Last week I got the opportunity to talk culture at the Mid-Michigan Agile Group’s monthly meeting organized by Joe Hershey. I always look forward to talking about culture in agile environments and getting to watch all the light bulbs light up one by one in the audience as folks relate to the experiences I share during my presentation. The best part of the presentation is always the very end when I open up the floor for comments and Q&A. I love hearing about other’s experiences and thoughts on culture and engagement.
One of the questions I received really stuck with me.
Professional Tester Jeff MacBane (@JMacBane) asked…. “How do you prevent the work the team is doing on culture from being cheesy?”
I’d like to think that the work I do around culture is never perceived as cheesy because it is always genuine and coming from the heart – I’m passionate about building happy places to work. But the fact is some of the practices used to cultivate certain behaviors in a culture are downright cheesy and can be over the top. Think about the old “trust fall” team building activities… yuck! Even some of the more low-key activities like bringing in a cake and balloons to celebrate a team milestone can be perceived as cheesy.
So what’s my advice?
- All culture work (and leadership behavior in general) must be authentic and come from genuine place. Lead from the heart and the rest will follow.
- Remember that culture is NOT the fun “social committee” activities – culture is much bigger than that. Culture is the “social glue” that holds an organization together and guides decision making and behaviors of the parts of the system. Be careful not to associate the social committee-like activities with the word culture – you don’t want folks thinking about these words synonymously.
- Accept that some cheese is a good thing. What would a pizza be without some mozzarella? It’s good to have a little cheese sprinkled in your culture activities. What matters is that the behaviors of our leaders and culture cheerleaders are genuine and consistent with the values we say we are working toward.
As Jeff said, he’s seen too much “cheese” in culture efforts in the past but he also thinks that a little bit of cheese is a good thing and not having that is a missed opportunity. Good luck finding your balance between the two!
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