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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.