Four Pillars of Effective DevOps Organization Culture

DevOps is more of a human problem – implying that every organization will have a devops culture that is unique to the humans within it. While there is no one “true” way of doing devops that will be identified for every organization, there are four common themes that any team or organization looking to implement DevOps will need to spend time and resources on. The 4 pillars of effective devops are

  • Collaboration
  • Affinity
  • Tools
  • Scaling

The combination of these four pillars will enable one to address bth the cultural and technical aspects of one’s organization. It makes sense for one’s organization to focus on one or two pillars at a time while trying to make changes, but ultimately it is the combination of all for working together that will enable lasting, effective change.


Collaboration is the process of building towards a specific outcome through supporting interactions and the input of multiple people. A guiding principle that shaped the devops movement was the cooperation of software development and operations team. Before one team can successfully work with another team with a different focus, the individuals on a team need to be able to work with each other. Team that don’t work well on an individual or intra-team level have little hope of working well at the inter-team level.


In addition to the growth and maintenance of collaborative relationships between individuals, team and departments within an organization and across the industry at large need to have strong relationships. Affinity is the process of building these inter-team relationships, navigating differing goals or metrics while keeping in mind shared organizational goals, and fostering empathy and learning between different groups of people. Affinity can be applied between organizations as well, enabling companies to share stories and learn from each other as we build a collective body of cultural and technical knowledge within our industry.


Tools are an accelerator, driving change based on the current culture and direction. Tools choice can be perceived as easy wins. Understanding why they are wins, and their impact on existing structures, is important to prevent obscuring issues in teams and organizations. Failure to examine the problems in values, norms, and organizational structure leads to invisible failure conditions as cultural debt bilds up. If tools, or lack thereof, get in the way of individuals or teams working well together, your initiatives will not succeed If the cost of collaboration is high, not investing in tools (or worse, investing in poor tools) raises their cost.


Scaling is a focus on the processes and pivots that organizations must adopt throughout their lifecycles. Beyond simply considering what it means to address devops in large enterprise organizations, scaling takes into account how the other pillars of effective devops can be applied throughout organizations as they grow, mature, and even shrink. There are different considerations, both technical and cultural for organizations operating at different scales.

Creating a Team from Individuals

A team is a group of individuals working towards a common goal, interdependent with each other, with some familiarity among members. Teams holds a set of convictions expressed by the majority of the participants. Some of the aspects to be considered in making great team culture are listed below

  • Interpersonal ties within teams : It is the combination of the four factors which makes a tie a strong one.

o   Shared Time

o   Intensity of the relationship

o   Reciprocity of shared stories

o   Reciprocity of support

Simply spending a lot of time with someone is not enough to really foster a strong connection.

  • Team Culture : The culture of a team can greatly impact the effectiveness of the teams work and the strength of the ties between team members. Rather than talking about culture in terms of culture fit and if your teammates are people you want to be friends with. It is much more important to focus on culture as the values that a team shares and how those values are expressed in practice. Shared values when clearly communicated can be a strong binding force among team members. It is important that the teams values not be in conflict with either overall organizational or company wide values or with individual values of team members.
  • Team Cohesion : Team Cohesion is the degree to which individual members want to contribute to the groups ability to continue as a functioning work unit. A team with low cohesion tends to take on a “everything out for themselves” kind of mentality with team members acting out of self-interest rather than in the interests of the team as a whole.
  • Diversity : When thinking about our group memberships, we must make sure to consider the wide range of groups to which people can belong. Diversity is critical for innovation. The different ideas, perspectives, and viewpoints that come from different backgrounds are crucial part of developing new ideas. Diverse teams will be able to develop products that work for wider customer base due to their unique experiences.
  • Hiring Considerations : To create great teams, things should be carefully observed while making a choice of the team members. For example, keeping a lookout for obnoxious language (racist or sexist remarks) or figuring out unreasonable biases while hiring someone.
  • Maintaining an Inclusive Environment : For creating a great team, it is important that a environment is created where everyone feels comfortable and enjoys being part of that team. Initiatives such as team building initiatives should be considered while building great teams.
  • Teams within Large Organizations : Teams in large organizations may have diverse cultures. It is important to consider these diverse cultures while building teams in large organizations
  • Finding Common Ground between Teams : how do we build trust, generate shared experiences and create more inclusive organizations with more in-groups. The main types of difficulties that can arise when trying to bridge the gaps between different teams include differences in objectives, measurement of success, differences in leadership and differences in communication styles. Despite all these differences, there are ways of finding commonalities between teams and groups such as

o   From Competition to Cooperation

o   Building Team Empathy

o   Improving Team Communication

Collaboration : Misconceptions and Troubleshooting

Problems arise in collaborating effectively when people have differences in professional and individual backgrounds that create friction if not handled.

