What Grupo Nación’s physical reinvention means for its corporate culture

By Marcela Trejos

The physical architecture of the changes made at Grupo Nación, along with the decision to modify our work systems, produced a cultural change that highlighted opportunities for synergies and savings without affecting the quality of our products. Furthermore, it showed the potential for the integrated newsroom to actually improve them.

Grupo Nación from Costa Rica is composed La Nación (the main newspaper), La Teja (the popular daily), El Financiero (our weekly financial), plus several magazines and four radio stations partnered with Grupo Prisa.

A bit more than a year ago, we worked in six separate buildings. La Teja was located in the center of San José, 10 kilometres away from the rest of the installations. Our commercial and financial areas were in six different locations. Marketing in three areas, commercial area in three different floors with 12 totally different cultures.

Even between floors, you could sense the difference of cultures. Plus, we had seven separate different digital approaches, each one on its own. 

Our challenges were business profit, understanding the audience with an important emphasis on digital, quality of the content, multi-platform, multi-brand and multi-media, increasing efficiency and innovation. 

The change consisted of a physical change and a structural change. Mapping processes resulted in eliminating five meetings per week at each table. The change in culture meant more engagement, alignment, and energy among the people. Leaders needed to interact amongst themselves to take on the challenge. 

The physical change consisted of an open, satellite structure. No paper, no stock. The only personal space per person is a locker. Ideas and decisions flow from the outside to the inside of the command center and vice versa. 

Support functions are distributed throughout the tables in order to be part of the content making. 

The set-up is organised by topics (thematic tables and functional transversal tables). The most important element for this success is the figure of a corporate editor-in-chief. All main editors report to this figure. 

Joint daily discussions with thematic agendas are another key factor in the success of this model. The brand manager sits next to the table editor. This definitely opens business discussions in the newsroom. 

The creation of the “Radar,” consisting of six web editors plus 14 journalists, makes a more efficient content management across platforms. This table produces breaking news, follow-up on news, and real time updates.

“Eco” is also a new creation from this initiative. It consists of content moderators, community managers, SEO, and SEM — all in the same table. They are in constant communication with editors and journalists.

The new space facilitates communication, the synergy amongst teams, improves feedback of projects, and contributes to the community spirit. 

The layout is structured by thematic tables: sports, economy, entertainment, popular journalism, Radar, Eco. Brand managers are at the head of the table.

In terms of results, within one year, there is definitely more agility in decision making and setting priorities. In terms of cultural organisation, there is a clear alignment and more sense of collaboration. In addition, we seen the optimisation in use of resources (transportation, photography, digital developments). We used to have three photographers, plus three journalists in different cars cover the same event. 

Our multi-brand design of coverage optimises resources and differentiating brands. For the World Cup, for example, La Nación focused its coverage on infrastructures: the stadiums, statistics, and the sports newspaper focused more on the players, the chronicles, and dramatic stories.

We have a flatter structure in terms of levels and have eliminated editor positions. There are many more interactions between marketing-commercial-newsroom-editorial-business intelligence. There is a clearer construction of joint, inter-disciplinary solutions, and constant support amongst tables 

To fully understand the meaning of culture, I recently looked up on a model of organisational culture developed by Edgar Schein, (1999) which characterises organisational culture as consisting of three levels. 

The first level represents the most visible level, which is characterised by our behaviour and artifacts around us. This observable level of culture consists of behaviour patterns and outward manifestations of culture. These cultural characteristics can be observed in the physical layout of work environments, dress codes, and the attitudes and behaviours of the people.  

The second level references operating values. For example, this company values quality, we value our customers and so on. And this second level may be in a constant change, as it depends on the leadership.

To truly understand culture according to Schein, we have to get to the deepest (third) level, the level of assumptions and beliefs. These values and beliefs become shared and taken for granted as the organisation continues to be successful.

These components are taken for granted as long as the members of the organisation agree that these values, beliefs, and assumptions of their founders and leaders led the organisation to continued success, and is therefore correct. Which, in our case is the belief of relevant, and independent content.

About Marcela Trejos

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