks had companions and weren’t compacted together. In fact, so non-compacted were they, they would hang with Skinheads, Rastas, Mods, Rockers, Goths and Soulboys.  There was such an anti-conformist view that they didn’t even conform to something they might be forgiven for – hanging around with your likewise. 

So I think it’s time to forget artificial team constructs – the compacting set up for offices and teams.  The new shape is to not have to spend time sat around people who create friction.  To choose to be with people who are your support mechanism; who are your engine room and your blue-sky enablers.  Your companions. The results?  Happier, more productive, likely more innovative people at work.  Of course, if you compact people in and they still perform OK you’ll never really know how much the friction that’s being created is causing a drag on your streamline. 

Leaning the hell out of work has gotten us to a point where we have no more processes to eliminate; no more fat to trim and so our only step would be functional anorexia or automation through technological solutions.  Where that’s not there yet, giving people the space to be where they want to be and with whomever, is the most humane thing we can do to get the best out of people.

@smartco Anne Marie McEwan’s new book Smart Work (here) describes how corrupt the workplace has become in de-humanising who we are and what we are about. 

That’s what compacting does for you. Presses things in so tightly that it might have been made out of 100 different materials but it looks and acts a little like a breeze block.  Not very cuddly; grey and rough.  Sound familiar corporate world?


Marissa Meyer’s edict apart, there is hope. Hope that workplace design will get more sophisticated and Punk itself up.  Invigorating our grey-carpeted highways towards blandtopian wood and spotlights will be a thing of the past and people will come to work for the joy of the socialising; the buzz of the energy and in the knowledge they helped shape their own working environment about who and in what way they “logged on”. 

Pogo on people – in your own space with whoever you want there with you – with a splash of tartan and bondage.



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  1. When people mention the word “compacted” I think of wisdom teeth. There is wisdom in this post – we are happier and perform better with those with whom we have a bond and genuine liking, rather than with others with whom we are forced to be simply due to functional constraints. Courtesy of the easy interaction provided by social media and technology, individuals are no longer isolated in their teams at their place of work. It is unrealistic of employers to think that their people won’t be connecting with others both inside and outside the organisation. I do believe in team building, as it is often only when you take people away from the daily work environment that they start to see the human side of their colleagues. However, for many years now I have deliberately invited people from a across the business to join my departments’ meetings and off-sites. Collaborative networks both within and outside organisations is the way forward.

  2. hrgem says:

    I really enjoyed this Perry. I’m often struck by how much I enjoy engaging with people on twitter or through blogs that I’ve never met, but how much more valuable I find that interaction than dialogue with ‘real’ colleagues. Personally I find a RT or blog comment from someone I admire through these platforms more gratifying than line manager feedback. Does this say something about me specifically or is it the way social / professional communities are changing how we work and interact so much that this is inevitable. Lynda Gratton talks about having a posse and the importance if this in the future work place. My posse is definitely virtual.

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