Collaboration Misconceptions

Many misconceptions around collaboration ultimately have to do with concerns about how much people are willing or able to learn and grow within their roles or in the organization in general. Some of the misconceptions are

  • You cannot teach an old sysadmin new tricks : The reality is that new skills absolutely can be learned.
  • You need to Hire rock Stars when you are trying to grow quickly : This is generally a short term solution.
  • A Diverse team cannot collaborate as effectively : Generally more diverse teams may have more conflicts in the short term, however, these effects are balanced out not only by the fact that the creativity and problem – solving benefits in the long term.

Collaboration Troubleshooting

Dealing with issues between individuals can certainly be tricky. Navigating these kind of conflicts and difficulties is part of what gave rise to the idea of devops in the first place.

  • Some people on the team aren’t pulling their weight : One common issue that comes up when working with people on teams is the perception that some team members aren’t pulling their weight are not following through on their assignments and responsibilities.

o   The first step is towards resolution is clarifying roles and responsibilities.

o   Once expectations are clarified, it should be found out if the expectations are realistic

o   If reports that someone isn’t performing comes from people who are not concerned, work should be done to find out how accurate these statements are.

o   Attempt should be made to find out if there aren’t some serious personal issues such as individuals or family health, lack of autonomy, lack of rewards etc.

  • We need to decide if someone should let go : This should be one of the last things to be done. Before this step there are various thing that should be tried

o   Find out of expectations, situations or circumstances are mis-aligned or not

o   Check if training or improvement plan can help

o   When creating a development plan, making sure that there is sufficient mentorship available can improve odds of success.

o   Are the cultures clashing and if so, is there any training required

o   See if the employees are getting forced into a situation by circumstances

o   Finally, it is not always bad to let go someone if things are not improving. However, this should not be the first solution

  • I am overworked stressed and Burnt Out : If you are experiencing symptoms of burnout, including anxiety, exhaustion and decreased satisfaction not only with your job but with yourself, it is important to address the underlying issues sooner rather than later. Some of the strategies could be

o   Short Term

  • Take time off
  • Delegate or say no
  • Reach out to a professional for help

o   Long Term

  • For each one, try to assess if there is anything you can take action on to decrease the stress from that responsibility
  • When you are getting burnt out, it may manifest itself as a more general stress or malaise, so figure out if there is something in particular that is contributing more to your stress and anxiety than you realize.
  • Some people on the Team are feeling disrespected : Overall it is required that you be diligent with your listening skills, even if what you hear is uncomfortable or unexpected. Nobody wants to hear that their colleagues or friends might be harassing or disrespecting others. However, it is better to confront the problem rather than hiding it.
  • Some People Arent Communicating Enough : If individuals don’t seem very willing to communicate there might be issues of trust at work. There might also be issues where some individuals respond in ways that feel disrespectful to others, whether or not they were intended that way. Also a variety of cultural and personal differences might come into play.
  • An Employee is technically Brilliant but not a good team player : Many a times such employees are more harm than good. Make sure you confront the problem and talk to the employee about this issue openly.
  • People feeling that their career is stuck : People many a times are not aware about their own achievements. Make sure to talk about the achievements. Having some of the HR or senior employees mentor such people may be a good solution.
  • Nobody Listens to me : If a particular individual or team isn’t listening to you, there may be some interpersonal conflicts that have to be dealt with. If your direct manager doesn’t seem to listen to you or respect you, then try speaking to the manager directly.

Conflict Management

With the industry call for higher product performance and lower costs, individuals are more likely to find themselves facing competing demands for their time and attention. The conflicts that will arise from these demands will need to be resolved somehow. There are several different approaches which we will look at here in terms of conflict resolution or negotiation styles.

