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  • Writer's pictureHalldor Kvale-Skattebo

The Tight-Loose-Tight rhythm of culture: More than jokes and coffee breaks

Greetings, fellow captains of the corporate ship!



Inspired by a friend who is out sailing on his 6th year, and my own desire to be at the sea, I wrote this blog post to hopefully inspire other sailors to sit down, think and reflect on the culture needed to build great organizations. We’ve been sailing in an agile ocean for a long time now, and we are long gone past Lego for building culture and teams. While sitting on your ship, either as an enterprise coach, business owner or a leader, it is always important to take a moment, sit back, and reflect over past achievements, but regardless of what has happened earlier and looking at the great wins, it is also I,portant to take a moment and look to the horizon for your next voyage.


So, let’s set sail into the vast ocean of organizational culture and atmosphere. We'll dive deep into understanding why culture is more than just a lively office brimming with laughter, and why it plays an indispensable role in building trust, nurturing autonomy, driving superior results, and retaining top-notch talent. Fasten your life jackets, it's time to challenge some deep-seated beliefs and weave in some "Tight-Loose-Tight" rhythms into our voyage!


Let's first unpack these two commonly confused terms: culture and atmosphere. They may seem similar, but - plot twist - they’re different dimensions of our organizational ecosystem.

Atmosphere is what you see and feel - it's the laughter resonating across the office, the camaraderie during coffee breaks, the engaging storytelling over lunch. It's the book cover that draws you in. But, as every avid reader knows, it's not the cover, but the story that keeps you hooked.


Enter, culture. Culture is the undercurrent, the shared values, attitudes, standards, and beliefs. It's the story within the book that deeply influences every interaction, every decision, every action in an organization.


A fun and lively atmosphere is great; it adds a dash of color to our workdays and strengthens the bonds among team members. However, it's the culture that truly fosters trust and enables autonomy - fundamental elements for any agile organization. This is where the Tight-Loose-Tight philosophy enters the scene.


Now, let's introduce the Tight-Loose-Tight concept to our narrative. The first 'Tight' phases represent defined structures, clear expectations and responsibilities. The 'Loose' phase, in contrast, allows for creativity, exploration, and improvisation within the defined framework. It's a rhythm that creates stability yet allows for innovation.


This rhythm helps build trust. 'Tight' phases set clear expectations, ensuring everyone knows their role and what is expected of them. This transparency fosters trust. The 'Loose' phase promotes openness and creativity, further enhancing trust as team members feel safe to voice their ideas, take calculated risks, and learn from their mistakes.


Autonomy, another cornerstone of agile organizations, also finds a comfortable home within the Tight-Loose-Tight rhythm. The 'Loose' phase nurtures autonomy by empowering individuals to make decisions within the agreed boundaries. This freedom not only drives better results but also sparks innovation and creativity.


The Tight-Loose-Tight rhythm also helps retain the best talents. High performers crave more than just a fun-filled environment. They search and aim for an organization where they can align their personal and professional values, feel respected, and be part of the decision-making process. The 'Tight' phases provide the structure they need, and the 'Loose' phase offers the freedom they desire.


Creating such a culture, and maintaining a Tight-Loose-Tight rhythm, is challenging. It requires commitment, adaptability, and leadership that sets the tone. Leaders should not just talk the talk, but walk the walk, embodying the values they preach, promoting transparency, and fostering an environment of mutual respect and trust.


So, let's look beyond the laughter and camaraderie. They're vital, but not all. Cultivate a culture that employs a Tight-Loose-Tight rhythm, fostering trust, encouraging autonomy, and retaining talent. As you steer your organizational ship, ask yourselves: Are you fostering a culture that truly counts?


Let's challenge the status quo, create organizations that are not just fun to work at but

also stimulate growth, innovation, and trust. The Tight-Loose-Tight philosophy isn't just a managerial buzzword; it's a rhythm that can elevate our organizations to new heights.

Balancing this rhythm requires leaders to set clear expectations ('Tight'), provide autonomy within those boundaries ('Loose'), and then return to structure to evaluate and realign ('Tight'). This rhythm can drive us towards a culture that’s more than just an engaging atmosphere but is a deep-seated system of shared values and beliefs.


By building this kind of culture, we can navigate through stormy waters, explore new horizons, and keep our teams motivated and engaged. An atmosphere of fun and camaraderie may brighten the journey, but it's the culture that navigates us to our destination.


So, let's get to work. Let's make our organizations more than just places where people work. Let's make them spaces where people grow, learn, and create. Remember, while atmosphere can set the tone of our voyage, it's the culture, driven by a Tight-Loose-Tight rhythm, that truly brings our ship forward.


As you captain your own corporate ships, ask yourself: Are you just creating a fun workplace, or are you building a culture that's a symphony of trust, autonomy, and innovation, played to the rhythm of Tight-Loose-Tight? The choice is yours.


Let's keep challenging, let's keep sailing, and let's create organizations that do more than just float. Together, we can create cultures that truly sail!


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