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Lessons Learned the Hard Way

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Ricardo Fiel, Cloud Solutions Architect at Microsoft, gave a presentation at the Scrum Gathering Portugal 2016 on some common ground he has found when collaborating with several types of organizations and about the lessons he has learned on his way while trying to leverage teams’ environment.

Fiel mentioned Tony Robbins, an author and speaker and his Ted Talk “Why We Do What We Do?” to explain not only the six human needs - certainty, variety, significance, connection / love, growth and contribution - but also our two primary fears as human beings:

  • Not being loved
  • Not being good enough

He also presented the pyramid of the five dysfunctions of a team from Patrick Lencioni to get in some more detail on the things one should avoid when fighting for a healthy workspace and team environment.

Based on the former, he considers that an ideal team environment should comply with the following: safety first, extreme autonomy, focused on growth, transparency and fun. To achieve an environment as described, the lessons shared by Fiel were:

  • Hiring slow
  • Firing fast
  • Onboarding is critical
  • Make quitters your raving fans
  • Get rid of toxic people
  • Focus on the company’s underlying principles
  • Kill performance reviews
  • Give people autonomy and empowerment
  • Support remote people
  • Foster transparency
  • Treat everyone like the responsible adult they are

InfoQ talked to Fiel to get into some more detail on the approached topics:

InfoQ: Your lessons learned are mostly focused on people. What about technology, office conditions and other perks? Are these of less importance when creating an ideal team environment?

Ricardo Fiel: People and culture come first. Smart people in a room with no light will always perform at higher standards than mediocre people in an amazing office, so perks are a nice to have, of course, but not mandatory. Same for processes and tools. Outstanding teams focus on solving problems in elegant ways, even if the tooling is not perfect. I do believe, however, that teams should always have the best tools available.  

InfoQ: You’ve identified a set of characteristics for an ideal team environment. Does the organisation’s size impact the individual relevance of each one?

Fiel: Yes, it does. Based on my experience, communication increasingly becomes a challenge. And sometimes, it's the actual team members that don't want to be involved in a few topics. Ricardo Semler, in his astonishing "Maverick" book, breaks a company into two whenever it reaches around 40 people.

InfoQ: Performance reviews, bonus and career progressing are a typical concern of the employees. Can you detail what you’re proposing here?

Fiel: I have yet to see a performance review that has actual impact on the team, except for salary and bonuses. I've seen great attempts to have 360 feedback among all team members, only to realize people were not fully transparent in their reviews. The best teams I've seen gather around once a month or quarter to give honest feedback to each other, in an emotionally safe environment. I tried this and the results, in terms of actionable steps for everyone, were far better than performance reviews. Usually it lasts half a day, and it's a good investment.   

InfoQ: Last question, what do you think about celebration of success (and failure) and its importance in the context of a team environment?

Fiel: By all means, do it. Celebrate minor wins and learn from failures. Also, let the team schedule their own events outside work, like surf days, football, dinners, whatever. It makes wonders for team morale. As for office space, the teams should arrange as they wish, placing whatever makes them feel like home in the walls. I've seen teams sticking toys on walls whenever a milestone is reached or something really good happens. Encourage this behavior. It's their space. 

The full presentation is available here.


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