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Michael Lopp on Designing Culture for Sustainable Growth

This is the Engineering Culture Podcast, from the people behind and the QCon conferences.

In this podcast Shane Hastie, Lead Editor in the Culture & Methods area, spoke to Michael Lopp, VP of Engineering at Slack, after his keynote at QCon 2016.

Key Takeaways

  • Leadership is a craft that needs to be learned
  • Characteristics and common challenges of high-growth startups
  • Aspects of culture include how do we get things done, how do we treat each other, how do we make decisions, who has power and influence, what are the things that we value?
  • The importance of making values explicit and experiential
  • The importance of the small group of influencers in any organisation who spread the culture to others 

0m:30s Introductions

1m:10s Blogging about leadership and figuring out the craft of leadership

1m:35s Designing culture to be persistent and the importance of planning for “the second act”

2m:15s The second act is when a company moves from being a single product/single stream success to a multi-product organisations

3m:00s The characteristics of rapid growth startups

3m:35s The problems are common across almost all startups and are related to growing from very small teams to larger more complicated structures

4m:00s Aspects of culture – how do we get things done, how do we treat each other, how do we make decisions, who has power and influence, what are the things that we value?

4m:55s Many companies don’t take the time to define these things, but the exist in the social DNA of the group

5m:10s Advice for intentionally designing a persistent culture.  Get the “old guard”, the original small team, together and make explicit the things that we value

5m:50s It’s not just about what is written down, it’s about the discussion and getting clarity about what and why we do things, and

6m:10s An example of how at Slack the value of Craftsmanship guides conversations and decision making when there are differences of opinion

6m:40s The importance of writing it down and making it visible to everyone in the organisation 

7m:05s Even if it’s not written down, the values are still present, without writing them down they are subject to individual interpretation rather than group alignment

7m:40s Advice for changing a culture that is “off” in some way

8m:45s The need to understand who the small group of people are that influence many others, the “keepers of the culture” and bringing these people along on the change journey

9m:35s Some places don’t write down the values but the culture is pervasive and consistent (example of Apple)

9m:50s An example of an interesting and well designed “compass” which was used at Palintir

10m:40s Designing specific onboarding tasks to help new hires understand and live the values

10m:52s Example of Slack “everyone does support” practice – everyone in the engineering team spends one hour per week answering customer tickets

11m:45s People learn by doing things with their hands


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