Throughout my career, I've stumbled across companies that stood worlds apart. I've experienced companies with very different processes and cultures. I was fortunate enough to experience life abroad, and I worked in Germany for some years, which was per se an entirely new scenario.
Along the way, I lacked the maturity to grasp the value of company culture in laying foundations for the future. This maturity comes with age and, fresh out of university, irreverence and inexperience naturally took over. Back then, I thought that culture was, at times, a well-defined set of rules of engagement and conduct. I thought that this led people to comply to the rules but not actually live by them. On some occasions, the culture was too procedural, and employees didn't even give it a second thought, it was pretty much a to-do list.
My view on the subject became progressively skewed.
I remember wondering whether culture was nothing more than a set of well-marketed, pizzazz taglines. They looked awesome on paper and could actually sell a job to candidates, but in all reality, they had no effect on my daily work.
But, if that was the case, why would companies invest so much in it?
"Culture eats strategy for breakfast."
A phrase originated by Peter Drucker and later made famous by Mark Fields, President at Ford.
Two years ago I joined OutSystems, as a quality owner in the R&D department.
The onboarding process included, and still does, a small, illustrated booklet titled The Small Book of the Few Big Rules. It describes and exemplifies the seven core rules of behavior that are pillars for OutSystems’ culture. The nurturing narrative alongside brilliantly designed artwork is surprisingly captivating.
After a couple of months, I realized that these principles were so intrinsic and important to people that they didn’t even need mentioning. They are second nature. Employees live by them daily, applying them to every single activity or task. The company commitment to the rules is absolute; offices around the world proudly reference them on the walls for all to see. That's when it really hit me: there is more to culture than what meets the eye.
What's the real impact of having a very strong culture and people advocating it daily? What is the cause-and-effect relationship between culture and success in a company? How does culture steer people’s commitment and work principles?
Sports has always played a pivotal role in my life, and it's of the utmost importance to me. I appreciate the physical and health benefits, but I'm devoted to sports because of the psychological benefits, such as goal orientation, peacefulness, and concentration. From martial arts as a child to water sports as an adolescent, from football to tennis, I’ve tried a bit of everything, with varying degrees of dedication.
I've been practicing CrossFit for more than a year now. It's a fitness regimen that incorporates a mix of disciplines. It includes high-intensity interval training (HIIT), Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics, calisthenics, and more. It’s nothing new, a vast mix of existing modalities. Have you ever seen people jumping on and off wooden boxes in a fitness studio? Or hanging onto a bar while doing crazy movements? Yep, that was most likely CrossFit.
For me, the initial soreness and inertia were tough, and like any other sport, in the beginning it was a struggle. The workouts are very technically complex and demanding, and the usual pace is high and intense. You feel tired, your body screams for rest, and your mind starts playing tricks. The good news is: it will get better eventually. This is when mental strength plays an important role.
I managed to keep myself motivated, I overcame the hurdles, and, at this point, CrossFit is part of my routine, in fact, it's actually one of the highlights of my day. It’s ingrained in me to a point where it almost feels like an addiction. Having tried so many different sports, what makes CrossFit unique? Why was I drawn to it? What drove me?
I never gave it much thought until a few days ago. And then it struck me! The answer was pretty much staring me in the face the whole time! From across the street actually (the fitness center is across the street from my office).
Could my commitment to OutSystems, the pleasure I get from my work, and my passion and dedication to CrossFit, be somehow correlated?
"Culture is simply a shared way of doing something with a passion."
Brian Chesky, CEO at Airbnb
There's no denying the (very unlikely) overlap between these two aspects in my life. And it seems that, contrary to common thought, they might not be two separate things.
After going through the booklet again, it's my firm belief that culture is the glue that binds my passion for OutSystems and CrossFit. This might seem like a stretch, but bear with me as I explain.
1. Know the Reasons Why
It's your duty to ask why and fully grasp the value behind each activity. It ultimately promotes alignment and a general sense of purpose. And we ensure we are delivering the right value to customers by fulfilling the right needs with the right solution. On a project, questioning every assumption corrects our course and steers us in the right direction.
