Clan Culture: An Informative Guide for HR Professionals

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Clan Culture: An Informative Guide for HR Professionals

Good teamwork and strong employee engagement are important drivers of employee and organizational performance. They are also the key characteristics of clan culture. Here’s all you need to know about clan culture in organizations and how you can foster its aspects within your business.

What is clan culture?
Key characteristics of clan culture
Advantages of clan culture
Disadvantages of clan culture
How HR can help foster elements of clan culture

What is clan culture?

Clan culture refers to a type of corporate culture that fosters a collaborative, family-like environment by valuing commitment, participation, and allegiance. Its horizontal structure has teams of close-knit employees who strongly identify with the organization’s vision and mission and unite over a shared cause.

The term “clan culture” is derived from its comparison to societal clans of people who unite over mutual ancestry or a particular kinship. 

Management in this type of organizational culture is flexible and does not rely on strict control and procedures. There are rules, but they are instilled more socially than formally. Teams operate autonomously with a high degree of trust to decide how they get work done. Employees feel comfortable speaking freely and sharing knowledge, and leaders seek their input.

Clan-cultured organizations are often small businesses, start-ups, and family-owned companies with a more inward focus and emphasis on personal relationships. 

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Here’s a glimpse into what one might look like:

  • It operates casually with informal language and a relaxed dress code. 
  • Employees are hired based on their trustworthiness to uphold the company.
  • Onboarding a new employee might involve mentoring rather than a set of procedures. 
  • Employees have open access to owners/top management.
  • Unstructured, face-to-face interactions are common.
  • Team members admit and discuss shortcomings openly to share knowledge and not to place blame. 
  • It has a cooperative, supportive atmosphere of colleagues willing to help each other out.

The role of organizational culture

A company’s organizational culture is a reflection of its personality. It is very similar to how every geographical culture reflects its unique composition of values and customs.

An organization’s culture has a profound impact on the business success, as it shapes employees’ attitudes about work, their behavior, and the ways to achieve strategic goals.

Businesses seldom fit exclusively into one kind of corporate culture but do tend to form a dominant one. The prevailing culture generally falls under one of four types of organizational culture identified by Kim Cameron and Robert Quinn.

The Competing Values Framework categorizes the culture types as follows:

  • Clan culture – Do things together
  • Adhocracy culture – Do things first
  • Hierarchy culture – Do things right
  • Market culture – Do things fast
Clan Culture

It can be very beneficial to define your company’s type of culture. In doing so, you can discover whether it’s sending the right message to support your business goals. To get started, you can evaluate your organizational culture with the Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument (OCAI).

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Key characteristics of clan culture

A clan culture resembles a family where everyone bands together as one cohesive unit. Companies with a prevalent clan culture tend to have the following features: 

  • Active participation and strong teamwork. Clan culture is based on collaboration and trust, so teamwork is a priority. People take part in the business beyond the scope of their own jobs to generate ideas and find solutions from multiple points of view. Solid bonds among employees allow them to function well collectively and work hard to accomplish goals.
  • Informality and horizontal structure. The organizational structure is typically flat, so barriers between levels of employees are low. Management sees their employees as family and will lead in a nurturing way. Also, employees’ roles might not be formally defined as they juggle multiple tasks.
  • A sense of belonging. People are integrated into the organization and feel like they’re part of something important beyond themselves. They have a strong emotional connection to the organization’s mission, values, and their colleagues. There is also an unspoken consensus of loyalty to the company and rivalry with competing businesses. 
  • Tight connections. Employees work closely together as a unit and have more loyalty to each other than outsiders. Team members often refer new hires who then enter the organization with existing ties. Colleagues spend a lot of time together, even extending to socializing beyond work hours. Mentoring is commonplace, with employees learning from each other. 
  • Commitment to employees. With a focus on employee wellbeing, clan culture provides a nurturing environment where employees are mentored and encouraged to grow in their roles. There is a commitment to creating a safe, pleasant environment for employees, ensuring they have all they need to be satisfied. 

Advantages of clan culture

The tribe-like nature of clan culture with less internal competition makes it very effective for certain organizations. Its strengths can breed the following benefits:

A positive working environmentWhen a company focuses on the wellbeing and satisfaction of employees, people feel like they fit in and are appreciated. This supports morale and motivation to create a relaxed, cheerful workplace.

Employees with similar, shared values create a family-like atmosphere where everyone feels backed by a group of people who see themselves as an all-star team. Many individuals might consider this the ideal work scenario.
Open communicationJust as a family might catch up with each other at the dinner table, regular check-ins are a clan culture trait. One-on-ones, employee surveys, and open meetings are common. Everyone has a voice and is kept informed of company messages and what’s happening.

Ideas and honest feedback are welcomed, so issues are addressed promptly and collectively. The openness and transparency build employees’ trust with managers and their colleagues. It also reduces gossip and complaining.
Employee engagementPeople crave more from their jobs than just a paycheck. They want to identify with an employer’s overall mission. When employees are proud to be a part of the group, they feel connected to teammates and the company’s values.
If engaged, employees are driven to devote more energy toward their jobs and push beyond the minimum requirements. In turn, happy and devoted employees perform well and find creative ways to satisfy customers. 
LoyaltyA collaborative culture that feels like family imparts a sense of allegiance. Employees remain devoted to their colleagues and the company. This means they are likely to stand by the organization and do their part to see it succeed.

