The DevOps engineer's handbook The DevOps engineer's handbook

Tips for shifting to a generative culture

The amount of work needed to build a generative workplace culture depends on where your culture is right now. At the start of your DevOps journey, you might even find there are different cultures across teams or even individuals with traits from all 3 culture types.

Regardless of your starting point, everyone must make an effort to shift towards a generative culture if you hope to get the best out of DevOps.

In some respects, this can be the hardest part of the DevOps adoption process. Many pathological or bureaucratic behaviors stem from deep-seated habits, systematic imbalances, and past failures.

Here are some simple strategies to help you start moving towards a generative workplace.

Leaders must lead by example

We’ll start here because leaders set the tone for culture. Damaging leadership behaviors and attitudes trickle down workplace structures and can become so deep-rooted that it’s hard to deprogram.

That’s okay! Change doesn’t happen overnight, but it happens quicker when leaders buy in and take the initiative.

Here are a couple of things leaders should think about:

  • Treat people as equals, not subordinates. Honest communication and feedback should flow both ways, regardless of your position.
  • Recognize your role is to get the best out of your team. Listen to your staff and give them what they need to do their jobs better and quicker.
  • Trust that people want to do good work. No one’s doing a bad job on purpose. Work with your team and find solutions together. If a process someone runs fails often, there might be underlying reasons, like inefficient processes.
  • Do some self-reflection. When presented with a problem, examine your instant reaction to it. Does that reaction help anyone solve the problem? Does it align with a generative culture or not?
  • Match your actions with your messaging. People will follow your actions, not your words. For example, don’t reward overtime if you say you want people to have a healthy work-life balance.

Align goals

In traditional IT spaces, teams tend to work in isolation. Each team has its own goals, responsibilities, and priorities.

That means that despite everyone working hard for the same company, teams can still clash due to what they believe is in their team’s best interests. Neither of those opposing views will be wrong exactly - they’re simply tied to, or skewed by, each team’s beliefs.

Instead, you should ensure teams share the same goals, responsibilities, and priorities.

Doing so helps remove points of friction and lowers the potential for conflict. After all, everyone’s striving for the same thing. And if people do disagree, they’re more likely to take opposing views in good faith.

Accept failure happens

Sometimes things go wrong. It happens! Software development is hard! Humans will make mistakes, bugs will sneak through, and updates will break things unexpectedly. There’s no way to prevent it. Failure is inevitable.

When met with failure, try to curb any reaction that places blame on your team or slows your software delivery speed. Although those reactions might make sense at the time, they will always have the opposite effect to the one you seek.

People love finding solutions and fixing things. So, get your teams working on the solution rather than slowing things down. After all, your next deployment should be near if you’ve adopted other DevOps recommendations.

You should also treat failure as an opportunity to improve your processes. For example:

  • Is there an automated test you can add to your build processes to identify the problem and prevent it in the future?
  • Was it caused by a manual process you could automate?
  • Is there a product you can add to your deployment pipeline that will prevent the failure from happening again?

Some software methodologies even suggest you fail on purpose. Chaos Engineering, for example, sees teams purposely introduce problems to their services to test stability and build resilience into their product. ‘Failure is the first step to success,’ as they say, so why not fail proactively?

Of course, failure is much easier for everyone to accept when there are shorter recovery times, so ensure you fully adopt DevOps and not just bits of it.

Adopt the other DevOps’ recommendations

Improving team culture isn’t only about treating people with respect and trusting they want to do good work. It’s also about ensuring teams can work in the most effective ways.

DevOps principles, technical capabilities, and tooling suggestions already help promote a generative workplace culture, so don’t tackle culture in isolation.

We’ve already written a lot about these ideas, so check the other sections of this website.

Recognizing the signs of success

As your workplace moves towards a generative culture, you should notice staff working happier, better, and faster together. Communication will be easier, and fewer people-related obstacles will get in the way of delivering your product.

As long as you follow DevOps’ other recommendations, you should also see an impact on your organization’s productivity. Not just on a human level but systematically, too, because you’ll always strive for continuous improvement.

Don’t just take our word for it. You’ll see it yourself if you keep track of the right metrics.

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