And frankly, this is essential in almost everything in life. CrossFit is no exception.
After warming up, there is usually a time slot for learning and practicing new techniques. The trainer ensures everyone knows how to perform the techniques, why they are beneficial, and what the risks involved are. This regimen leads you to question if you really know your body, your limitations, even the way you eat, which is fundamental to succeeding with such high-intensity training and goals.
2. Watch out for Potential Crises
Much of what we do at OutSystems is based on trying to prevent as many issues, problems, and crises as possible. It’s pretty much like an eagle scouting and looking for its prey: our eyes and ears are wide open.
We listen to customer feedback and issues and then we reiterate our solutions to cope with scope changes and requests. We have a continuous integration validation system in place to get real-time feedback on the state of our product, from thousands of automatic regression tests; a live telemetry channel is feeding our data-driven market approach.
But no matter how proactive we are, there will still be something we miss, something that often appears to be small, something that others might think they can ignore. After all, nothing is perfect. So, we react to problems while they are still small, and can be effectively dealt with. Letting minor issues escalate can lead to serious business impacts that can't be easily contained. If you have evidence that something isn't right, don’t sit on it, act upon it immediately.
And this is pretty much true for every technical skill in CrossFit. When you don't perform them correctly, one of two things might happen: either could be seriously injured, or you could jeopardize your chances of ever nailing those exercises. Do not underestimate the risks. Listen carefully and be aware of what surrounds you.
3. Challenge the Way Things Are Done
It's one of my favorites. Don’t settle for what you get and what you have. Don’t accept “because it’s always been done this way,” as an answer when you ask why. Instead, strive to learn and bring fresh, unbiased ideas to the table. When searching for better solutions, don't hesitate, or fear failure; this is how you learn and improve.
Isn’t it amazing when a company like OutSystems that has been around for some years now keeps on innovating? What if I told you that, some of the most significant achievements we’ve had in the last few years were born from small, crazy ideas?
That’s why on the last Friday of the month, we challenge ourselves to try something new, be that new technology, new tools, new processes; we call it “My Friday.” And this is but one small example of how we treasure creativity. One day, someone might even question it, or come up with another way of doing it. And that’s okay; all ideas are welcome.
If I had to pick the best match to CrossFit, this would be one of them. Besides the fact that, in exercising, you are already proactive, this method pushes you out of your comfort zone.
You put your mobility, agility, and strength to the test in every single prescribed movement. Furthermore, given the vast diversity and range of workouts, you will most likely fail in some of them.
You see, you might be Mr. I-crush-world-weight-records. You boost your self-esteem and impress others by beating your mates in a so-called “heavy day.” But this might mean that your weight will slow you down you when someone asks you to climb a rope or do a set of burpees. Soon, you will find yourself wishing that it's over. CrossFit is a challenge to the status quo of every part of your being. It will push your body to the max: your upper body, lower body, cardio, endurance, resistance, strength, agility, mobility—you name it.
4. Help Others and Let Them Help You
Self-explanatory, right? By extending the boundaries of your work to include others and by always being available to lend a hand, you maximize cooperation and achieve better outcomes. Two heads are better than one. Additionally, the people you have helped most will likely reciprocate later, turning this into a very positive cyclic force.
In CrossFit, although you do the majority of workouts by yourself, you are not alone. Everyone in the Box (official term for a CrossFit gym) works out at the same time, side-by-side. Sometimes workouts are even done in teams of two or three. Cooperation and teamwork are vital. A sense of community and friendship reigns and no one is left behind. The workout is only over when the last person throws that barbell to the floor or the clock beeps. Until then, if you are faster, it’s your job to help others by giving them that slight mental push forward, encouraging and supporting them through the pain.
5. Prioritize to Pace Yourself
Have you ever heard about the Pareto Principle, the law of the vital few? It states that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. In software development, it means that with a small amount of your team's effort, you might be able to solve a large part of the problem at hand. It means prioritizing your work, setting clear timelines, and splitting the deliverables of the project. It becomes even more relevant in Agile projects, like the ones we have at OutSystems.
