How to Grow a Culture Book

Have you read valve’s Handbook for new employees ?

In Management 3.0 terms, that’s a culture book. It’s a great way to build and crystallize a culture, and it serves as a guide for newcomers, and can later serve as an hiring ad for your team or company.

The good thing about a culture book, is that you don’t have to write it in one go. It’s a living artifact anyway, so you’d better not ! Our current culture book has emerged from a collection of pages in our wiki.

It started as working agreements

The first real contributions to our culture book (though we did not know it at the time) was spending some time in retrospectives to define and review our working and coding conventions.

When we started doing retrospectives, we had to discuss, agree and formalize the decisions we made about our way of working. We usually did a ‘review how we work’ activity at the beginning the retros, spending 10 minutes to make sure we all understood and agreed on our current working conventions. If there was any disagreement or update required, we would discuss them during the retro, and at the end, add, remove or modify items from our agreement page.

It continued as self-organization workshops

After a while, we had built up a pretty extensive set of working and coding conventions. The team had already become quite productive, but to keep the momentum in the long run, we needed to increase self-organization. By reading Management 3.0 books and Management Workout (which has been re-edited as Managing for Happiness) in particular, I found description about how to use a delegation board and delegation pokers to measure and formalize the current delegation level of a team.

We did this, and started a lot of self-organization workshops :

After each of these workshops, we created a wiki page, explaining how we planned to handle the subject in the team.

The book

At that point, we had fairly extensive and formal descriptions of our working practices and conventions. By reading this set of pages, someone would get a pretty accurate grasp of our principles and values.

Wondering how we could write our own culture book, I had an “Aha !” moment and realized that all I had to do was to create a wiki page pointing to all our different agreement pages. This only took 5 minutes.

At the moment, our culture book serves 3 purposes :

  • documentation for the team members
  • guide for newcomers
  • description about how we work for people in the company who might want to move to our team

Next step would be to add a dash of design, a few war stories, export it as a PDF, and use it outside to advertise the team and the company.

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