The Makings of Enduring Organizational Culture

Culture has been described as the widening of the mind and spirit. At ThoughtWorks, we often encourage each other and ourselves to push the boundary, because that’s just our way of life. A way of life that draws from what is critical to us, to our company and having a purpose beyond making money.

Going Beyond Making Money

ThoughtWorks’ mission is to better humanity through software and help drive the creation of a socially and economically just world. As a leader in the organisation, my job, in addition to leading the India business, is to ensure organizational alignment and constantly drive the company towards the identified higher purpose. That’s more than just setting goals and measuring them; it moves into creating and nurturing a culture that supports the people and the organization’s objective.

Through this article, I’d like to share my experiences and learnings from contributing to shaping ThoughtWorks' culture.

Passion for Software Delivery

Passion for Software Delivery

Many ThoughtWorks’ customers are known to have said, "ThoughtWorks succeeds where everyone else has failed". Our customers rely on us and trust that we will deliver the best possible software, while optimizing and balancing various constraints like functionality, experience, cost, time, quality and more. And we deliver. Consistently. There are many cultural factors in play that make this possible. We value learning and collaboration over personal heroics. We do this at a project team level, internally within the organization and externally within the software community.

ThoughtWorks consistently encourages evangelizing of the latest disruptive technologies through open source contributions, conferences and tech-community events (like Geek Night, Converge, Unplugged, VodQa), books authored by ThoughtWorkers, blogs and more. We have strong points of view and preferences for engineering approaches that support the 'art and science of building great software' - like Agile, TDD, Continuous Deployment and Code Pairing. This means that every corner of a ThoughtWorks office is inevitably filled with chatter from conversations, emails, group threads, pet projects, external technology trends all ultimately discussing the same thing - delivering great software.

Such passion calls for experimentation and risk-taking. ThoughtWorks expects this and celebrates it as the only route to true innovation. ThoughtWorkers are encouraged to question what they don’t understand and seek clarity for themselves and sometimes even on behalf of the company and the customer, when needed. Our software development processes support this ‘clarity seeking’. We regularly demonstrate working software to the customers and ask for feedback. We constantly communicate with teams using remote collaboration tools and many similar techniques.

Investing in Meaningful Leadership Development

Leadership Programmes

Leadership development often gets quickly reduced to skill building in many organisations. While a few organizations focus only on functional skill building, others do a better job of it by adding soft skills to the mix.

The key to meaningful leadership development is to create intuitive programs at regional and global levels that go beyond skill-building. This translates to collaborating with the regions to produce programs that achieve maximum collective impact, both for the business and for the people. Our learning programs are in line with ThoughtWorks’ mission and strategic goals. The content and agenda is designed around the program participants.

We introduced our Women in Leadership Development program (WiLD) that ensures that 60% of our global leadership development participants are women.The only goal of the WiLD programme is to ‘make an impact’ and sure enough, the participants have achieved incredible things.

Long-time ThoughtWorkers are known to invest time and effort when it comes to nurturing future leaders. This is simply because it makes good business sense. Grooming the next generation of leaders ensures cultural and strategic consistency. Also, leadership development at ThoughtWorks is not about roles or titles, it is about empowering the next generation with leadership skills.  

We also believe deeply in what is also called Servant Leadership. Several traits like a flat organizational structure, participatory decision making and such are a direct result of our belief in this kind of leadership. At the same time, we work on developing strong leaders for the future, who have their own viewpoint and the operational resolve needed to drive a complex organization like ThoughtWorks forward.

Placing High Value on Multi-Dimensional Diversity

Celebrating Diversity

Diversity is not just a ‘good to have’ measurement for ThoughtWorks. We work hard to redress historic injustices and to handpick talented people with varying life experiences. In doing so, we also work towards ensuring a balance of ethnic backgrounds, race and genders. Tim Brown says "diverse minds that point to the same goal is something to take advantage of" and we completely identify with that philosophy.

Being responsive to diversity requires a working environment that is not just flexible and accommodating, but also actively leverages diversity. In India and from around the world, people from different backgrounds bring opinions, habits and attitudes that enrich the overall organizational outcome at ThoughtWorks.

Gender diversity is very dear to our heart. We actively mine for talented women technologists, from across the globe. Our leadership development programs specifically cater to the needs of talented women in the company, to enable their holistic growth.

Interestingly, this high focus on inclusivity does not make our recruitment that much harder. In fact, we attract people who like to work in and benefit from such rich collaboration. ThoughtWorkers understand that to be truly immersive, they need to meet, travel, interact and collaborate with teams all over the world. The fact that we have offices in 34 cities across 13 countries is reflective of our diversity. And the glue that holds everyone together is the undying passion for technology.

Cultivating an Open and Accepting Mindset

Open and Accepting Mindset

We cultivate a very progressive and reformist attitude towards technology and the world. For instance, we were quite vocal when discussing Section 66A or Section 377 or mass surveillance. We have been just as uninhibited when speaking on behalf of Net Neutrality and copyright and data security and protection.

The same freedom is afforded to every ThoughtWorker because we place people above processes and policies. Our internal systems are trust-based. We are a flat organization with decentralized decision making in place. Our global and regional leadership teams focus on building alignment rather than enforcing decisions taken within the confines of board rooms. It also means we expect people to be well read, understand the world of technology in more ways than just writing software, and help drive the use of technology in a way that benefits everyone.

Building a culture is often compared to the makings of a religion - both inspire fervour and rituals. Here, fervour is the deep identity with what the company says and does, while the ritual is working with clockwork regularity, as if one’s soul depended on it.

A purposeful organization demands a strong culture. And that culture takes a lot of work to sustain. One of my more important learnings at ThoughtWorks has been that almost every decision, action and conversation contributes to our workplace culture. In order to sustain the kind of business we want, care has to be taken to protect and scale this culture.

This article was featured in Computer World.