The main component in a CrossFit session, a WOD (Workout of the Day), is comparable to your development team's sprint. You plan it, you prepare for it, and when you set the goal, it’s all about meeting expectations.
So you choose the workout structure, you warm up, you rehearse the upcoming drills in your WOD, and it’s time to get the clock running. The steps are clear; you know the order. After the beep, you rush to get things done, right…? Nope, wrong! It’s absolutely fundamental that you manage the time and your effort during the workout. There is no point in speeding like a maniac for the first couple of minutes, to see yourself unable to reach the end because you ran out of fuel. On the other hand, it also makes no sense to move like a turtle, considering all the time restrictions.
You need to know when to accelerate and when to slow down. The pace is essential to achieve the goal. Both in CrossFit and in your development sprint.
6. Be Clear in Your Communication
Communication is pivotal. It is also one of the key challenges when a company like OutSystems grows at such a fast pace. Ensuring appropriate communication channels between teams and departments is difficult, but mandatory. People are usually biased, interpreting information based on their perspective and opinion. Communication tends to reflect this bias. It’s our job to change the discourse to make ourselves understood. Clearly, understanding the message is the main priority. Ever heard of the “Chinese Whispers” game? Nothing new to Software Development, am I right?
With many acronyms and a myriad of exercises, the CrossFit lingo is a complex maze for trainers and athletes. If you add the different trends (not only training but also nutrition) and philosophies behind each Box, its methodologies, the diverse set of skills, and experience each athlete brings to the table, you can probably imagine how difficult it is to find a common language everyone can understand and follow.
Respect is paramount in a Box. Communication is a means for helping less experienced members overcome their obstacles.
7. Aim for Excellence
At OutSystems, doing our best is what we’re all about. Excellence is what we do; the best is what we want to achieve every single day. Continuous improvement runs in our blood, and we are quality freaks. We would rather deliver fewer things than compromise on the quality of our assets. Teams treasure feedback and constantly iterate over their solutions. It's how we make sure that we are delivering the right value to customers.
We give our absolute best.
Are you familiar with the motto “no pain, no gain”? If you didn't finish your WOD rolling on the floor and utterly exhausted, you fell short and were not as committed as you should have been. CrossFit demands people to give their most within the available time frame. That’s how this type of training becomes effective. If you've met your predefined goals, go the extra-mile: try a new movement, add weights to the bar and keep crushing your personal record. Decrease the time it takes you to do a particular routine Increase your running distances. The list goes on and on because there really is no limit.
With Great Culture Comes… Great Success!
The challenge, the spirit, and culture are part of the reason why CrossFit grew exponentially, in the last few years. The regimen itself has existed since 2000, but it only became notorious recently. The competition, the Crossfit Games, started as a small gathering on a farm in 2007, where 70 athletes came together for a throw down and a barbecue. 2018’s edition had a record 415.000 participants worldwide. The final event, with 40 contestants, was held in a coliseum with a capacity of over 10.000 seats.
What a boom, right? Culture’s role in this success is undeniable; it’s what brings us all together and shows us the way. It makes me go to the Box even when I’m not really feeling like it, and it’s what spurs me to make sure my colleague also goes when he’s not feeling like it. Culture sets the tone, the behaviors, the expectations, a good culture provides a sense of belonging to something larger than ourselves, and a sense of purpose.
OutSystems was born back in 2001, in a garage in Linda-a-Velha in Portugal. Seventeen years later, it has reached the unicorn status, after raising $360 million, with a value of well over $1 billion. As the undisputed leader in the low-code development market, the product, people and success have grown dramatically. We now serve thousands of customers globally, and OutSystems is recognized across the world.
Culture played a significant role in the growth of OutSystems. Why? Because it defined the company’s personality. It set the stage for a healthy, cooperative and safe environment that promotes contagious enthusiasm. Our culture is recognized outside of OutSystems, either embedded in the product or in our success. It’s not only about creating a rewarding place to work—it’s why we succeed in the long run in a very competitive world.