Establishing a unified culture with a small team can be easy. But as an organization grows, maintaining that same agile culture gets more and more challenging. Teams can become siloed, and the shared company vision, norms, systems, and habits are more difficult to preserve. We would know; we’ve experienced this first-hand at Atlassian. Our company has grown to eight offices in six different countries, and staying informed on the many facets of the business has proven a challenge. As practitioners of the agile methodology, we’ve had to balance the needs of a growing company while staying true to pure agile practices.
So what lessons can we impart about keeping your culture intact as your agile teams scale?
Keep the culture organic
The first step is to not force a fix. Growing companies often impose top-down mandates through team-building exercises and all-staff meetings in an attempt to remind employees of the culture. These can often feel forced and miss their mark when building culture starts to feel prescribed.
In order for culture to actually permeate and feel authentic, two things must happen. First, leaders must do a good job of embodying the culture of the company and taking an active role in propagating the working style so new hires grok a sense of the values and norms. Second, the company has to give employees the time and space for the culture to grow organically. In other words, employees must be free to connect with one another in a natural manner. Don’t create team-building exercises for their own sake, but allow and encourage your employees to have the time and space to bond at their own pace. Think about the times you spend chatting with colleagues in the hall, at lunch, or at happy hour. These interactions help spread the culture organically and build trust and rapport among employees.
Companies have to give employees the time and space for culture to grow organically.
At Atlassian, we took our growth as an opportunity to solidify our values and company vision. Our leadership has worked hard to bridge the gaps and hired with culture in mind. Atlassian also provides the opportunity for individuals to eat lunch, play games, share beers, and visit other offices. These initiatives help maintain Atlassian’s culture and make it a great place to work.
Share knowledge whenever you can
As more employees interact with each other, it’s inevitable that individuals connect with people outside of their direct team. At Atlassian, we have a buddy/mentor program for new hires so they can do exactly that. These external interactions are extremely important as they lead to new learnings that employees can bring back to their core team. This exchange of information is a critical step to the success of any team, as it keeps them fresh and inspired. Moreover, external interactions allow employees to build relationships with those outside of their team, opening pathways to share values, goals, norms, and more, all of which help solidify the company culture.
Make it easy for people to connect
The best way for coworkers to connect and share knowledge is through face-to-face communication, so it behooves management to open the channels of communication as much as possible. While it may seem counterproductive to encourage employees to take coffee or lunch breaks together, these gatherings increase interactions and give employees more opportunities to connect. According to a study in the Harvard Business Review, it’s in the quality and quantity of these interactions that predict a team’s success.
For those teams who can’t interact in person, group chat tools are a great way to open those channels for communication, as they come equipped with the features required for collaboration. Video chats help remote teams communicate face-to-face, while private 1-to-1 chats let employees build rapport through off-the-cuff conversations. Chat rooms get teammates involved seamlessly, and they provide a space for teams to share information with each other.
Regardless of how your team communicates, teams should encourage this cohesiveness in order to build success. If culture is suffering as your agile teams scale up, open the channels of communication. You’ll be surprised at the positive impact these small changes will make for your company.