What is it like to work at your company? Think about it carefully. How do your people spend their time? What culture and behaviours do you incentivize? Is it a good place to work?
Culture in this context describes how people interact at work, the processes and policies, productivity friction, meeting efficiency, et cetera. Your company’s culture describes what it is like to work for your company, and it has an outsized impact on the type of people your company is able to attract and retain, and whether they feel productive at work.
A conservative culture punishes mistakes, rewards process adherance, and seeks consensus on all decisions. To paraphrase Jennifer Pahkla, if you tell me to build a concrete boat then I’ll build a concrete boat even though I know it won’t float. If I question the design then I could be blamed for the outcome, whereas if I build what I’m told then the designers will shoulder the blame when it fails and my job is safe even though I built something that I knew wouldn’t work.
On the other hand, an agile culture rewards outcomes and views failures as an opportunity to improve the processes. For example, your task is not to implement a firewall rule; it’s to work with the team to get a particular API working end-to-end. Constructive criticism is encouraged and not taken personally. The focus is on the system, the process, the outcome. Teams collaborate freely and informally. Problems are openly discussed without blame and their solutions are tested until the problem is adequately resolved.
Issues arise when a company’s hiring process doesn’t select for people that align with its culture. A change agent will have a hard time in a conservative culture, and a process-oriented individual will not cope well with the fluidity of an agile culture. This is precisely what happens when companies go through an agile transformation - the old guard are thrown into disarray, and the new hires feel stymied.
The culture can take years to catch up to the changes introduced through an agile transformation, and it’s a time of turmoil for many staff especially when the transformation isn’t rolled out to all departments.
Deliberately nurturing culture should be top-of-mind for leadership across all aspects of the business. If you want your company to be a good place to work then you need to carefully manage and incentivize both personality types to ensure that the company’s culture is headed in the right direction.