Effective Communication

Effective communication allows people to build shared understanding and find common goals as opposed to working only in competition with one another. Aside from simply answering a question or telling somebody what to work on next, there are many different reasons why we as people communicate with one another. Effective communication helps build resilience among individuals and teams – letting people know that they are not alone, allowing them to share coping strategies and transferring knowledge between both people and groups. Some of the things that you can include with effective communication includes

  • Increasing understanding
  • Asserting influence through effective communication
  • Giving recognition can improve morale
  • Building community

Negotiation or Conflict Resolution Styles

How we communicate also involves our negotiation or conflict resolution style, in addition to the communication tools. When negotiating, you might see these different negotiation styles coming into play

  • Competition : When someone focuses solely on pursuing their own needs at the expense of others.
  • Accomodation : Where someone gives in specific aspects to someone else’s needs at the expense of their own. Sometimes with the goal of building a better relationship.
  • Avoidance : Where both parties try to avoid direct conflict , often with an increase in passive-aggressive behaviours.
  • Compromise : Where all sides try to find a mutually agreeable solution that involves everyone giving up a little bit of their own needs in order to try to reach a “fair” outcome.
  • Collaboration : Which is similar to compromise in that it is considered win-win but involves much more creation of mutual understanding, learning and making sure that all sides genuinely get their needs met.


Many companies and teams these days are looking to grow and hire diverse teams. Although there are many resources available that can go into much more depth than we have space for here, we’ll briefly discuss the benefits and axes of diversity and how teams can source and hire a wider range of people.

Benefits of Diversity

Diversity is critical for innovation, with the differing ideas, perspectives, and viewpoints that come from different backgrounds being a crucial part in developing new ideas. Diverse teams will be able to develop products that reach a wider customer base due to these differing experiences. The more closely different groups or individuals work together, the more creatively stimulated people tend to be.

Axes of Diversity and Intersectionality

There are many different axes that diversity can take. These include:

  • Gender and gender presentation
  • Race and ethnicity
  • National origin
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age
  • Veteran status
  • Disability

Increasing diversity on any one of these axes is important, but only one axis does not mean your company is truly diverse, nor that it is a safe place to work for a wide range of people. Intersectionality is defined as the study of intersections between different forms of oppression or discrimination, and how these different forms of oppression are interconnected.

Diversity, like any other devops practice, is not a simple thing that can be implemented once and then checked off a list of things to do. It’s an iterative process that must be monitored and measured. Your reasons for considering diversity matter, and how successful your efforts are will depend on them. Both initiatives are ones that should be undertaken out of a genuine concern for improving the lives of all people in your company and the community as a whole.

Hiring Considerations

There are things to be considered throughout the hiring process when trying to improve the diversity of your workforce. We will touch on additional ideas in the interviewing and retention sections as well, but here are a few things to keep in mind when sourcing candidates.

  • Keep an eye out for language that can be exclusionary
  • Be aware of those unconscious biases

Maintaining an Inclusive Environment

It doesn’t matter much if you manage to interview and hire diverse employees if you can’t retain them. Along with diversity, companies need to start inclusivity initiatives to ensure that individuals in the minority experience belongingness and encouragement to retain the uniqueness within the work group.

There are many things that can be done to make sure your work environment is as inclusive as possible. We’ll discuss more of these points in the Interviewing, Onboarding, and Retention sections later in this chapter, but here are some things to keep in mind when sourcing candidates:

  • Make sure that any recruiters you use are aware of your diversity and inclusion goals.
  • Send employees to unconscious bias training or an Ally Skills Workshop.
  • Lead by example, and call out problematic language or behavior – don’t leave that to be the sole responsibility of minority team members
  • Organize employee resource groups. Establish places to address the needs of the diverse individuals, including community building, networking, and support. These groups facilitate resilience for the individuals mitigating some of the costs of being different to the majority.
  • Audit your work environment. Determine how accessible key elements of the environment are to differently-abled employees beyond the government mandated requirements.
  • If you ask people to do the work of reviewing your job postings to be more inclusive, compensate them for that work.
  • Pay attention to if your language or behavior is racist or sexist (or homophobic or transphobic) all the time, not just when people from those groups might be present – preemtively create an inclusive atmosphere.