Defining Culture at Workplace

This is an easy topic to write about and at the same time it’s a very difficult to write about.

It’s easy to write about culture at workplace since we all have a “gut feeling” about it (more often the absence of it!) – I can write pages about what I think culture is or should be etc. But it’s extremely difficult to write something that is concrete, meaningful and that gives my readers (and me) the feeling that they have truly learnt something new.

Knowing this I will try a completely new tact – a bottoms up approach. I will try defining culture by what I think is its best outcomes in a software studio. So this is defining something by what you expect its results to be – like defining a jet by saying it is something that leaves white trails in the sky. This is by no means a good way of defining things precisely – but it does its job and I will show in a separate article that this definition opens up the unthinkable possibility of measuring culture!

Without further ado – I present to you my definition:

Culture at workplace is that thing that brings among employees: togetherness, spontaneity and a better perception about the company.

And here are my definitions of the keywords in the above:

1.       Togetherness: The quality among a group to stay together in everything they do. It’s the property in a team that people often refer to as “gel”. If a group has this, then if one of them is in trouble just about everyone comes over to help. The benefit of “togetherness” in a software team is obviously huge and for difficult projects it is absolutely essential.

2.       Spontaneity: The quality among individuals in a group to be enthusiastic about group’s activity and wellbeing. It is the quality that brings innovations, ideas and an attitude of “I care” in a software team. More importantly it breaks those impasses in the technical meetings! Not quite an obvious side effect of this quality is the gradual improvement of the company’s way of doing things and thus its culture. So this plays the crucial role in a positive feedback loop.

3.        Perception about the company: This is simple and straightforward. It obviously improves the morale of the workforce – but in the software studio context it plays a more important role of retention and ability to draw talents who are in the social circle of the individuals to the company. For a software company that last thing is its lifeline.

I concede that this definition misses a lot of things that other people may consider just as important. But from my experience in the context of a software studio these are the only things I should care about. Note the crucial word “context” – so my context apart from the software studio probably also includes more specifying phrases such as “in the tropics, in the third world, in a land that rains most of the time and where people are crazy about mango…” :) Joking, but definitely context is important. (Our context is: we are a software company in Bangladesh mainly working on outsource custom software development doing everything that is needed to get your software built and deployed).

With my working definition set I can then think about quantifying these properties – thus measuring culture. And with anything I can measure I can start doing A/B testing to improve things! So with such humble beginnings I am suggesting I can be (and we are for some time) doing what most people consider next to impossible.

All of that in some future posts here someday. I’m off to bed.