photo credit: Unsplash Ian Schneider
Culture vs. cult. Three letters make all the differences. When we evaluate candidates during the hiring process, there is very often a call for “Culture fit”. Unfortunately, a “culture fit” can quickly allow the “similar-to-me bias” to creep into the process. Frequently we hear the comments such as ” They will be a good fit because it is how we work.” It is not a surprise because you see something in common and immediately become more interested in the candidate. The more people are adding to the team that is in common with the existing characters, the more people who think like us, the more people who work like us, the more people who live like us. Culture starts to look a little more like a cult. We are not building a team culture.
I want to remind people about a commonly known history of the car airbag. The early car airbags killed women because their specifications were based on men’s average height and built, tested on dummies with those specifications only. Recently, our team watched a documentary Coded Bias taught us another lesson about how voice and facial recognition were designed based on a narrow demographic. We are pretty sure that we can assume that no one is intentionally killing women sitting in the passenger seats, nor single out a person because they don’t speak English; however, we are paying dearly for the result of group thinking.
So now it is clear that we want to build a team culture, not a team cult.
A good team culture plays a vital role in employee happiness. Therefore, we built curiosity, approachability, continuous improvement, and empathy into our day-to-day design practices. In addition, we want to make sure that our team culture is inclusive.
In many tech companies, design practice is understaffed, and we are no exceptions. Therefore, having values defined on paper is not going to help the team to achieve anything. Instead, to act upon these values, we need to preserve time for our team members to think, collaborate, ideate, and iterate. Preserve time! The first action we took this year was to address the workload issue. As a group, we evaluate project requests and align our priority with the product priority and company priority. Focus our designers on supporting high prioritized, high-impact projects. In our work, there are rarely easy solutions. We encourage our designers to explore through research, discussions and tinkering to figure out the best solutions by prioritizing work. Curiosity pays off.
Design can not happen in isolation. So, within our design team, we started to design pairing and pair designing. We are also actively reaching out to our counterparts in the company to project management and engineering to work together through the end-to-end product development journey. Approachability is reflected in our everyday design practice.
Build measure learn; we follow the agile software development method in our work. Good design is a reflective practice. We learn from our internal partners, from our customers, and from our peers.
On a delivery team, it is the job of designers to advocate for our customers. That empathy comes from listening to our customers. We are proud that the company provides many of our services for free to the community.
Maybe it is easier to hold these values when it comes to shipping and delivery. However, what truly is meaningful is that we keep these values internally as well. Then, translate in practice; this means creating time for our designers to recharge and take care of themselves. Thus, we implemented the “Creative Recharge Day” to give our members time to better themselves. We make ourselves available for each other by always making time for one on ones, coffee corner, game time, or when it is safe, a team social in person.
Having a team culture doesn’t lead to employee happiness. However, having a team culture that is inclusive, diverse, and open is the foundation of employee happiness.
A good team culture contributes to belongingness and love needs.
Some good read:
When all think alike, then no one is thinking. (Lippmann, W.)
Culture add: The Antidote To Culture Fit (Snow, S.)