What Makes a Great Engineering Culture?

The benefits of a great engineering culture breed great bottom lines. If that isn’t enough to impress the importance of fostering and developing a great engineering culture within your company, also consider; increased product development, and engineer retention. Happy, challenged engineers stay on your team. Here are some successful methods to improve your engineering culture and affect your bottom line.

1. Recognize where you are right now.
Some say making a great engineering culture starts with hiring, but what if you have an existing team and just want to make it a better team? What if it’s a dysfunctional team and your need to make major changes? Take an inventory of your team and processes. Determining what is working, and what isn’t, becomes the first priority.

2.  Have well defined Objectives.
“The development of a successful engineering team starts with well-defined objectives and full commitment of the upper management” says Antonio Reis former VP of International Battery.
“In the process to assemble or structure an engineering team, I always consider good knowledge in at least one key subject related to the objectives/project requirements, adequate experience and complimentary to others.
Engineering teams where individuals complement each other create better working environments and performance. A mechanical design engineer with insight on ergonomics can indirectly complement the industrial/manufacturing engineers. A quality engineer with risk analyzes expertise can contribute to the change management early in the design change process. A software engineer with decent CAD & markup skills compliments the machine design and process documentation”.

3. Create a development friendly, non-Dilbert like setting. One of the most common reasons engineers leave their current companies is because they sit in a cubicle doing the same thing day after day. They are unchallenged and they never see the project they are working on from start to finish.
Engineers, especially product developers thrive in a unique, creative environment where they can be intellectually stimulated to create or problem solve.  I don’t advocate an engineering environment has to look like romper room or resemble a playground with, medicine balls, and posters of ’80s metal bands throughout the office.

4. Stimulate creativity and passion. “…, any technical challenge requires large doses of creativity which, in my opinion, constitutes the core value of a Great Engineering Culture. says Marco Genova, VP Engineering at LandiUSA.   “ When you think of creativity, you think the world of music, painting, art in general. Basically, you think at the in-depth study of theory and practice of a particular profession. Creativity is nothing magical or artistic but rather is the ability to go into the details of each element of a problem and, at the same time, to have a view from above which allows seeing the whole picture. “ 
Make sure your engineers are allowed to bring their creativity and imagination to the work they do. Reward them for individual innovation and achievements. Don’t create an overly competitive atmosphere, but spotlight great work whenever possible.

5. Make logic-driven decisions. It might be a generalization, but engineers tend to be logic-driven people. When we’re given a directive, we want to be sure it’s based on logic and (if possible) supported by data. If people from other departments (business development, marketing) are making wish lists or demands that will affect an engineer’s workload, make sure they’re supported by logic and facts, not just blind estimates and “gut-feelings.” Many an engineer has worked long hours only to find out that their work was low priority, or worse, unnecessary, due to somebody’s “gut feelings.” That’s what engineers call a “punch in the gut.”

6. Hiring. It is important to hire great people, yet they don’t all have to be “superstar” engineers.  Some say – “only hire the Best” and avoid “B” level engineers. Yet, I’ve seen many “B” level engineers become “A” level with the right attitude, desire and mentoring by their manager. It’s the unmanageable, the arrogant attitude, the “know –it-all” that thinks he/she knows everything and is closed minded to new ways, new ideas, new process, that are detrimental to a great team. When hiring, once you’ve determined technical skills, look for behavior, attitude. Interview using good behavioural question relevant to your team and desired culture. Some managers use behavioural assessments such as DISC as a tool to help in their decision making.  Always check references and talk with former supervisors and co-workers to confirm their answers as well.

In the next issue: common denominators that permeate throughout a great engineering team

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