The makings of an enduring organizational culture

By Sameer Soman

Culture has been described as the widening of the mind and spirit. ThoughtWorkers resonate well with this belief because ‘pushing the boundary’ is our way of life. A way of life that draws from what’s critical to us, to our company and having a purpose beyond making money.

Employees smiling together

Our purpose is to create an extraordinary impact on the world through our culture and tech excellence. It’s the ultimate metric against which we continuously measure ourselves. This unified purpose can be broken down into these aims -

  1. Be an awesome partner for clients and their ambitious missions
  2. Revolutionize the technology industry
  3. Amplify positive social change and advocate for an equitable tech future
  4. Foster a vibrant community of diverse and passionate technologists
  5. Achieve enduring commercial success and sustained growth.

I lead ThoughtWorks India by ensuring organizational alignment with the collective purpose. That’s more than just setting goals and measuring them; it’s about creating and nurturing a culture that supports the people and the organization’s objective.

Through this article, I’d like to share what I’ve learnt through the experience of shaping our progressive culture.

Passion for software delivery

Our clients are known to have said, “ThoughtWorks succeeds where everyone else has failed.” They trust us to deliver the best possible software because they see us care deeply for our clients and look beyond their immediate needs. They have seen us championing the goals that inspire them.

Our culture plays a critical role in ensuring such high standards of delivery. We value learning and collaboration over personal heroics. We seek out curious people and set them to work in diverse, autonomous teams. And, the ‘learning culture’ extends to the whole organization.

We believe it is our responsibility to advance both the state of the art and the state of the practice, influence the industry to do a better job, grow individuals and communities of technologists.

And to that end, ThoughtWorks evangelizes the latest disruptive technologies through open source contributions, conferences and tech-community events (like Geek Night, Converge, Unplugged, VodQa), 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.

Every ThoughtWorks office is abuzz (both in-person and virtually) with conversations, emails, group threads, pet projects, and discussions on technology trends — culminating in the delivery of great software.

Employees working together at a desk
Employees working together at a desk

Such passion calls for experimentation and courage. ThoughtWorks expects this and celebrates it as the only route to true innovation. ThoughtWorkers are encouraged to question what they don’t understand on behalf of the company or the customer.

Investing in meaningful leadership development

The key to meaningful leadership development is to create intuitive regional and global programs. These programs must go beyond skill-building and align with the collective and individual purpose and goals.

Also essential is to ensure a diverse mix of people benefit from these programs. This is why ThoughtWorkers from around the world collaborate to produce programs that achieve maximum impact, both for the business and delegates.

For instance, we run a Women in Leadership Development program (WiLD) that ensures 55% — 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, from writing books to running entire functions and countries at the company.

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. Finding and encouraging the next generation of leaders ensures cultural and strategic consistency.

The selfless quality of leadership, or servant leadership, that we profess goes hand-in-hand with how our organization is structured; flat and focused on building consensus.

Placing a high value on multi-dimensional diversity

Employees standing in front of a rainbow flag and balloons
Employees standing in front of a rainbow flag and balloons

Diversity is not just a ‘nice to have’ measurement for ThoughtWorks. While technology might be what we all have in common, we believe that no matter how one identifies, they deserve respect, empathy and equal opportunities to succeed.

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, age and genders.

Being proactive about diversity and inclusion requires a progressive environment that actively leverages diversity. There is a recognition that people from different backgrounds bring opinions, habits and attitudes and this enriches the 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 skilled people who want to work in and benefit from such rich collaboration. And the glue that holds everyone together is an undying passion for technology.

Cultivating an open and accepting mindset

We nurture a very forward-thinking and reformist attitude towards technology and the world. As technologists, we have a unique role to play in how technology can benefit all of society. And, our strategy is to amplify the work of our partners at the forefront of social movements and progressive coalitions, in a spirit of solidarity over charity.

We are continuously educating ourselves and voicing our opinions on causes we believe in. 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 or about copyright and data security & protection.

The same freedom is afforded to every ThoughtWorker because we place people above processes and policies. That also means we expect our 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.

A ThoughtWorks employee sticking sticky notes onto a wall
A ThoughtWorks employee sticking sticky notes onto a wall

A purposeful organization demands a strong culture. That culture takes a lot of work to sustain. For me, one of the more important lessons is the potential impact that every decision, action and conversation has on 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 its original form in Computer World in 2015. Updated in 2020.

A community of passionate individuals whose purpose is to revolutionize software design, creation and delivery, while advocating for positive social change.