One of the things that is hard to appreciate in complex systems is path-dependence — the fact that most systems have memory. What we see today is a consequence of what came before. This is a very simple thing to say but even when we know it, we forget it and we don’t really think about its ramifications. If we want to change things, it helps to be upstream of the change. The earliest decisions are often the most significant ones. The things we have to react to are often most determinative of how we work.
Practice change and organizational learning are two areas where this is important.
Teams that want to adopt different practices often try them for a while and then revert back to the old way of doing things. It's easy to see why. When we are surrounded by artifacts and systems that represent an earlier way of doing things, it is almost like they have a magnetic pull. What we believe is possible depends upon what we’ve experienced and it’s unfortunate that many people haven’t experienced great culture, teams, or technical practice. Training, workshops and books can help but they aren’t real experience; they are borrowed experience. They aren’t the same as a real work environment.
If we accept that the earliest experiences we have are most significant and that the best learning happens in the work, it becomes important to find the teams that are doing well. Hire people into these teams and let that be their first work experience in your company. These teams become gateways for participation in the rest of the organization.
Because work is a socio-technical system, it isn’t just the team that matters. Do you have a few products with exemplary code, great continuous delivery practice and people who are kind to each other? If you do, bring people into your organization through those products' teams. At the very least, having worked with one of those teams for a few months, they will know what “good” looks like. It’s the early experience that helps them see what is possible and what to strive for in culture and practice.
You might be worried that once people go through the gateways they’ll be despondent if they end up working on products that aren’t doing as well. It’s going to happen. Support them and help them make it all better. Remember that it is better than bringing people directly into teams without a north star, or guiding experience of what your organization can be.
Give people the important experiences first. It's a way to curate culture and practice as you grow.