How to Get Your Team to Deliver

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Team aimlessness is a tricky foe. It creeps in even when we have the best intentions, corroding motivation and meaningful progress, rearing its ugly head in stalled projects, avoided emails, the checked-out employee.

In the world of software development, team aimlessness is public enemy number one. When it may take up to six months to a year to develop an idea into a usable application, it’s easy to lose sight of goals and your team loses steam.

If you have 83,000 lines of code, what does that mean? Where are you going? When coming into work starts to feel like Groundhog’s day, and focus dwindles, progress isn’t how many lines of code you’re writing.

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3 Surprising Leadership Lessons from a Navy Captain

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I made the decision to join the military because of an idealized notion of what life in the military would be like. Before I shipped off to Navy Officer Candidate’s School, I’d thought a career as a Naval Officer would be like something from Crimson Tide or Top Gun. The reality of life on a ship and at sea turned out to be far more pedestrian.

One bright spot was what I learned from my Captain by observing how he dealt with his crew and, more specifically, how he dealt with me. Looking back at my previous life before I’d joined the service, I realize I would have been a much more effective leader if I’d learned these leadership lessons of exercising empathy and care then.

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Failure & Cake: A Guide to Spotify’s Psychology of Success

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Nobody enjoys failing. It’s never really what you set out to do.

At Spotify, failure is cause for celebration, because it’s seen as an opportunity for growth. Jonas Aman, who is part of Spotify’s People Operations team, told us that instead of treating setbacks like speed bumps you rumble over in the course of running a business, they “celebrates thing that don’t work. It’s about the effort, not the result.”

Sometimes, failure calls for cake.

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Cells, Pods, and Squads: The Future of Organizations is Small

Think small and you will achieve big things. That’s the Yoda-esque, counterintuitive philosophy that nets Finnish game company Supercell revenues of millions of dollars a day.

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So really, how do you build a billion-dollar business by thinking small?

One key is the company’s supercell organizational model. Autonomous small teams, or “cells,” of four to six people position the company to be nimble and innovative. Similar modules — call them squads, pods, cells, startups within startups — are the basic components in many other nimble, growing companies, including Spotify and Automattic. The future, as Dave Gray argues in The Connected Company, is podular.

Still, small groups of people do not necessarily make a thriving business, as the fate of many a fledgling startup warns. What is it about the cells and pods model that presents not just a viable alternative but the future of designing how we work together?

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Why Poor Leaders Are Valuable

Thomas Edison famously replied when asked whether his repeated failures (ten thousand plus) at creating a working light bulb frustrated him: “No, I just discovered 10,000 ways that won’t work.” When someone demonstrates poor leadership, he or she is showing you one way not to make your light bulb.

My father gave me similar advice while I was attending Navy Officer Candidate School after I had complained about some of the leadership traits of my peers and senior candidates in charge of us:

Correct in yourself what you do not like in others.

This single phrase helped me see people’s weaknesses or inabilities not as a chance to point out their blemishes but to look inward and see what I could change about myself.

When people miss this lesson, it’s a wasted opportunity. You may never be able to change the person above you, but you do have the power to create a better work environment for those under you.

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The Art, Craft, and Science of Great Management

When you meet management consultant Anne Libby, you can’t help but notice her passion and clarity in talking about how to bring workplaces to their senses.

Great management, according to Anne, is a “mixture of art, craft and science” — which can be a foggy path to navigate. Throughout our interview, Anne offers both practical tips and food for thought to help managers and the people around them do their best and become great managers.

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How to Get More Out of Your Team Without Being a Micromanaging Jerk

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(Part 1 of 2 in a guest post series on setting up successful systems.)

Anthony Gatto is one of the greatest jugglers ever. He has over twelve world records to his name.  Throw him four, five or six balls, and he’ll keep juggling away, no problem. Give him a seventh, and he’ll struggle to keep juggling for ten minutes. Throw an eighth ball into the mix, and he’ll barely last a full minute.

