Working in a Learning Environment – and a Shout Out to Spinal Tap

Finding the right workplace setting for yourself is entirely subjective. There’s no doubt that certain career paths are better than others, but if you’re not personally in a position to capitalize on what is before you, then opportunity is wasted.

What have I found that works for me?

David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel may have put it best – “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.”

While this might not sound applicable to the world of company culture, all of us have worked in situations where the knife’s edge of this line is traveled repeatedly.

At various times in my past I’ve worked at organizations where the leaders had a 3-strike policy on typos, claimed (in all seriousness) that they could outbox Mike Tyson in his prime, and staged impromptu spelling bees during work hours.

I’d like to think the intention behind all of these actions came from a good place – attention to detail, encouragement, self-discipline and fun. But it was never really made clear. Guiding principles and core purpose can’t be derived from spelling or eating donuts for cash (something I’ve also witnessed).

The manner in which these policies or statements manifested themselves in culture didn’t really do much to foster a culture of substance or put a unified direction on an approach to how its employees should strive to improve or work the greater good of the organization.

So what can work to help establish some of these things?

Last week I was in a meeting with a prospective client and one of our company founders. She asked how we went about finding the people with the right skillsets to fill open positions. She seemed impressed by our work and wanted to know how we found the quality that we do.

The answer to the question surprised her a bit. BlueFletch doesn’t necessarily focus on skill. I mean, we do, obviously. We want developers who know how to code, but it’s more important to assemble a collection of individuals who aspire to be better and actively seek self-improvement inside and outside the work setting.

We attack the client’s challenges at a business level, not the technology level, and we expect everyone on the team to have an understanding and approach founded on learning their business.

This focus on a learning culture where employees are encouraged to develop broader and deeper understanding of the systems that influence them and their work are part of a larger philosophy:  The company is better off when it constantly seeks challenges as a means of growth.

Because of this BlueFletch employees are enthusiasts of self-learning – regardless of the role they play in the organization. This allows us to have team members expand into roles that suit them, and therefore BlueFletch, the best.

Most if not all members of the team have hobbies or pastimes outside of work that require time, practice, performance  and even competition.

Here people are treated like adults. No one is going to look over your shoulder to make you get your work done. If you have questions, it’s incumbent upon you to seek answers and balance work velocity with other tasks.

Anyone in the company is empowered to ask questions or provide feedback to another at any time. This results in impromptu code reviews, design investigations and analytical challenges. Some employees often move desks or work areas depending on their projects or tasks in a given time period.

Members of the team can work on varied technology from project to project, so the ability to shift to learning something completely new is ever present.

In order to keep this from being a free for all we’ve established some baseline structure:

  • Quarterly reviews
  • Weekly office-wide code reviews
  • Intra and inter team peer code reviews
  • Lunch and learns
  • Daily stand ups

This is not for everyone.

Those who like rigid structure or are made uncomfortable by challenging conventional thinking won’t feel at home in an environment like this.

Does this environment work?

I think so. There are those at every organization who are not fully vested, and that is inevitable.

The key is to foster a core team who can work and push each other and their clients together. I believe we have this group a BlueFletch, and it’s been an exciting journey to experience first hand.