I've been thinking recently about how teams build and defend a great workplace culture.
Places where I have experienced a great culture I've noted the company's leaders have made a considered effort to talk frequently about what behaviours they value.
But more importantly they have also provided times for the teams to reflect on and talk about what they stand for, and understand they can be driving the values and behaviour to those ends too.
Your company culture is something everyone in your company should feel they can and want to contribute to. People will build and defend a great culture together if talking, sharing and teaching others about what the team and company values is a normal part of being in the team.
So what are some of the things that help us do that?
Make the time to talk about culture.
No matter how fast you're moving taking the time to stop and examine the health of your workplace culture is really hard. One of the things very common with the people I work with is having all experienced a valuable and worthwhile culture being diminished or completely lost to growth and the pace of delivery at a previous company they worked for. Especially explosive growth in a flourishing start up.
It takes teams being able to at anytime talk about the things they value and their aspirations for great workplace with anyone in the business. Leaders should encourage their teams to continue to examine if the evolutions in their practises stay consistent with their values.
I feel strongly there is no set time to do this like a special meeting or special retrospective but more an open policy of being able to stand up and say "I think we are drifting or doing something against what we value as a team" lets talk about that!
I love working for Pushpay because this is actively encouraged in our teams and we all have a shared responsibility in refining and building the kind of culture we value. We are building the place we want to work.
Everyone caring about workplace culture and being empowered to contribute is the only way to me it seems now it could ever work.
We took the time to meet as a entire product and engineering collective to talk about the things we value and consider the things we need to pay special attention to when hiring, welcoming new staff and getting the job done together. These thoughts and ideas we came up with are worth frequently revisiting.
When hiring, tell people about your culture.
When hiring in looking for new people to join your team I find it's very important to talk about values and culture with the candidate.
When talking about their experiences in other engineering teams I like to ask questions like 'What are the most positive things you have experienced working in other teams so far?' 'What do you think helps make a team build great software'. Fairly open ended but i'm digging to see what they value in a workplace culture that helps them enjoy working and delivering great software.
In turn I like to talk about the things we value in our culture. We all want to work in an environment of high trust, autonomy and we are learning and growing because we have the freedom to change what we do. We value quality conversations with one another, we value transparency and empowering each other especially with our Devops culture. We want work in a blameless and just engineering culture where we hold the belief our fellow team mates act in our best interests with the information and skills they have available to them.
This is a snapshot for them of the kind of things we value where I work and If a candidate smiles and nods and gets excited I gain confidence we want to welcome them to the team. It's exciting when I know we can have people join the team who are likely to care about and value the same things we do and grow our culture with us.
Helping the newcomers when they arrive.
While growing a great workplace culture look to your more established team members and seniors to include culture in the on boarding experience of the new hires. When new people join the team be alert to opportunities to work through and discuss your culture and values as part of their first projects at your company.
A great example of this would be helping someone who has never written a blameless post mortem do so. I wrote a bit about understanding just engineering culture and post mortems here if that's a practise you've not heard of before.
Besides conducting the post mortem to a high standard and showing them the process ensure you explain the value it brings to them, the team and your community of engineers. So it goes far beyond it being an exercise in documenting a engineering incident and writing mitigations.
Being able to understand that a just and blameless culture helps us all move faster free from fear of punishment puts all of us in position to take accountability, share deeper learning with each and grow stronger and better as team.
Explain also that blameless culture goes beyond dealing with engineering incidents and we are making a commitment to each other to work and learn together where we believe our peers are carrying out their work to the best of their abilities at all times.
Where we may disagree or see someone struggling we shun politics and finger pointing for having quality conversations and helping to teach one another.
Teams can make a real difference spending the time with newcomers to show the culture in action and explaining why it's something we value. When we do this we can help ensure our new team member will want to defend these values as much as we do as we grow. They can then teach others in time.
Teams often practise thinking about what they value.
One practise I've seen recently on a significant infrastructure project from one of our SRE team lead was during a project kick off asking the team to define the values the team would try to uphold in executing the work.
The team were given the freedom to all contribute the values they thought would make their project a success. They put forward values like 'We want to design our new system with production proven technologies' and 'We won't sacrifice the security of our platform for speed or convenience'.
I loved seeing this. The team are practising making a considered effort to talk about what they value and being open enough with each other they can reflect on and work to uphold them.
While not as big as something like thinking about the overall engineering culture it makes it normal to look at how we work as a team and as a company and be able to work together on strengthening the kind of culture we value.
Share learnings with others often.
Having a wiki page or slack channel dedicated to culture is a really great idea. Companies which I look up to like Slack, Etsy, and Google often share with the engineering community their practises and learnings that help their people create a great workplace culture. Being able to share that with your teams to ignite discussions is great.
Internal workshops and facilitated discussions are also great for this. Our practise guilds often bring up our culture and how we can maintain it together as a team. Team members have run sessions internally and at conferences on things like imposter syndrome giving everyone a chance to share their experiences and things that help them care for themselves and one another which is something we all value.
I hope this post helps in starting some reflections and conversations with your teams. See what they think about the culture you have and how you can look to build on and share the good things and work towards defending it as you grow together.
I'm always keen to chat and hear your thoughts. Im pretty fond of twitter so why not say hi? @SparkleOps