How "Living the Culture" Influences Company Growth

Tessitura's VP of People, Laura Bowden, discusses the value of living company culture beyond the workplace.

While you don’t nor­mal­ly hear the words non­prof­it” and tech” in the same sen­tence, work­ing at a non­prof­it tech orga­ni­za­tion is just anoth­er day in the office for Lau­ra Bow­den, VP of Peo­ple at Tes­si­tu­ra Net­work. We recent­ly had the chance to sit down with Lau­ra on The Brag­Wor­thy Cul­ture pod­cast and she explained how Tes­si­tu­ra got start­ed and how, as an arts and cul­ture-focused orga­ni­za­tion, they try to live their cul­ture on and off the clock.

Unifying Systems

The Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera of New York was frus­trat­ed by the dif­fer­ent soft­ware sys­tems they were using that couldn’t share infor­ma­tion. With noth­ing avail­able in the mar­ket­place or on the hori­zon, in 1995 its Board of Trustees autho­rized $5M to build a CRM tai­lored to an arts and cul­tur­al orga­ni­za­tion like the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera. This CRM went live in the 1998 – 1999 sea­son and was called Impresario.

This uni­fied sys­tem was a game chang­er and allowed the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera to enable con­nec­tions with prospects, donors, mem­bers, sin­gle-tick­et buy­ers, sub­scribers, etc. all in a uni­fied sys­tem. This made it also a strong solu­tion for tick­et­ing, fundrais­ing, mar­ket­ing, data min­ing, and web capabilities.

The Word Spreads

The arts com­mu­ni­ty is a small one, and before long oth­er orga­ni­za­tions were reach­ing out, won­der­ing if they might get access to this game-chang­ing soft­ware. Six oth­er orga­ni­za­tions, San­ta Fe Opera, John F. Kennedy Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts, San Fran­cis­co Sym­pho­ny, Seat­tle Opera, New York City Cen­ter, and Lyric Opera of Chica­go, met in 2001 and pledged to share costs around the devel­op­ment of the soft­ware to form a non-prof­it com­pa­ny. The new com­pa­ny would be called Tessitura.

User Owned and Governed

That same year, the lead­er­ship of Tes­si­tu­ra applied for 501(c)(3) char­i­ta­ble orga­ni­za­tion sta­tus, look­ing to cre­ate a busi­ness mod­el that would func­tion more like a co-op rather than as an asset for investors or share­hold­ers. In 2003 Tes­si­tu­ra offi­cial­ly obtained the 501(c)(3) sta­tus from the IRS.

Today Tes­si­tu­ra works with more than 770 orga­ni­za­tions in ten coun­tries. While their soft­ware is robust enough for oth­er use cas­es, they’ve cho­sen to focus exclu­sive­ly on arts and cul­tur­al orga­ni­za­tions as a rule.

Culture Alignment

Part of cre­at­ing a user-owned and gov­erned tech com­pa­ny for arts and cul­tur­al orga­ni­za­tions is wit­ness­ing the fact that it isn’t any one per­son that brings togeth­er a per­for­mance or an exhi­bi­tion but an entire team. And that team needs to tru­ly believe in the mission.

In the case of Tes­si­tu­ra, Lau­ra shares an amaz­ing stat: 85 – 90% of their team either has an arts or cul­tur­al back­ground or is artis­tic them­selves. Bring­ing togeth­er these pro­fes­sion­als from all over the world means that knowl­edge and thought lead­er­ship gets shared more rapid­ly inter­nal­ly, and then fur­ther down the val­ue chain with stakeholders.

Living the Culture

Anoth­er part of that cul­tur­al align­ment at Tes­si­tu­ra is liv­ing the cul­ture, even when you’re off the clock. That means that team mem­bers are encour­aged to get to arts and cul­tur­al events on their own and with their friends and fam­i­lies. That’s the kind of always on” work envi­ron­ment that some peo­ple can real­ly go for!

Challenges of Remote Work

Covid-19 caused a shift to remote work that has led a lot of com­pa­nies to ask what best prac­tices to uti­lize for glob­al­ly dis­trib­uted teams. These prac­tices have been honed for almost 20 years at Tes­si­tu­ra and are used every day with their team mem­bers in 39 US states and 5 for­eign coun­tries. Lau­ra shares three best practices:

  • Over-com­mu­ni­cate. With a com­pa­ny spread across 14 time zones, some­one is always on” while oth­ers may be asleep. Because it’s nev­er a con­ve­nient time for the entire glob­al team to meet, make sure that all meet­ings are record­ed and also make sure that com­mu­ni­ca­tion is craft­ed and inclu­sive to account for not being in-per­son with some­one, in which your body lan­guage and tone of voice can com­ple­ment your words.
  • Social­ize. Along with over-com­mu­ni­cat­ing, Lau­ra stress­es the impor­tance of not hav­ing meet­ings be only about busi­ness. She allows for some buffer time in meet­ings to have a bit of social shar­ing to allow peo­ple to con­tin­ue to get to know their col­leagues bet­ter. She also has a month­ly cof­fee check-in which is an agen­da­less chat. These prac­tices make it nor­mal” for col­leagues to see build­ing rela­tion­ships with each oth­er as just as impor­tant as get­ting spe­cif­ic tasks done.
  • Meet in per­son. You can’t replace the trust and con­nec­tion built from in-per­son meet­ings. Make a point of using com­pa­ny funds to finance meet­ings for your team mem­bers to forge con­nec­tions that will pay off when they’re back home and work­ing virtually.

Embracing Different Perspectives

As you get to know your team mem­bers it will become obvi­ous fair­ly quick­ly that while they might all share some com­mon val­ues and goals, there are some issues where there’s dis­agree­ment. Sit­u­a­tions fos­ter­ing dis­agree­ment are very much in the news these days as there is more and more pres­sure for com­pa­nies to take par­tic­u­lar stances on pub­lic issues.

Silence also speaks, Lau­ra notes. While it doesn’t always make sense for an orga­ni­za­tion to take a pub­lic stance, by not say­ing some­thing they have to real­ize they are also com­mu­ni­cat­ing a mes­sage. In those par­tic­u­lar cas­es, she thinks it’s par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant to pro­vide anony­mous forums for team mem­bers to air their views.

With­out such oppor­tu­ni­ties, team mem­bers won’t feel that they can be their authen­tic, true selves at work, and Lau­ra thinks that’s a big missed oppor­tu­ni­ty. Orga­ni­za­tions should always strive to cre­ate engag­ing envi­ron­ments in which every­one feels val­ued and respect­ed and safe in shar­ing their per­spec­tives, even if they know some (or many) may dis­agree with those perspectives.

Check Out the Full Episode

Are you inter­est­ed in learn­ing more about Lau­ra Bow­den and Tes­si­tu­ra? Lis­ten to the full inter­view by tun­ing into the pod­cast on Apple or Spo­ti­fy.

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