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GILT VP Heather Fleming on Unlocking the "Secret Sauce" of Great Teams


In this week's podcast QCon chair Wesley Reisz talks to Heather Fleming, who is the VP of product and program management at GILT, where she is responsible for not only the customer-facing website, but also back office things from distribution to order processing.

Previously, Heather held a dual role in leading Product and Project Management for XO Group. Heather will be presenting Unlocking the “Secret Sauce” of Great Teams at QCon New York on June 15.

Key Takeaways

  • GILT treats every person as an individual, with a skillset that is outside their responsibilities.
  • You should be able to be your authentic self wherever you are.
  • Google found creating a psychologically safe work environment was key to high performing teams.
  • You can kill a great team by taking away their autonomy and empowerment.
  • Great engineers that want to be managers are fearful of losing their skill, and great engineers that don't want to be managers are put in those roles and are terrible managers.

Show Notes

QCon Talk and the "ingredients framework" behind GILT

  • 2m 04s - One of the things that makes the culture at GILT so special is the "ingredients framework" that considers every person an individual, with a skillset that is outside what their title might say and what their role and responsibilities might be.
  • 3m 29s - One of the team ingredients is called "motivator" - the ability to make sure that the team understands what they're working on, and more importantly the "why" and how it's driving business or customer value.
  • 4m 35s - The relationship you have with your co-workers should be deeper than many of us are allowing them to be, because they are like your second family.
  • 4m 50s - Maybe your motivation is just a pay cheque. But it's so important when you get to work for it to feel like another home.
  • 5m 23s - You should be able to be your authentic self wherever you are.
  • 5m 35s - How do you create that space, and get people to connect on a much deeper level?

A "psychologically safe" work environment

  • 6m 12s - Google did an in-depth study to understand how high performing teams operate, from a data perspective. According to the New York Times article on the study, a key finding was that "psychological safety", more than anything else, was critical to making a team work.
  • 6m 38s - It's not just about a safe environment where failure is allowed, but being authentic and sharing yourself and what's happening in your life, as a human being.
  • 7m 05s - The secret sauce is how do you bring your whole human being to work, and how do employers create that safe environment where you can be authentic?
  • 7m 26s - It's not always just about the work, there's a lot of stuff happening in our lives outside of work that affect how we act and behave.

Effecting change in your team

  • 8m 27s - One of the ingredients we have in our team is "cruise director" who is responsible for team building activities and social events- ways in which you can connect with each other outside the day-to-day, work execution mode.
  • 9m 31s - Every company has a very different culture and organisation. If I wanted to kick off this process in a team I would spend some time thinking about the organisational culture and the team culture, and come up with a list of ingredients that I think would make a team successful in my organisation.
  • 10m 18s - You can take your set of data and go to your team lead, or someone else in the company who has influence who could be a champion for that kind of thing, and start making those connections.

How is this working for GILT?

  • 10m 48s - The teams that are all green- that have every ingredient that makes a team awesome at GILT- those are the teams that people are asking to be on.
  • 11m 05s - There is something about the teams that are green- those are the teams that are performing the best across every metric.
  • 11m 30s - You can just see it in how the team treats each other.

How to destroy a great team

  • 12m 00s - Take away a lot of their autonomy and empowerment.
  • 12m 26s - Deadline-driven cultures kill teams.

Finding and growing great engineering managerial talent

  • 13m 07s - An engineer may be great at what they do, but they get put into the team lead role and that might not be something they are interested in or good at.
  • 13m 40s - Those engineers that want to go into people management and are really good at it have a fear that if they let go of the keyboard they are going to lose all of their skill as a coder.
  • 14m 20s - Great engineers that want to be managers are fearful of losing their skill, and great engineers that don't want to be managers end up being put in those roles and are terrible managers.

Companies mentioned


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