Culture is the first priority in crafting an organization that functions at its best. To build high quality software, you must build an organization that is capable of producing it. High performance teams produce high quality software. In leading an organization towards high performance, you must balance two perspectives: one, you have to provide structure; and two, you have to make sure that that structure amplifies productivity instead of dampening it. This is why culture matters. When the rules get in the way, culture breaks the barriers. When there are no rules, culture fills the gaps. In either case, whether too little or too much structure, culture is what binds together the people, the organization, and the mission. Culture is always present, and it always exists in the spaces where you didn’t plan, didn’t expect, can’t control, and didn’t make a playbook.
The worst mistake to make in leading an organization is to ignore how powerful a force culture can be. Healthy culture creates virtuous cycles of productivity, insight, and innovation. Unhealthy culture steals motivation, saps productivity, and corrodes even the best-laid plans. Make no mistake: culture can be designed. Steered. Led. Culture lives "between the lines" and can’t be created by rules, policies, or procedures alone. Instead, it requires investing real effort in interpersonal relationships, inviting candid feedback, and protecting individuals’ and teams’ autonomy.
I don’t believe in grassroots organizational change. It’s rare that a healthy, productive organizational culture "just happens." Culture must be led. Craft the organization’s culture and reap the benefits of every individual’s brilliance. Ignore culture at your great peril.