The second episode of our “Culture and Incentivization’’ mini-series featured a conversation between Head of Soft Governance at The Token Engineering Commons Livia Deschermayer and University of California Davis Assistant Professor Seth Frey, moderated by SCRF’s Head of Operations, Eugene Leventhal.
You can watch, listen, or read this week’s episode via:
Video on YouTube
- What role does culture-building play in creating communities, particularly in decentralized organizations?
- How much of a community’s culture can be predetermined by its founders and how much comes organically?
- How should an organization onboard new members into an existing culture and when do new members begin to play a role in shaping that culture?
Takeaways from the discussion:
- Think of onboarding as a form of curation and iteration: new members need to be introduced and to take an active role in shaping an organization’s mission, vision, and values.
- Constant iteration should be a daily practice, in other words, making lots of small mistakes and innovating from the lessons learned is the best way to build an organic organizational culture.
- Off-boarding and ritual can be important tools for building a community, creating opportunities for new interpersonal dynamics and more interpersonal connections.
- A healthy decentralized organization’s culture more closely resembles an organism than it does an organization.
Culture is “the secret sauce” that holds a community together around a shared mission or group of resources, according to Seth Frey and Livia Deschermayer. Creating and maintaining it takes time, effort, and resources from skilled individuals. It’s hard work.
“Onboarding can almost be thought of as a process of curation,” Deschermayer says. “You need guidance to enter the universe. Mission, vision, and values need to be shared from the very beginning.” She advocates for paying attention to emerging rituals and nourishing them.
“We come from such a wounded society,” Livia Deschermayer says. “A lot of shared values and communication styles that should be basic seem not to be. Even though a functional culture seems like a prerequisite for creating any lasting economic value.”
Joy is a powerful motivator for communities and daily rituals. So is grief. Her organization uses off-boarding ceremonies to acknowledge the work people have done, and members know they won’t be harmed when they exit a community.
“If you’re leaning on just one type of tool, you’re restricting your community to a very small part of cultural space,” Seth Frey says. “The more you invest into day-to-day caring [about new rituals and ways of connecting], the more the potential space of possible cultures opens up to you.”
Frey uses large-scale data analysis to extrapolate cultural insights from online communities, including the influence of “exits”.
“You can think of culture as an input or an output in these communities,” Frey says. “Do decisions about governance come first, or are communities formed as a result of attrition, people rage-quitting when the rules don’t suit them any longer?”
To answer the question, he ran a study on a group of Minecraft servers, analyzing which governance plugins had been installed and when. “It turned out that governance had an order of magnitude larger effect on the people remaining than exit did,” he says.
Frey and Deschermayer both agree that culture-building should be iterative. Deschermayer compares it to an organic process.
“A good organizational culture is more like an organism than an organization, it’s all about creating feedback loops and an intentional shared collaborative process.”
Making small mistakes and learning from them is probably the only way for a community to deliberately develop a culture.
“Systematic broad observation won’t give you an effective list of rules,” Frey says. “The best we can do in terms of learning is making small mistakes and developing tiny, constant iteration as a daily practice until it becomes like emotional intelligence, a sort of reading the room and changing as we go.”
To kick off a discussion in Smart Contract Research Forum: a question for the community–at what points during the onboarding process did you feel like you joined the community here? How would you define SCRF’s unique culture?