There Are Only 2 Types of Working Environments

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Culture Code" by Daniel Coyle. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What types of working environments are there? And how do you, as a leader, determine which environment is right for your company?

When you consider it from a high level, there are only two types of working environments. These are proficiency- and creativity-oriented environments. When looking at their product and processes, leaders must determine if they want an environment that encourages proficiency or one that promotes creativity.

Keep reading for more about the two types of working environments.

Working Environment Types: Proficiency vs Creativity

At a high level, there are only two types of working environments: high-proficiency environments (where failure must be avoided) and high-creativity environments (where failure is a necessary component to development).

High-Proficiency Environments

The purpose of a high-proficiency workplace is to create an environment in which team members can make quick and appropriate decisions while working as a single unit.

A high-proficiency environment doubles down on clear priorities. Team members must know what takes precedent in their day-to-day activities. Priorities allow employees to make decisions based on a hierarchy of focus or attention.

These priorities are often emphasized by catchphrases that show causality (if X, then Y). These simple rules of thumb (known as heuristics) include easy-to-remember phrases that dictate how team members should behave in certain situations. For example, if a restauranteur wants to ensure that servers are allowing guests to send back food without charging them, they may use a phrase such as “if they don’t like the souffle, they don’t have to pay.”

The goal of a leader in a high-proficiency environment is to lead the team from point A to point B in the most efficient way possible while adhering to the standards and ethics of the organization.

High-Creativity Environments

The process of creation requires a degree of failure as the improvement of a new concept develops through trial and error. The purpose of a high-creativity workplace is to create a space in which artists and creative people can discover their work for themselves.

High-creativity environments necessitate the ability to parse through large quantities of concepts. Leaders need to develop processes to give teams honest feedback and set deadlines to ensure that projects stay on-task. These sessions help teams look at their ideas in new ways and cut out concepts that aren’t working while remaining in a reasonable timeframe.

Creative control stays in the hands of the creators. Teams need the freedom to make decisions and explore new avenues without the constant fear and frustration of losing control of their project.

The goal of a leader in a high-creativity environment is to lead the team into the unknown by giving them the tools to explore without hindering their journey. 

There Are Only 2 Types of Working Environments

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  • Why safety, vulnerability, and purpose are at the heart of a healthy group culture
  • What makes some organizations more successful as a whole
  • How one of the largest unsanctioned cease fires came one Christmas Eve during WWI

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