Organizational Behavior in Crypto
Form, Storm, Norm, and Perform
In crypto, we get to enjoy the benefits of remote work far more often than most: a decentralized revolution is built safely when done in a distributed manner. But, that doesn’t mean it’s best for growing team culture, or creating high-performing teams.
I wanted to take the time to to share a few resources on how you can effectively manage your own team. We’ve personally worked at companies both large and small before Amentum; from giant corporations, to tiny startups packed like sardines in expensive San Francisco office spaces, there’s a lot to be said about a company that can effectively create an enjoyable company culture with sustainable organizational norms.
Organizational behavior, in its most simplest form, can be defined as:
Organizations are social systems, and are a combination of humanity and technology. Organizational behavior is the study and practice of learning how to organize and understand people interacting in team settings.
With that defined, an organization can be broken down into a few components which make them easier to interpret in practice:
— The Workplace Environment
Every organization has an ever-changing work environment that a manager must remain actively aware of.
— The Individual
You cannot effectively manage a group without first understanding the behavior of the individual.
— Interpersonal Group Dynamics
Individuals have influence, and that influence has various types of power associated with it. Understanding those types of power can aid you in managing a group effectively.
Now that we know the components of an organizations, let’s focus on the necessary inputs to ensure your teams output will scale, with the rest of crypto.
For the workplace environment, communication is an important staple when managing any array of stakeholders/employees. Everyone will tell you that, but what that entails isn’t always immediately obvious for those unfamiliar with managing individuals/expectations.
Good communication looks differently to everyone, but it follows a fairly straight-forward formula. Positive intent, non-negative specific language, and probing for understanding are just 3 common-practices you can employ. They’re the main components of what is referred to as “fearless feedback”.
If you’ve ever worked at the Apple Store, or anywhere with decent on-boarding, you’ll have learned how your company should appropriately give feedback. A company that commonly practices healthy feedback delivery creates a culture where people feel empowered, respected, and unafraid to speak up when something needs to be said that affects your firm or business.
With the fear of retribution vacant, employees and teammates can express an opinion without feeling they’ll be reprimanded or talked down to. This loop of positive sum feedback provides the tools your employees need to build people up, and helps them augment their actions without tearing each other down in the process.
— Links to Additional Resources [1, 2]
Types of Organizational Power
When confronting a colleague or a manager with a particular grievance or strategic suggestion on how the firm or team should act, it’s important you understand the type of power dynamics at play. This will aid you in understanding who, and how, you should approach someone to get what you need, while avoiding potential confrontation.
In short, there are two types of power in an organization: formal powers, which are granted by some authority; and personal powers, which are less direct, but are implied due to social standing or an outsized amount of experience. And, there are five ways to describe the power types: coercive, reward and legitimate for formal powers; expert and referent for personal powers.
There are many in crypto who are engorged with personal powers, given their past contributions and elongated experience in the sector. They are known more lovingly as “OGs” or “subject matter experts”. The power they possess was not granted to them; it is referent, and it’s harder to remove power from someone who obtained that power organically.
Understanding functionally how and why someone holds authority in your firm/team may seem obvious, but many don’t go a step further and allow that to change how they interact with others directly, to improve their ability to communicate effectively.
— Links to Additional Resources 
Forming Storming and Norming
And finally, there’s “forming, storming, and norming”. You’ll likely hear that phrase if you ever go on a company off-site somewhere in the in the Bay Area after you’ve raised a Series A round — or maybe you were lucky enough to take an organizational management class in college like I did.
Either way, forming, storming, and norming is a process that happens naturally in any emerging team or company. You cannot avoid it, so it’s best to understand what it is, and the phases every team will inevitably go through. I spoke about it a bit in our post on maintaining social order in decentralized communities, but it’s quite simple to understand.
Every new team has an initial period of tumultuous growth. Once a new team has been formed (through a combination of granted or personal power), this kicks off a series of events that will dictate how performant you all will eventually become.
Even large-scale, distributed software engineering teams of talented cryptographer-programmers need to be cognizant of these naturally occurring group dynamics.
Leaders that can identify progressively how their team is performing and at what point they are in this lifecycle will avoid many headaches when combined with a healthy organization of fearless feedback, while concurrently understanding the various power dynamics at play when communicating with their team.