Loyal employees stick around. Because they feel secure and satisfied, they don’t need to seek a new position elsewhere. 

Disadvantages of clan culture

Although a clan-like environment can be a very effective company culture, it does have its drawbacks. Potential disadvantages of clan culture can include the following:

Being exclusionary and homogenousClan culture organizations can be insular. They may be skeptical of outsiders and hesitate to adopt ideas from external influences that can help the company branch out. If hiring is done based on referrals, it might result in a lack of diversity.

When new employees do come in without ties to anyone, they can struggle to feel included with existing teams that have formed such strong bonds with each other. If people have trouble integrating into the clan, it can cause interpersonal conflict. 
A lack of structure and authorityAn undefined chain of command may cause problems with effective decision-making. If management is entirely top-down, mid-level leaders may not know when they can assert their own judgment on urgent issues.

Mentoring and good rapport between management and employees work well only if clear boundaries are in place. When the lines are blurred, imposing authority becomes difficult.

Some employees who haven’t developed an ingrained loyalty to the company may take advantage of flexible policies and roles to avoid doing undesirable tasks. In addition, an informal atmosphere can be misinterpreted and quickly slide from witty banter and joking into teasing and other hurtful and inappropriate behaviors. 
Over collaborationOpen communication and extending everyone the opportunity for input in decision-making may actually become counterproductive. It can result in scheduling too many meetings and delaying critical decisions. There isn’t always time for group deliberation, and inspired ideas can be rejected when the majority can’t envision what they have to offer.
A group-think environmentPeople who share similar values, beliefs, and demographic characteristics will likely have parallel opinions and possibly shared flawed assumptions. When everyone sees things the same way, the organization is missing out on the benefits that a variety of perspectives can bring.

Also, due to being such a tight-knit group, employees might feel pressure to conform and maintain harmony. Hesitating to voice a different opinion and challenge the group mindset diminishes fresh viewpoints and hinders innovation. 

How HR can help foster elements of clan culture

Adopting the right company culture will have a positive business impact. Clan culture’s strong teamwork, collaboration, and sense of belonging are elements that might benefit the teams within your organization.

Let’s look at some ways that you can promote these clan culture aspects and transform your organizational culture:

1. Build trust 

A positive work environment where team members can thrive requires trust among employees and toward their managers. Managers also need to trust their team members. Here are a few ways to encourage this:

  • Encourage managers to get to know the people on their teams. Showing a genuine interest in what they’re working on and what’s going on outside of work can form a real bond. They should also make new employees feel especially welcome and be conscious of how well they are integrating into the team. 
  • Arrange for executives to be visible and accessible to employees from time to time. Have them show up to team meetings or be available to mingle in informal settings, so employees them as people they can interact with and relate to.
  • Advocate for accentuating success and putting less focus on failures. Leaders should use shortcomings as learning experiences instead of placing liability. They shouldn’t hesitate to admit and discuss corporate decisions that have failed. Acknowledge and commend when people find fruitful solutions or go above and beyond expectations. 

2. Introduce shared team rewards 

While individual rewards motivate employees and boost morale and loyalty, shared team rewards can also promote employee synergy for better teamwork. Examples of this type of incentive include team performance-based bonuses, prizes, and annual recognition events.

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For these to be effective, the target performance or output must depend on everyone’s contributions. Also, performance criteria for the rewards must be based on clear, impartial standards.

3. Promote a feedback culture

Clan culture welcomes openness, feedback, and ideas, so find a variety of ways to foster these within your teams. Here are some ideas:

  • Organize brainstorming sessions.
  • Invite people to comment on proposals, etc. 
  • Encourage managers to practice active listening and welcome employees’ perspectives.
  • Act on feedback and then follow up by highlighting the decision or change made.

Providing employees with plenty of feedback channels allows them to choose the way that they feel most comfortable. They also need to know that there won’t be negative repercussions for voicing their views, so they feel safe enough to be honest and open.

4. Spark connections among employees

When coworkers feel connected to each other, they collaborate better. Here are some ideas for inspiring employee bonding opportunities:

  • A micro-mentoring program.
  • Special projects teams.
  • Structured team-building exercises.
  • Team game tournaments.
  • Lunch excursions with no conversation about work.
  • Team charity workdays.

5. Strengthen the sense of belonging

Employees will feel connected to their employer by understanding the organization’s mission and how they contribute to it. It’s essential to find ways to align employees to the purpose of your organization so they feel like they belong.

In addition to acknowledging and acting on employee feedback, managers need to be intentional about making sure that everyone is being heard. This means pursuing people who don’t usually speak up in a group and asking for their input or offering them a specific occasion to voice their ideas.

The sense of belonging also needs to be extended to gig and remote workers. Don’t forget to ask them to participate in team or company events as much as possible.

Ending overview

Who your company is able to recruit and retain depends on the culture you offer. We’re seeing organizations of all sizes making an effort to encourage a more clan-like vibe across the entire business. 

Helping employees feel connected to each other and the organization will result in effective teams, ultimately leading to organizational success.

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