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Jacopo Martolini

Company culture is a matter of habit

2 min read


One tricky question I like to ask to people working at a company in hiring spree is: "how do you preserve the team culture in this situation?".

Some claim that they are keeping up the startup spirit, things are not that different, it has started on solid foundations and now it goes without saying with the new onboarded.

The main assumption that a culture can be preserved is flawed. Even though we wish magical things happening in a small group of people to scale indefinitely, culture evolves constantly as people come and go from a team.

We can consider the culture of a company as the sum of habits of the individuals that are part of it. A bit like the individual's personality is dictated by his behavior and habits. Company values are not what you write on a wall, they are the day-by-day of the organization, some of them are evident others are more hidden (so called shadow values) but equally important.

Leaders are accountable for establishing a culture that fits that particular stage of the company.

As with personal habits, it is possible to build and cultivate new habit loops for a company applying the logics described by James Clear: atomic habits by james clear

“the cue triggers a craving, which motivates a response, which provides a reward, which satisfies the craving and, ultimately, becomes associated with the cue.” Excerpt From Atomic Habits - James Clear

Examples of habits at work:

  • discussions that happened via chat tended to get lost in the sea of conversations. For the important ones, we now have an owner that has to summarize the outcome in the related user story or project wiki. This has lead to the increase of asynchronous communication, even for topics that before were handled via a dedicated meeting
  • after some incidents that happened post-deploy, we have introduced a checklist of activities to be performed and metrics to analyze. This checklist is now also done not following a release, to verify that everything is working correctly, leading to a greater interest in the application as a whole and not only in the code created by that person
  • when an infrastructure alarm is triggered, it is automatically posted on a dedicated chat channel. There is no designated person that has to look it up, if the entire team would stop what they were doing it would not be efficient either. Instead, the first person that sees the message and can investigate, write a message on that thread specifying that it takes charge of it, checks it, and updates periodically on the progress. If he has any problems, he can ask the team for help. In this way, it is evident to everyone that the problem is under control or at least taken into consideration. if it's a false alarm, adding a thumbs-up emoji to the message reassures everyone else without creating entropy. This brings shared responsibility for the state of the infrastructure
  • loops can be used to deconstruct bad habits. The standup meeting starts at exactly 9:30 am, there is no waiting for latecomers. Over time, these people feel at fault to enter in an ongoing meeting and become more punctual
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