How does designing your culture help your code?

I recently had an opportunity to do the opening keynote at Agile on The Edge — a cross government conference focussing on agile ways of working in government.

Now, I of course decided not to do my talk on agile ways of working, and instead did a talk on culture. Having worked in both central and local government, I have first hand experience about how important culture is to creating long lasting change, digital transformation and of course delivering products, services and code.

You can find my deck and notes here, and for those of you who couldn’t make it to the conference here’s a quick overview of my main thoughts.

Think about your culture

I am a strong advocate for self reflection as part of everyday working. Before you start to think about your company culture, you need to take the time to reflect on your own.

This means giving yourself the time and space to think about all of the things that make you, you. It means digging deep into thinking about where you come from, the people who have influenced you and the things that make you work your best; and the things that knock you out of your zone.

One of the tools we use at DigitalBridge to help us reflect on our personal culture, and to help onboard new team members, is a user manual. It helps everyone in the team have an understanding of preferred ways of working and how to best support one another.

You can see our template here.

Unconscious culture

When we’re unconscious about the culture we’re designing it can lead to some pretty bad stuff happening. An unconscious culture happens when you’re moving too quickly to breath. Unconscious cultures can lead to toxic working environments, burnout and high staff turnover. When you’re not conscious of the culture you’re building, employees can often feel lost, don’t understand ways of working and consequently aren’t able to deliver their best work.

An unconscious culture is where you might ignore points of view and perspectives you’re not including in your culture and are focussed solely on the people who “are the right cultural fit”.

As developers, when we build code it’s important to understand the unintended consequences of the culture we’re building because it will always have an impact on the code we’re deploying.

As you can see...

When we aren’t aware of the cultural impact of what we build

Conscious culture

On the flip side, a conscious culture is how we design responsibility within a team to have ownership of all the things that make an organisation tick. Being conscious of your culture, isn’t just about understanding who you are — that’s just the beginning. A conscious culture is designed by understanding the people who work together and designing the habits, rituals and routines that work best for that group of people. And within an organisation, you’ll have mini-subsets of culture, that all work together to form the overall company culture.

A culture is never fixed, it needs to be agile (see what I did there) to fit and flex to people as they change, grow and evolve. Designing a culture is a team sport and it needs the input from all employees to make it work.

Using values is a really great starting point to letting different teams and employees interpret and own their own ways of working and culture as part of your company.

What we’ve learnt at DigitalBridge

DigitalBridge have been super conscious about the culture we’re designing because, fundamentally, if we can work together — nothing else matters. We want people to be able to bring their whole self to the office, and define a work life balance that works best for them.

It’s been a journey to understanding how to best support people and we’re still learning. We make sure that the decisions we’re making are done consciously, so that we think about both the intended and unintended consequences of what’s happening.

We’ve learnt that personal space matters — different people work in different ways so we’ve built and designed physical spaces to help people work in environments that work best for them.

We live by our values — we talk about our values everyday and embody them in our work. Each team has the opportunity to define and work through what the company values mean to them, and it means we’re all aligned to what we’re doing and why we’re here.

We have fun in ways that work for us — there’s no forced fun in our office but it’s full of laughter. Everyone is encouraged to laugh everyday and we do. There are plenty of things to get involved with to support different personalities — from board game Wednesday’s to a monthly book club. We share our hobbies and have fun doing it.

Constraints are important — flexible working is ace. But, people want to know the limits. People feel their most confident and comfortable when there are clear parameters and limits. It helps us make informed decisions, work together and to know that we’re on the right path.

Things are going to change; let’s talk about it — obviously, communication is key. But, more often than not it’s never executed. Understand how people want to be communicated with and do it. Then do it again. There’s no such thing as over-communication. As teams grow, culture changes and things evolve, communication becomes even more important. Don’t take it for granted. No one knows everything but communicating it and being clear about what’s going on is the most important thing.

Want to know more about us and our culture? Get in touch!

This blog was first posted on Vim's medium page.

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