Collaborative Workplace Cultures are Humanistic Workplace Cultures

Author avatarJennifer Hancock ยทMay 13, 2024

I had the pleasure of speaking with Harit Nagpal the other day. I host through the International Humanistic Management Association.  I was very excited to have him on as he's one of those wonderful people who just - gets it.

His presentation is now available as an online certified course here at Learn Formula:


Harit is the CEO of Tata Play which is a major satellite TV provider in India. For those of you who are in the west - it's like DirectTV. 

The topic of his talk has to do with the CEO culture he has created at Tata Play.  CEO stands for Collaborate, Experiment and Own.  Meaning he wants everyone to collaborate, experiment to solve problems and take ownership of their work.  To do this he had to flatten the company a bit. 


We also discussed how the collaborative culture he has created helps keep bullies out of the organization. In a truly collaborative workplace, anyone who comes in with what Harit calls "outside poison" doesn't do well. In fact, they never make it out of their initiation period. A group that collaborates well, bullies just can't figure out how to control - because the group rejects control organically.

What I want to talk about in this post is what my conversation with him brought up for me. 


1st: I would love to work for Harit. I don't actually want to work for anyone in any office. But if I did, I'd be asking Harit to hire me. 

2nd: It brought up a lot of stuff from an old job I had. Both because my department was flat managed and depending on collaboration and because of how people not in our department who were used to command and control structures (say - former military) had trouble dealing with and collaborating with our department.



1 – Collaboration creates solutions which leads to amazing growth 

The 1/2 billion dollar tower company I worked at? The reason we got that big was collaboration. The acquisition department switched to a flat management structure. Each department within acquisition was autonomous and had authority to kill deals. We went from doing 2 acquisitions a month to about 8 a week once we put the communication systems in place for everyone to share their input in a central location. 

We did not hoard information. We shared it openly. This is the only way to make sure people can collaborate and do their jobs effectively.  If there was a problem that couldn't be solved because it was outside the ability of our teams to fix (ie: it was something the buyer needed to fix), we sent it back to the buyers to negotiate a fix and then started working on it again.

Again - radical full collaboration with no top down control moved us from 1 acquisition every other week to 8 a week! That is explosive growth! 

2 – You don’t know what you don’t know.

Planning for anything and not including people who have to do the actual work and who know the most about implementation is a mistake. It will lead to failure. Because - you don't know what you don't know. You aren't an expert in everything. No one is. Successful people LISTEN to the experts. They trust the people they hire to give them truthful honest advice so that any problem that arises can a) be planned for and b) fixed. 

It is for this reason I have trouble understanding why certain leaders are anti-union. Don't they want to know what they don't know? Don't they want to collaborate with their employees and benefit from the expertise of their employees? It just blows my mind anytime anyone takes an adversarial position against their own employees.  We can't all be working on the same team if you leadership treats their employees like the enemy.

Let me tell you a story about the 1/2 billion tower company I used to work for. The guy in charge of billing and account servicing was former military. He did not understand collaboration at all. His was a command and control managed department. They were horribly horribly horrible inefficient. At some point our acquisition department was so far ahead in our work we were asked to help contact customers to renew their leases and get them signed up for the new fees. We were blasting through them and our tenants were thanking us because - finally after over a year of asking to renew - someone wrote up the new contract for them. We had a fraction of his staff and were able to complete so much more work than his team. 

He was furious. You would think renewing leases - which was his departments job - would be a good thing and he would want to learn how we were able to do so much with so few people. Instead of asking for help and asking us how to improve his department's activities (which was struggling because people were being rewarded for being appearing to be too busy to actually do any real work - which is an illness I've seen in many badly managed teams), he instead tried to keep me out of leadership decision making activities entirely. At one point he initiated a change management process for his team which failed totally because he didn't know what he didn't know about behavior management and refused to ask me - which was stupid because I'm an expert in creating personal and organizational change. I could have and would have gladly helped him design a roll out that would have worked and helped his team be more effective, but - he REALLY didn't want to collaborate. He wanted to lead and be seen as a leader- so he failed. 

He failed because he wanted to be a boss. And a managers role is a support function. What does your team need to do the job? Don't know, find out, get it for them. This came up for me because Harit shares this same management philosophy. 


3– Collaborative teams Don’t tolerate bullying. 

They are immunized from it. You bring in someone with poison from the outside, and they will flunk out. Why? Because when people have ownership, and authority and the only way they will do anything for you is if you ask them to collaborate and treat them with dignity, then anyone who doesn't treat people with dignity fails to be effective. In fact, a team that works through collaboration will discuss the problems and the rudeness of the bully and basically band together to deny them power. It's a stunning thing to see when it happens.

Harit was talking about this. For leaders in massive organizations it can be really hard to make sure that lower level managers aren't bullying staff. Especially when staff is in an economically disadvantaged situation to begin with. The poorer your staff, the more they stay silent when something illegal or unethical happens. They can't afford to speak up.

If you want teams to feel safe enough to out a bully or someone with some other unethical poison in them, you have to make sure whistleblower's jobs are safe and that they have the ability to go directly to the highest level of the organization.  And you REALLY want them to.  If a manager is doing something unethical or asking staff to do something unethical, it's going to not only cost you money, but put a poison in that team and that poison can spread if you are not aware of it.  

Collaborative teams that are secure in their jobs - will stand together to kick out a bully or other poisonous individual. Collaborative flat teams feel comfortable reporting ethical problems to the ethics committee knowing the ethics committee will take their report seriously and deal with it. They also feel comfortable going to the CEO directly. Because a collaborative environment doesn't place one individual above another. It's collaboration built on dignity and ownership. 


Sign up for his online course on Learn Formula titled: CEO Culture - Collaborate, Experiment & Own: 

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