I was curious about what was killing some corporate software cultures so I sat down with Richard Hammer, Enterprise Architect/Strategist with Cortex Leadership to find out. What I heard were 5 things that could kill any company culture, not just an IT one. Turns out that IT isn’t that different after all.
1) Employees taking sides: “the business” vs. “technology” – the business said this, technology did that. Nothing ever gets done, no one can seem to speak that language. You hear things like “What are they saying?” “How can anyone understand them” “Why did the business commit that to the customer?” “When is technology going to deliver what they promised months ago?”
These are the pitfalls of poorly performing teams … on both sides. A rift develops and both sides lose sight of the fact that they need one another to be successful. The only “us vs. them” in business should be with competitors and differentiating yourself in the marketplace. If you do not have a together with your technology/development team, find a solution today. Make it the #1 priority.
2) “Working together” starts to mean telling, not listening – This is a trap in any relationship and can be a death knell for a software business. No one really likes to be told what to do. Developers like it even less when you tell them how to do their job. The crash comes when the developers are no longer heard, as they stop speaking up and do exactly what they are told to do (all while looking for another job). While there is a belief this may be a good thing (about time they did what I said), truth be told, they have insights that have value and when heard, tend to understand where the other perspective is coming from and discover creative solutions that address more needs.
3) Playing the blame game – In business, and especially in the software business, things go wrong. The key is failing early and often, catching the failure sooner, and being able to pivot/course correct before it becomes an issue. Blaming the development team when they deliver what they understood the ask to be is a breakdown in communication … it takes two here … and both need to be asking questions, reading back what they understood, and taking responsibility and accountability for their part in the misunderstanding. Discovering where some of the miscommunication is occurring is a critical success factor. Bringing iterative frameworks and transparent communication to the teams will ease some of these problems as well.
4) Technology/development is a black box which no one else in the company understands – If no one is able to ask the question … no one will like the answers once they are understood. Fear is a powerful motivator. Misunderstanding is its mistress. Anxiety is its muse. If your business is dependent on technology, and you have a black box that is not understood, you are inviting disaster. There should be no black boxes in business. There is no magic to success, growth, and scalability. Sometimes luck is involved, but usually, it is impossibly hard work … especially when it comes to understanding your own weaknesses and believing and trusting in others for success. If you do not take on the black boxes yourself, you have to have someone you have absolute belief, faith, and understanding in (and can instantly forgive any misunderstanding). You also have to be able to reality check your instincts.
5) Cowboys kill culture – cowboys exist in all cultures. The rogue salesperson who promises features will be delivered next quarter that has not been prioritized yet. The genius developer codes all weekend, crashing everyone’s unit tests in an attempt to address a 2% problem discovered while doing routine maintenance. For a startup and very small business, these heroes of the wild west enable amazing progress and push everyone to exceed expectations. As the business grows, these heroes quickly become the enemy, as their methods, while well-intentioned, start to weigh heavy on the rest of the team. The key is to measure intention and have processes and procedures in place to identify these patterns and address them quickly … before the actions sink your business.
Do you recognize any of these 5 behaviors in your company culture right now?
Having a facilitated conversation with your leadership team to determine what principles and practices could help to modify them. Ignoring them will not make them go away.
If you are not on the leadership team at your organization and are experiencing any of these issues, try having a respectful conversation with the person you report to using this as a catalyst for the discussion. Ask if they are noticing the same things you are? Sometimes it takes a moment to raise awareness before things can change. These behaviors did not surface overnight and their solutions will take focus and consistency to return the dividend of a return to higher productivity levels and a more pleasant work environment.