How To Make Small Teams Actually Work With Terrible Communication

8981473860_427a454be6_kAmazon is a mess. In the words of one former Amazon.com engineer: “their hiring bar is incredibly inconsistent across teams,” “their operations are a mess,” “their facilities are dirt-smeared cube farms without a dime spent on decor or common meeting areas,” “their pay and benefits suck,” and “their code base is a disaster, with no engineering standards whatsoever except what individual teams choose to put in place.”

It’s madness! No, it’s Amazon.com. They do a lot of things totally wrong. But they make up for it (and then some) by doing one thing really, really right.

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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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3 Simple Systems Tweaks for Growing Your Business

In Part 1 of this series, guest poster Mandi Ellefson showed how focusing on systems within your business brings out the best. In Part 2, she explains how to choose what to target for the most momentum.

If you want to grow your business more sustainably, be proud of every project you deliver to clients, and get the best out of your team — build systems. Focusing on your business processes empowers you and your team to do great work and see more creative, reliable results.

But if you’re impatient like me, you want to see that improvement quickly. The good news is you can begin right away with this simple method: Start small, and change one thing at a time.

Why? You’ll get immediate feedback. By focusing on one change at a time, you can isolate the results of every change you make. Putting more than one change into the mixing pot makes it tricky to analyze. Even small changes can have larger consequences. Your business is an ecosystem, so tweaking one thing can cause multiple effects.

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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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The Benefits of a Power Nap: The Best of the Internet

Make it CountFriday link love! Catch up with the best of what we’ve shared on the interwebs this week:

Why Does Your Work Matter?

The Science Behind Why Small Teams Work More Productively.

Why You Shouldn’t Scale Your Startup

Technology: “For everything we gain, we lose something in return.”

Microaggression & Mismanagement

Naps are amazing. ‘nuff said.

imageDundee’s Tip of the Week: We’re working on the start of an iDoneThis newsletter. Interested in being that super special person who will give us helpful feedback and suggestions? Sign up for some test runs until we learn how to officially fly here.

 

Make Your Life Easier: The Best of the Internet

Lil girlHappy Friday – Double Awesomeness Edition! Catch up with the best of what we’ve shared on the interwebs these past 2 weeks: 

This dull skill makes for excellent management.

How to make your life easier.

The most engaged employees work at small companies.

Spark happens when we create the conditions for it to do so.

The extreme habits of great remote teams.

Culture prevents people from jumping ship.

3 motivational mind tricks.

imageDundee’s Tip of the Week:  Keep track of specific kinds of dones by using #hashtags!

 

Anywhere in the text of your done or comment, type “#” followed by a keyword or topic name, like this: #reimbursements or #win.

The Most Engaged Employees Work at Companies of 10 People and Fewer

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A recent survey published by Gallup showed that when employee engagement is broken down by company size, the smallest companies have the most engaged employees—and it wasn’t even close.

42% of employees working at small companies of ten and fewer reported that they were engaged at work, a huge increase over the 27% to 30% of engaged people at larger companies.

Unfortunately, only 9% of the U.S. employees work in small companies compared with the 44% of people who work at companies with over 1,000 employees —and that’s why we’ve seen a massive push from even the largest enterprises into organizing in small, self-contained teams.

Here are three fascinating illustrations of why employees in small companies are more engaged at work and what that means for you and your company.

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The Culture Hacker

We’ve seen an interesting trend at companies that are extremely culture-focused: the culture hacker. Software developers have built internal developer productivity tools since time immemorial because great engineering cultures push for automation and improving iteration speed. But now developers are turning their attention to addressing team dynamics and how the whole company functions and works together on the whole — in a word, culture.

Zappos: making values concrete with process and code

At many companies, company values are just words on a piece of paper tacked to a wall somewhere. At Zappos, they’re extremely thoughtful about giving their values bite. For example, they’re famous for paying new employees to quit. After new employee training ends, each employee is offered the opportunity to quit their job and walk away with $1,000. They do this because one of the Zappos core values is “be passionate and determined”, and paying people to quit ensures that those who remain are incredibly enthusiastic about their work and in it for the long haul.

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Company with the “World’s Least Powerful CEO” Makes $2.5 Million Every Day

The popular depiction of the CEO is the titan of industry who rules with an iron fist. The CEO’s will is the employees’ command.

Supercell CEO Ilkka Paananen, the world's least powerful CEO, organized Supercell into autonomously-working cells

Not so at Supercell, a remarkable Finnish company that’s making $2.5 million dollars every day and has been described as “the fastest growing company ever.” Supercell CEO Ilkka Paananen, calls himself “the world’s least powerful CEO”, and that’s not the surprising part. What’s incredible is that Paananen made himself a weak CEO by design:

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