Could work culture ever transcend the three-day offsite?

Ted Bauer
3 min readAug 10, 2022

I like Stowe Boyd in general — one time we got in a fight about me supposedly lifting a quote from him without attribution — and his new newsletter is solid. Here’s a good section about “corporate culture,” which has now been discussed roughly 25M times since 2016, without any real progress having been made on it in that time:

A lot of what motivates the concept of ‘building culture’ is wrongheaded, or maybe wronghearted is a better way to put it.

Deep work culture transcends the quarterly business goals, the strategic KPIs that the C suite has laid out to meet the dream of an unstoppable business model, and the supposedly unique corporate values created by a consulting firm in a three-day offsite with the senior executives and the communications department.

Deep work culture is based on the connection between each contributor and their desire to do good work, in a company organized to help them do so.

I would agree with this wholeheartedly. And yet, now we arrive at a problem.

How exactly could this happen?

That’s where I think the rubber meets the road.

Work is almost entirely and consistently about tasks. That’s all that matters to most execution-level employees — because tasks are controllable, and most embrace the narrative that tasks will get them promoted or more money in some way — and it’s what matters to execs within the broader umbrella of “efficiency” or “productivity.” If an exec thinks a task or a series of tasks are dropping, or someone yells loud enough about tasks falling by the wayside, that’s one of the surest ways to get headcount. Execs are terrified of productivity drops, even if they don’t fully realize the factors that go into productivity in the first place.

Now, it is true that deep work culture transcends the quarterly goals and the strategic KPIs, but those things have a near-religious importance to pre-existing executives. Those offsite events, with those consultants? That’s often the closest thing they have to fun. It’s hard to remove these functioning elements, because the way most “senior leaders” think is:

  • I know the most and am the smartest, so I will set the strategy that…
Ted Bauer

Mostly write about work, leadership, friendship, masculinity, male infertility, and some other stuff along the way. It's a pleasure to be here.