Self-organizing team

Arthit Hongchintakul

30 April 2015

If anyone asks what I am most proud about my company, it is the people. We have a happy culture that is mature and professional, despite their young age.

In March, I had the opportunity to travel abroad for a month. Quite a few people that knew of my trip, and the length of it, were quite deeply concerned. Won’t it affect your operation? Your trip is a month long, and you’re about to launch your product quite soon. For me, I did have a long consideration of my own and decided I can take the trip without affecting much on our operation. I am very confident that my team are able to chug along smoothly without much of my supervision. The team has proven that I am correct. How do I get such confident? How am I right? The answer lies in the great effort we make everyday, with or without my presence.

Start with a good attitude

Right from the get-go, we look for candidates who demonstrate mature and professional attitude. Strangely enough, it gets harder to distinguish right from wrong. We look for people who can do that. Our interview screening involves the candidate having a lunch with their potential team members. We capture the feedback from the team. We gauge our feeling toward the candidate. We look for professionalism, learning ability, and integrity. This gives us a strong foundation to develop on.

Everyone wants to be a good person

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs suggests that beside survival, being fed, and getting sleep, love and belonging is the next most basic need to all human being. That is what we do. We encourage and reward good behavior. We do not put pressure or oppress bad ones. We, however, give constructive feedback along with suggestions on how we all can improve. The model fits quite nicely with the principle of Agile development. When we have enough love/belonging, we start moving up the hierarchy: esteem, and then self-actualization.

Career development doesn’t stop at aptitude

To have good esteem, we need know know what others appreciate. To know what others appreciate, the easiest way is for them to tell us. Retrospec, a simple but very powerful Agile tool, provides such platform for these activities. We use the Retrospec to reflect on what we can do, how we can do better. We talk about how to manage when the supervisor is away. (we communicate remotely, and sometimes, we can respect our team member’s decision). We talk about what to do when the supervisor is out of reach (we have the priority of stories set, along with a certain amount of backlog. If you can’t do one, you can do another.). We have respect for each other to do the right thing. That’s because we have the same picture of what the right thing means. We all know what kind of behavior we have appreciation for, we have the capability to meet such goal. Self-esteem is therefore within reach. Now that we are happy about ourselves, do we stop there? No. We know we can do much better. We are well a long way from perfection. What do we do? We learn new things. That’s self-actualization.

I don’t need the best. I need a better you.

It’s a great notion to be the best in something. The disappointment, however, is always around the corner. That one day, someone will beat you. It’s impossible for you to be the best in whatever forever. Even a record that held for 1,000 years can be broken. Also, trying to be the best will put us to the test and we will give in and forget all the integrity and belief we have so that we can beat the best. I don’t care about the best. All I care is for my team to be better than they were yesterday. Better by an inch, a foot, a mile, I don’t care. Better, that’s good enough for me. How to be a better person? First you need to know where you are, which way to go that is better, and how to measure your progress. It all circles back to a good feedback loop. What do you want to do in the long run? Eventually junior has to become senior; an associate has to become a manager; a bachelor will become a father. We have a clear development path for everyone, and we make progress towards the long term goal. We provide coaching in skills, in attitude so that our team can grow to meet that goal.

Over the month that I was away, the team has exactly the same velocity. As if I was around the whole time. We did have our product demo. I did signed-off a large bit of stories. Even our interns got to demo their stories. We have a teleconference to rehearse the intern’s senior project presentation for their graduation. I got to run around in the thick snow, and learn a lot about what went on in the outside world. And I got the best reward of all: my team is amazing.