Building an Engineering Team Culture
28 June, 2021
We started our engineering team from scratch three years ago. We are part of a company that has its own tradition as well as its own culture and values. But, we felt the strong need to reflect on our identity as a team and define our team culture.
At that time, there were only 30 people, and we could make the process genuinely participatory. So first, we defined who we are: We are a team passionate about technology that empathizes with our users to provide a digital experience that exceeds their expectations. We used the term ‘passion’ because we believe it nicely captures our love for technology and the joy we experience working in tech day after day. We also highlighted our empathy as a defining trait.
Then we created a tagline -- Dream. Tech. Go. We use it in all presentations, publications, etc., as it succinctly expresses our modus operandi. We also defined our vision because we are dreamers who progress at a fast pace toward the future. Our vision is: To be pioneers in creating digital solutions that would make the lives of millions of people easier. This vision exceeds our current company business goals and projects itself into the future. We dream of creating solutions beyond today users’ digital experiences. We are pioneers because we are on the frontiers of new technologies. We coined the term Punto Naranja which denotes a person who would use and make most of the technology for the benefit of people in the society-wide context. It takes into consideration the specifics of our environment -- our cities, our countries, our region. We are also dreaming of having an adoption without limits.
Next, we created values. We didn’t take an aspirational or prescriptive, but rather a descriptive approach. We identified values that were already embedded in our culture. Our first value is captured in the metaphor ‘green light.’ It means go, go, be unstoppable, don’t overthink a problem, but act and seize the moment. The second value that was defining for us is empathy. The empathy that each of us has for our teammates, as well as for our users and their problems. The third is passion; we are a passionate team that dreams big, unrestrained by worldly problems, and willing to take risks and get out of their comfort zones. The next value we hold dear is well-being. No matter how demanding the work is, we always try to have fun and build rapport and camaraderie on our team. We have an “integration team” with members from all of our teams, who keep our culture alive, organizing activities that would connect us and be fun. The fifth and final value is collaboration. We are one unique team regardless if we work on different projects or in different roles. This is not easily achievable with 220 people split into different teams, but this value guides us in our daily efforts.
In addition, we are proud to have some behaviors and would like to promote them to other teams within the company and beyond. One is Punto Naranja, which I already mentioned, but also: “unlimited autonomy,” “continuous iteration”, “have fun”, “local identity”, “we move” “community”, and “reduce cycles”. Reduce cycles reflects our efforts to go fast and decrease our time to market, reuse worldwide companies’ experiences with technology, be in touch with them, and create an effective network for knowledge sharing.
In the end, we introduced an engineering culture indicator: we defined 20 questions to measure progress/status per each of our behaviors. We quarterly measure these indicators, and I am proud to say that most are 85 points or above. Also, every indicator prescribes a certain action for further improvement, so it also serves as an improvement tool.
- Dedicate enough time to keep your culture alive. Arrange for team activities that will encourage behavior and integration of values that you think are critical for nurturing your culture. Most of these activities should be required, especially for new people who just joined the team.
- People decide to stay and work with their teammates who are passionate and dreamers, and committed to come up with new solutions every day.
- Engineers are sometimes rigid people, obsessed with tech and metrics. But each of them has a soft side too. As a lead, I think that one of the most significant challenges is to get to know your engineers, who they indeed are behind the role they perform. That helps me learn about their aspirations and how I can help them grow their dreamer identity.
- I believe that an engineer can better understand another engineer to help them with soft skill development thanks to the connection that exists between engineers. We have the same motivation and we share similar challenges.
- We are proud of having our own culture that is responsible for our success. We are invited to present our culture in webinars and live events and have served as an inspiration to other teams. Unfortunately, most engineering teams do not see the importance of building culture and focus solely on technical challenges.
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