Your Company Culture: How Are You Framing And Improving?

I read a blog post on Ask a Manager about a manager who was annoyed that one of their employees refused to participate in brewery and team nightclub trips. The manager felt that a long commute and not wanting to drink was no excuse for missing these things.

I then started thinking about company and team cultures and how they are framed in job specifications. And how I could identify a culture from a specification or even an interview and, honestly, I struggle. It’s easy to spot the job specifications for companies that I wouldn’t want to work for. They say things like:

  • We have a pool table to help you relax after a hard day of testing to bring the best to our customers
  • We have someone that brings coffee to your desk so you never have to move for it
  • We bring dinner to the office so you don’t have to cook

They make it sound like they’re helping you when really, they’re making sure you work more hours which helps nobody.

I was wondering what steps people have taken to improve their office culture? Or how did you identify that the culture needed to be improved? Was it mentioned in anonymous staff surveys or exit interviews?

Also, I’m keen to understand how people frame their culture in a job specification?

I didn’t see Big B At The RTC, but if I were going to guess at what “add positivity into your testing” was for, I’d say that Richard understands the social nature of testing, and positivity has a lot of social benefits. It’s encouraging, it supports teamwork, it helps your image and it keeps the team morale high. That would be my guess.

I don’t mind if someone wants to try to up my hours. Key word there is “try”.

I always found the more damaging kinds of culture were things like:

No process improvement

  • “We don’t have money to try anything new”
  • “Spend your time testing, don’t spend it reading”
  • “No, we’re not trying that” (no buy-in for any ideas)
  • “No, I won’t help you understand our code”
  • “No, you can’t go on any training courses”
  • “No, you can’t attend any conferences”
  • “That’s not how we do things around here”
  • “Yes, it went wrong, let’s never speak of it again”

No failure tolerance

  • “Failure is not okay, and you will be made to feel weak or humiliated if you fail.”
  • “Trying makes the rest of us look bad”
  • “That one thing didn’t work, therefore we shouldn’t listen to you”

Testers as second-class / Testers are a problem

  • “There is a hierarchy and you will abide by it.”
  • “Testers’ opinions are less valid because they’re only testers”
  • “Testers are not on the team, they’re in the test team. They are not developers.”
  • “Don’t raise bugs, you’ll make me look bad”
  • “I’m getting away with murder and you’re digging up the evidence”
  • “Testing is easy”
  • “I spit on your pairing idea”
  • “Automation exists. You don’t need to.”

Testers as set dressing

  • “Don’t do testing, just run the tests.”
  • “Don’t give me information, just tell me exactly what you want me to do about it”
  • “No, you stay quiet during kickoff, I finish the work without having to think about it, then you do the testing in silence”
  • “Give me the numbers. Not your opinion about the numbers. I will deal with the numbers.”
  • “Don’t talk to me, just send me the bug report and I’ll send it back or ignore it.”

Bullies and other cultural cancers

  • If you ask a question with an obvious answer you will be humiliated for it, as if it were your opinion instead of a useful tool to spark thinking and conversation, and as if you held your question sacred instead of throwing them out in volume as inexpensive checks.
  • Agreement in public but refusal in private.
  • Put-downs.
  • Gossip.
  • Talking over others, especially those who are timid or quiet.
  • Spinning the team processes to their advantage rather than for the team or business or product.

This is why lines like “We require ISTQB/ISEB” are huge red flags. They say to me “we don’t understand testing, and we don’t wish to” - which is a great place for these cultural problems to hide. Running any group workshop is a great place to spot these things. The number of times I’ve seen the person with the answer not be able to give it because nobody is listening and everyone’s talking over them is too many to be a coincidence.

When I was testing I’d ideally want something in the job spec that indicated:

  • We understand testing (or at least we don’t not understand testing")
  • We respect testing
  • We enforce learning
  • We enforce side-projects
  • We very strongly encourage process improvement

I enjoy things like “you will be familiar with exploratory testing” and “you will work closely with your team”. Terms that show me that my opinion is valid and I have purpose.

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I guess there are two parts to this question.

How do you improve the team culture? & How do you broadcast the teams culture into a job advert?

there is a lot written about improving culture my minds a great deal smarter than mine, but for me it’s important that companies respect personal life and don’t encroach on this time. we are fortunate to be in an industry we can enjoy however for the majority of people work is not life and they have other passions they would prefer to pursue. building in a variety of team events, learning time and activities into the work day will bond and develop a team.

As for the second, Stephen Janaway ran a fantastic workshop at TB Manchester 2017 on hiring testers and we spend a good deal of time on job descriptions. The language used is as important as what the words say, it conveys a lot more about your intentions. Words such as Ambitious, Proactive, Energetic highlight a masculine workplace where overcommitment is expected, work life balance disregarded and learning is expected in your own time. is a great site for analysing the choice of language and message it portrays.

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