The importance of challenge in our tech team culture
What exactly is a challenge culture? And why is it important for digital technology teams to embrace it?
Also known as the push- back culture, a challenge culture is one in which people have a say, where direct reports can question their bosses and colleagues. In short, anyone can push back in authority or the status quo without fear. It needs people to view civilly challenging others and being challenged in a positive way. That is not easy to cope with emotionally and involves vulnerability, especially for bosses.
The Olam Digital Tech team members high and low, work hard to drop personal egos and ask others “How could I do this better?”. For example, those at the top share their presentations widely and ask colleagues to the sides, above and below them, “How can I make this presentation better?”
To be able to challenge one another across roles, designations and teams is key to Olam’s very identity, but is especially crucial in the technology team because:
- Product Owners cannot always know exactly what they want in the final product – so challenging questions become crucial to create the right and best solution, not simply what the user has initially envisioned.
- Each of our products involve multiple programmer minds which means the only way to maintain conceptual integrity is by challenging one another. The push-back practice in this case helps keep the overall solution coherent for the end user.
- Given the diverse roles in each of our development team, it’s important for the team members to challenge one another if the entire edifice is to stay strong. For instance, a solution architect would perform his role and provide the standards, details for developers to use. It’s up to the developers, working on different parts of the solution, to challenge the architect, hold her accountable and vice versa.
- To justify the cost of building a product all the developers on the team need to challenge each other on coding practice and features to ensure the product is fast, efficient and has great usability.
However, a challenge culture takes building and maintaining: the challenge part is easy, the culture part is hard (because it involves a constant mindset from top to bottom of the team). We encourage this culture via day to day practices and behaviours:
- Daily Stand Ups are a platform for programmers to challenge each other’s approach (without an audience).
- Peer code reviews on each Sprint. Like in any true agile setup, we also follow paired programming from time to time wherein two approaches challenge each other and finally merge to create a coherent piece of work.