A Study on Spotify Engineering Culture

As complementary information, I highly recommend to watch the two parts of the Spotify Engineering culture videos where Henry Knikberg explains in more detail what they have been able to accomplish and how over at Spotify.

Engineering culture in Spotify is a perfect example of how to integrate CAS theory and management. I believe this secret recipe has been instrumental in making Spotify one of the most innovative companies and one of the best places to work for. The question is, how are they able to do it?

My answer lies in what is called the “Edge of Chaos”. A chaotic or static system is doomed to die. In my previous blog I talked about why we should think of our companies as CAS. In CAS innovation and creativity are found at the edge of chaos, where interaction between members are at a maximum and the possibilities are endless.

This may be a scary notion. In this state, you want to be agile and walk a fine line between bureaucracy and chaos. This can be done by having a strong company culture in which you are able to be balanced and solve problems quickly.

How is Spotify doing this without losing control of their company and employees?

The most important part is Culture. If you have a strong and consistent culture in your company, everything will run much more smoothly because everyone is synchronized and believe in the same mission.

Spotify lets engineering groups to loosely couple but aligns them tightly to follow a common goal. Alignment enables autonomy because now each worker doesn’t have to go through dozens of supervisors to get clearance to work on something. The goal is to have a company culture that is highly autonomous and highly aligned.

Spotify also understands that Trust is more important that control. This allows flexibility and demonstrates that they care about their people. Happy employees make a happy company.

Consequently, when you have a community that believes in what it doesand knows it is being listened to, you have less necessity for structure. Structure is good to organize and have a general blue print on how and why to do things, but once these principles are internalized you are able to get rid of some bureaucracy.

Think of it like a jazz orchestra. Musicians don’t necessarily have the notes, but each player supports what the others are doing by listening closely and working together to create a beautiful improvised piece of art.

Spotify knows that having an open culture where everyone is more involved creates a company that is agile and has a fast turnaround in projects. This decreases the need of big projects and in turn you have short smaller projects. Small projects won’t overwhelm you and are much more manageable.

And finally, Spotify has cross functional teams. They are divided in guilds, and tribes, etc. depending on role, function, and other aspects. Each group has a different role allowing you to meet coworkers from other parts of the company but that have valuable expertise for the project at hand. This is not only important for the overall health of the company, but is applying the main principle of CAS: The more agents you have and the more interactions you can make between them means more possibilities of innovation.

In sum, if you’re looking to apply some of the Spotify actions in your own company you can try some specific actions:

· Implement cross-team mini projects where people from different departments or functions have to work together to achieve a certain goal.
· Work on your company’s mission.
· Make sure that every project you create has a clear objective.
· Listen to your employees, make sure that their suggestions are heard. If they have an idea of how to make something more efficient give them the tools and support. Let them give you alternatives for change.
· Reward collaboration.

Let me know what you think about this topic and if you have any suggestions for a future blog. If you decide you want to give this model a chance let me know how it works for you!

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