No matter how sublime a juggler’s skills, give him too much to handle and he’ll mess up. Push a juggler too far, and he’ll never be totally Russian — juggler slang for doing a dropless show.

As a boss or manager, you can’t do it all by micromanaging. You must clear your plate to keep growing. So you hire and delegate only to see tasks come back late, incomplete, or low-quality. When that happens, you’ve either got to redo it yourself or submit shoddy work to your clients. Doing either hurts. You wonder if everything would be better if you handled it all yourself, and then you’re back at not being able to juggle it all.

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A Winning Formula for Building Successful Teams

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You need great teams in order to build great products. The way engineering director Rich Paret creates such teams at the Twitter-acquired Crashlytics — which provides mobile crash reporting — is to “hire for the culture you have, and the culture you want to have.”

The company culture at Crashlytics isn’t a collection of perks or a bunch of abstract values. It’s how people get stuff done together. When we visited Rich at Twitter Boston this past May, he emphasized how it’s the quality of a team’s communication that determines its outcomes.

How does a project become late?” he asked. As our minds ran through various scenarios and the complexities of managing a team, he broke our pondering pause with his simple answer — “Day by day.” Just as you can build meaningful progress day by day, you can also increasingly get off track to the point of failure. Communication losses accumulate, a slow but steady snowball, as the days roll by, when you’re not careful.

Consider the distribution and flow of information within a company. Too often knowledge is guarded amongst the people at the top, or cooped up in people’s heads, or trapped in silos. What happens then? As Rich puts it, islands of information” emerge. When different people know different pieces of information, it becomes progressively harder to reach across the waters just to know where the puzzle pieces are, let alone put the puzzle together.

One approach to avoiding islands and fostering a bridging, communicative culture is to hire smart and work smart. When you align people and process, you ultimately create strong values, culture, and behaviors.  Here’s a look at Rich’s formula for building awesome teams and in doing so, awesome company culture:

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4 Ways Your Community Will Help You Get Stuff Done

A community is a group of people who have gathered around a shared idea, value, concept, or interest. What people sometimes forget is how a community is also an ecosystem of supportive productivity in which people connect to help each other solve a problem or accomplish goals.

Your community can help you get stuff done. This stands true whether you’re thinking of community as part of your personal life or in relation to your company.

Our recent work with CollaborativeConsumption.com to strengthen their leadership in the “sharing economy” (or “collcon” space) is just one example of how the care, passion, and dedication of a community can enable and inspire its members to create value together.

In converting their highly-trafficked blog into an international media site with 30 global contributors, we found that community members can actually produce on behalf of the company. By creating a structured content strategy, style guide, and contributor onboarding process, CollaborativeConsumption.com increased user-generated content submissions by 650%.

Not only did this make its community more self-sufficient and scalable, their participation helped create high-quality content to educate the audience-at-large on collcons, the ultimate goal. Lauren Anderson, Chief Knowledge Officer at Collaborative Lab, explains, “We recognize collcons is a global movement and we wanted to empower local people to share stories of their region and build their profile as local leaders in the space.”

Whether your community is a book club or a B2B business coalition, whether it meets on an online platform or at in-person events, there are opportunities to increase productivity and move projects forward.

Here are a few ways you can leverage your community to get stuff done.

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Why Stack Rank Doesn’t Measure Up

In this two-part guest series, Ellen Chisa shares her experience at Microsoft and how its review system affected her psyche and productivity. (Read part 1 for an overview of Ellen’s time at Microsoft.)

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Stack ranking is a performance review system that ranks employees against each other. Critics point out that a review process that creates inevitable losers and requires managers to fight on behalf of reports is unfair and disconnected from the quality of the performance itself. Microsoft recently decided to get rid of the stack rank.

Stack ranking hurt Microsoft employees. It negatively impacted the work and damaged people’s views of themselves and their ability to improve.

Here’s how:

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