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InfoQ Homepage News Building High-Trust and High-Performing Teams at Shopify in a Remote World

Building High-Trust and High-Performing Teams at Shopify in a Remote World

Jesse McGinnis spoke at QCon San Francisco on building high-trust and high-performing teams at Shopify in a remote world. He started by pointing out his talk on high-trust teams in a remote world. Having capable humans with the proper focus helps them to achieve high trust. According to McGinnis, it evolves around one core idea: "Intentionality," based on the two-and-a-half years of transformation to fully remote at Shopify.

He pointed out that:

There are three areas of focus—first, focus on trust, second first impressions, and third good digital conversations. 

He started with the idea that intentionality always matters and is now necessary. In a digital world, intentional spaces for conversations at the water cooler, hallway conversations, and vibes in a meeting room all have to be recreated. For example, McGinnes talks about walking into the office patio in the morning and meeting colleagues engaged in a conversation. By picking up the storyline, people learn certain things from each other and get ideas, make mental notes, and get closer to each other. How does that work in a digital world where we are all remote?

The first step is to focus on trust. Trust is the foundation of a high-performing team, whether you are remote or in-person- more important remote! Trust as humans are foundational before trust as a team can emerge. McGinnes explains that trust is essential as it provides a shared ground for when things get shaky, provides a space for challenges to become learning experiences, and builds and shapes shared empathy. This is important in a digital world as communication is more fragmented, with fewer nuances when working remotely. Mistakes will happen because of miscommunication, yet trust allows one to recover, learn, and evolve.

McGinnes concludes with his first major takeaway, trust as humans; build it as it is foundational to high-performing teams. But "How?" is the question. For that, intentional space is required for relationship building. Areas where people can have fun playing virtual games, zoom calls with animals, and so on. Additionally, there needs to be room for real talks, by for instance, leveraging questions available in New York Times: The 36 Questions that lead to love (ranging from surface level to profound questions). And finally, create space to go deep to discover the full human. 

To make it work, McGinnes pointed out:

I cannot state enough how important facilitation is. You really need to establish a space of safety, openness, and honesty if you want this to work. If you do that, you are going to reap some beautiful rewards.

To illustrate discovering the full human, he provided an example with a life graph exercise. And to conclude, McGinnes stated you need to have fun, a space for real conversations, and the occasional moment to learn from someone. It would help if you had all of these things with the right balance and variety. This brings him to his second major takeaway: Fun, real talk, and recognizing the full human by mixing it up

Next, McGinnes discussed communication environments in the world of digital: written, video, and in-person. The first is where the most time is spent; video communication usually happens a few times a week, while in-person communication usually only happens a few times per year (in a remote company). Written communication is most susceptible to readers’ emotions and is well-suited for sensitive, people-oriented conversations or topics. Video provides a better in-person feel, yet doesn’t for instance scale in the same way as in-person does.  And lastly, in-person in a remote company is still necessary for having drinks, activities, and socializing – creating intense moments. 

McGinnes continues with his next major topic: first impression matters, aka onboarding. Onboarding has always played a critical role in the cultural setting – even more so in a remote setting; everything requires intentionality. In the digital world, it is a lot more challenging to ask for help, and as a lead, it is difficult to see who is lost. McGinnes claimed that onboarding could bring the tools to make that better. With onboarding, an organization provides information about when they can reach out or to whom. In addition, there are tools to navigate through the digital sea. And that brings it to McGinnes’ third major takeaway: Care more about onboarding.

This is such a high-leverage, high-impact moment that lays the foundation for everyone's success. This is a really rare opportunity to establish and maintain the culture that you care about as a digital company.

McGinnes explains that a company must establish a culture, a mandate, and a purpose to accomplish that well. Furthermore, it needs to set up the roles and organization and give perspective. And finally, lay the groundwork for the technical and system wayfinding, the technical tools one uses, how systems fit together, and where one can find more. For example, McGinnes disclosed the onboarding at his company Shopify, which takes four weeks. Furthermore, he provides other takeaways to build diverse networks during the onboarding.

The last topic McGinnes wanted to touch upon by sharing a few tips and tricks, was effective digital conversations, which are necessary to support all the ideas (topics) discussed earlier. These tips and tricks are:

  • The number of humans matters a lot (which is also a takeaway). Remember:
    • 1-5 - you can almost have a natural conversation
    • 6-12 - with careful facilitation, everyone can participate
    • 13+ - people are here to watch someone talk
  • Why is this meeting happing in the first place? Have an agenda, have a purpose, have it written down, and share it with people in advance. Be upfront about the role you'll play in facilitation. And what are the rules of engagement in the meeting? For instance, turn the microphone off and the camera on, snooze Slack notifications, turn off the camera when stepping out, and be on time.
  • Use the tools available. For instance, when someone wants to speak, they should use the "raise-hand" feature, and use break-out rooms to focus on work.
  • Manage energy by providing breaks at meetings, stretching, and moving.

All of the tips require facilitation, which is one of the last takeaways McGinnes provides. He ends the talk with the final takeaway: it’s all about intentionality.

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