Principles and Values Define a Culture

As new teams spring up and old teams redefine themselves, one of the most important aspects of an effective team is the culture.

An organization’s culture is defined by the values.   It’s not what they say, it’s what they do.  It’s not what they want to reward or say they want to reward, it’s what they actually reward.  The other thing to know about a culture is that the values flow down from the top.  That’s why leadership is important, as well as shared values among the team.  Conflict of styles is easier to deal with than a conflict of values … after all, you don’t just change what you value to fit your company.

One of the simplest ways to establish and guide an organizational culture is to explicitly share the values and principles.  If you’re in the position of creating a new team, you can use the values as a lightening rod to attract the people with passion that care deeply about similar values.  Values are sticky and that’s actually how you can spread an organization far and wide and yet remain intact … it simply becomes a federated team that connects at the values (you can read more about this concept in the book, The Starfish and the Spider.)

Example of Defining a Culture Through Organizational Principles and Values
Here is a simple example of defining a culture using the patterns & practices team as an example circa 2006:

“Customer success on the Microsoft platform” or “Proven practices for the platform.”

In patterns & practices, the goals are simple:

  • Simplify the customer experience of building quality solutions on the Microsoft platform.
  • Improve the customer value of Microsoft products and technologies through customer connection and solution engineering.
  • Grow the professional knowledge and capability of the Microsoft development community.
  • Help customers and partners build their LOB (line-of-business) applications and services faster and more predictably than any platform in the world.

In patterns & practices, we value:

  • Continuous learning, innovation and improvement - We have a bias toward action (over more planning) and customer engagement and feedback (over more analysis.)
  • Open, collaborative, relationships with customers, Microsoft field, partners, and Microsoft teams.
  • Execution - we take strategic bets, but we hold ourselves accountable for creating value, shipping early and often, and delivering results that have impact with customers and in Microsoft.
  • Explicit, transparent, and direct communication with customers and with our team and others in our company.
  • Quality over scope - no guidance is better than bad guidance.

We use the following principles to guide our work:

  • Start with the end in mind; think about end to end scenarios and how the products we produce fit in the solution architecture and into the patterns & practices catalog.
  • Help the customer succeed with their intent - the results they want to achieve, not just what they are trying to do.
  • Find the minimal solution required for a good result and ship it.
  • Our tools platforms are assets that expand the types of guidance we can express - use all of what they provide where it naturally fits the scenario.
  • Constructive tension between customer needs and Microsoft product and business strategy is expected - when we do our job well, this tension is healthy.

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Comments (3)

  1. Darren Neimke says:

    Can you please describe the process that you went through to arrive at these shared Organizational Principles and Values?

  2. J.D. Meier says:

    Tactically, we did a did a two-day off-site with our team leads and a facilitator.  From there, our group leader distilled all the input into the explicit mission, goals, values, and principles.

    Getting offsite was important.  So was having a facilitator to guide conversations, get folks to talk, and parking lot issues.

  3. Darren Neimke says:

    It will be interesting to see if you keep it going.  E.g. each year, measure (by survey typically) where you think you are compared to your stated ideal culture.  And then, at larger intervals, maybe renew your stated ideal culture.

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