Culture Work Posts

On Crucibles

Hazing rituals at frats are falling out of fashion nowadays, but I think the core concept of the ritual is valuable to any organization. Pressure is a tried and true way of establishing rapport and building intimacy between a shared group. It’s not something that is guaranteed to build relationships, but it’s certainly conducive to it. Think of situations like army troops that survive multiple battles together. There’s no way something like that doesn’t build a certain kind of bond or trust between people – those are people who know their comrades will have their back in a life or death situation. Hazing rituals can only begin to scratch the surface of that.

I think hazing is a pretty multi faceted form of onboarding to fraternities. First, they create a ritual that is shared experience between pledges, and gives them common ground with older members of the same organization. Second, it gives their entry into the organization a sense of value – it’s not something that anyone could just join – we had to work for it. Third, the pressure of the environment is a natural environment to create tighter bonds between pledges. Crises are like a hyperbolic time chamber for relationships – you can accomplish way more in a shorter period of time depending on the intensity of the crisis.

The hazing ritual at fraternities is tangential to what I wanted to talk about, which is work environments. Different work environments can be conducive to different relationships between coworkers – this should be self evident. High pressure work environments that force death march hours onto all of its employees can almost be a blessing in disguise in that they can build strong that work really well together – I’ve heard this used to be pretty common in game development, when games were hitting their release date, the developers would enter a period called “crunch mode” in which they basically lived in the office.  You can imagine those teams being tight.

Environments where individual performance are the top priority can lead to situations where people will bend or break the rules constantly without worrying about the common good, because they know only individual performance matters. This is pretty common in sales – top salesmen don’t usually have set hours, and they get a ton of leeway to sell a client, including expense accounts that aren’t necessarily scrutinized at the level that due diligence would ordinarily be called for.  They can get bigger asks from other departments, even if their asks can negatively impact departments as a whole. You don’t have to work together with your coworkers as the top performer. Instead, you can demand more from others. That’s not to say that this is always the case, of course. This type of environment is just less conducive to teamwork, because it gives more leverage to individuals who produce more. It’s harder to work as equals with someone when you know the other person can say, “Nah, I don’t wanna do this work. You do it.” and you actually have to do the work if you want to keep your job.

Working dynamics is a fascinating topic.

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