Growing a culture

I previously noted that adding people to a team is tricky, doing so quickly doubly so. A nice discussion popped up around how to do so effectively. So, to cover the other side of the team-growing coin, here are some ideas on what helps when adding people to your team:

  • When you integrate people, do it purposefully and deliberately. (Jeff Casimir)
  • Grow the team slowly. Pair the new person with a mentor. Task the new person with the change that a cultural, process, or technological change that the team agrees upon as part of the recruiting and hiring process. (Myself)
  • Pairing can help. Jeff mentioned pairing in the context of teachers. If you’re already doing pairing, I bet it helps a lot of these team growth issues.
  • Document your culture (Jeff), present said document as new people join the team. Even better, document your culture online as part of your team’s outward face and recruiting efforts (Brian Doll). Works great for GitHub.
  • Announce the hire with an interview-style announcement rather than a short bio (Brian Doll).
  • Go over the top when celebrating bring on a new team member (Jeff).
  • Jeff noted that in education, they have the advantage that all new people start at the same time in August. You can use this to batch celebrate/integrate new team members.
  • Never stop the process of integrating your new team members (Brian). When you stop, people notice. As the saying goes, if it hurts, do it more.
  • Job titles can be a cancer (Brian). If you’re constantly bringing on “senior developers”, what is there to celebrate?
  • The E-Myth Revisited is mostly about entrepreneurship (Jeff), but it devotes a lot of space to focusing on roles instead of jobs. This makes it easier to bring people on with less focus on titles and more on what they will actually do. Brian notes that roles are great for lowering your bus number and encouraging team ownership of the product.

Culture is hard

Looking at all of these ideas, it strikes me that maybe it’s not adding to a culture that’s tricky; maybe it’s defining and maintaing a culture that’s really challenging. I often find it difficult to draw the line between the personalities on a team and the explicit and implicit culture that is the aggregate of those personalities and their actions. Getting a bunch of people on the same page and deciding what the culture is would prove challenging, as is any activity with a group of people.

Subtract the notion of adding new people to a team, and the above ideas are all about defining and maintaining a culture. That’s something worth thinking about as you start a team. What do you value, how do you present yourself, how do you get stuff done? Once those questions are answered, you have a starting point for your culture. Then it’s a matter of “gardening” that culture so that everyone, new team members and veterans alike, learn it and evolve it.

Thanks to Brian and Jeff for a great conversation, they both get internet gold stars. I’m just the guy who curated it and typed it all in later.