Cultural Change: The most fundamental task. The most difficult task?

It is one thing to talk about "best practises". It is quite another to have them implemented and working effectively within a team or organisation. Since the end of June, when I took a team on to shape and mould into an Operations team, perhaps the most striking problem has been some members' shear resistance to adopting new working practises. This has to be a problem in any organisation attempting to improve.

In particular, I want the team to make notes on their incident investigations. There are a multitude of reasons for this, such as allowing other engineers to review and continue the work if necessary and allowing the notes to be reviewed retrospectively if similar incidents occur in future.

My first and default method for getting the engineers to follow this practise was to tell the team quite simply what my expectations were and that we should be doing with respect to taking notes. This was enough for one of the team of 5 to take it all on board and start working as expected.

I then worked through some problems and showed how this could be of benefit. No further engineers were swayed to this new way of working.

The next step was to organise a "training". In this, I invited the users of the Operations teams - project manager, developers and others who would be using the services of the Operations team. I asked them to tell me what they thought would make a great Operations team. They came up with suggestions like "knowledge sharing in the team", "clear idea of where an investigation is and the process". I then went through how I would investigate a problem using this note taking working practise and how this satisfied their requirements. Almost all the users liked what they saw and approved.

The training had an interesting affect - one of the engineers requested to change teams soon afterwards, leaving a team of 4. The others became more convinced of the usefulness, but after an initial stab at trying the new method, soon reverted to their old ways.

After a major incident, a retrospective was held and some of the same themes re-emerged: the need to knowledge share, the need for more logging/notes on the investigation. These themes came from the team members themselves, yet still behaviours have not changed and the working practises have not been adopted.

During and after other incidents, users have sent emails relating to these same points and themes. The team members have seen these mails, yet still continue to work in the same way.

Changing working practises and creating a working environment where this is possible has now become the major and most fundamental issue. Everything else, such as what kind of things are "best practise" or IT Service processes, is a secondary issue.

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