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A story from the past

At a company someone I know worked at, he was part of the dev team. The dev team had a great culture. They were interested in their own success, the success of the team, and the success of other teams within the company. They cared about doing their jobs right.

At this same company, there was an IT team. This IT team was not particularly invested in the success the company, and didn’t show any real signs about being concerned with the quality of their own output. They were often obstacles, rather than partners, in the dev’s team efforts to do good work, and they displayed attitudes of aloofness, indifference, and self-interest.

In a nutshell, IT and development had two distinct and very different cultures.

In many companies, IT and development have some crossover, as some development projects have IT impacts and vice versa. This company was no exception. So the dev team often found themselves grumbling amongst each other at IT’s obduracy.

Dev was hiring, and found a guy who impressed everyone, who had a skillset that Dev really needed, but who didn’t have the skillset for the position for which Dev was hiring. But because of this guy’s skills and his great attitude, the dev team really wanted this guy on board, so they created a position for him. Because this position was one that really had a foot in both IT and development, the company decided to place him in IT.

It took about two weeks for this guy, about whom the entire Dev team was really excited, to be co-opted into IT’s culture. He became self-important, lost his sense of collaboration, quality, or follow-through, and became a highly skilled yet marginally useful employee.

And this is the lesson to be learned from this experience: If the cause of a lack of quality output from a team is due to an institutionalized problem with the culture of the team or the company, trying to improve output by adding people to the team won’t work, because those people will be absorbed into the same culture of failure. It is the culture itself that must be changed to turn the team around.

And that can be one of the hardest things in the world to do because it requires the humility to realize that the problem is due to one’s own poor choices. And it requires the majority, or even all, of the team to accept that and resolve to change together.

And inertia is an awfully hard thing to overcome.

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One comment on “A story from the past

  • I’ll agree, but I also think that the issue you see here can also be an issue on the part of the corporation as well.

    I cannot speak to the particular case in your example, but I can speak from personal experience.

    At a company I worked within I was involved with a large scale project. I was part of a team with feet in both sides of the wall between “support” and “Infrastructure””. Support’s opinion was that Infrastructure was a horrible culture that was unresponsive and inflexible and a bunch of disinterested blame throwers. “Infrastructure” was a small team who was responsible to many internal groups of which support was only one part. They felt that support was whiny, impatient, and had a tendency to kick issues upstairs without actually working them.

    Both sides had valid criticisms, both sides had developed cultures and perceptions of the other based upon living in their own tiny little boxes. As a result of work on this project some serious communications issues were discovered, and new protocols were set up to deal with them. Post this project both sides actually were able to get their jobs done much more smoothly, and workloads for both dropped. Both sides still had friction and still lived up to the other side’s stereotype of them on occasion, but it was now a legitimate and addressable issue as opposed to festering resentment.

    A failure to communicate is the root of more than half of the problems in IT. The stereotypical tech is a socially inept, passive aggressive geek. This stereotype, like all such, is a caricature, but it has its roots in truth. As a tribe we aren’t well spoken we avoid confrontation, and we tend to be very in group oriented ( leading to confirmation bias). Its easy to blame culture especially the other guy’s culture.

    I’ll agree that throwing money/people/resources at an issue won’t make it go away. I’ll also agree that a team’s culture makes a huge difference. But people really need to watch out for the trap of in-group think and work to understand and communicate especially with the difficult/problematic team on the other side of the wall.

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