Lessons learned from the team behind Teamworks
Last week marked a big milestone for Teamworks: Our beta is now open to any manager who wants to try Teamworks. As we ramp up from a private beta to a public one, it seemed like a ripe moment to step back and reflect on a few lessons we’ve learned (or relearned).
Our team, by the way, fits many labels. We’re a small start-up — and we’re a group of upstarts in an established company. We’re design-minded coders and code-curious designers. We span multiple time zones (and multiple generations). We’re perfectionists and pragmatists. Maybe some of these labels apply to your team as well. Even if they don’t, we hope the following lessons ring true.
Lesson #1: Never take communication for granted.
It’s easy to forget this. You get busy. Or you share information with one person and hope it makes the rounds. But spending a few extra minutes to download and debrief helps prevent confusion and wasted effort down the road. Our team learned to start asking, “Is there anything I just discussed, did, or decided that someone else needs to know?”
Lesson #2: The same word can mean different things to different people.
We learned this early on, when our designers and developers agreed to do a “low res” version of one of our first tools and quickly discovered that one person’s rough is another’s refined. It was a lesson we learned again and again, with words like “test,” “failure,” “bug,” “constraint,” and many others.
Lesson #3: Being remote doesn’t need to feel remote
When you work in different locations, you rarely have casual interactions. You can’t catch someone’s eye or stop by someone’s desk. We addressed this problem by creating an always-on video chat between our NYC and SF work areas. It allows for spontaneous conversations as if we were all in the same room. We also learned to carve out time for cross-coast 1:1 check-ins — even when we don’t think there’s anything to check in about. This helps strengthen bonds that can easily fray when you don’t work together side-by-side.
Lesson #4: Gratitude trumps grumpiness
Each week we have a team meeting to reflect on what’s working and what needs improvement, and we save the last few minutes for appreciations. It’s a chance for each person to directly address another person on the team and express gratitude for something they’ve done. There’s no quota on how many you get or give — and, frankly, it feels just as good on either end. Appreciations help us reset trust and defuse the small tensions that crop up throughout the week. The ritual may sound cheesy, but if you can get over the self-consciousness of saying your first one, you’ll be hooked.
Lesson #5: The “what” is best discussed in the context of the “why.”
We are often reminded that when people see and understand the fuller context of the work, they can make better, more informed contributions in the moment. Even seemingly small decisions benefit from an understanding of the big picture. We learned to begin every meeting — every conversation, in fact — with asking and answering the question, “What’s the underlying intent?”
Lesson #6: It can be rocky joining a team that’s on a roll.
No one wants to join a team at its worst, but we also learned that it’s hard to join a team at its best. There’s an established rhythm, a common language, a shared history — all of which can be tough to break into. If you’re new, we recommend staying focused on the contributions you can make to avoid feeling paralyzed by what you don’t know. Stay curious, ask for feedback early and often, and build on your experience while being open to unlearning. And if you’re an old team member, dial up your empathy. Slow down and explain what you’re doing and thinking and why. Give thoughtful feedback when you notice small disconnects, and ask for feedback, too.
Lesson #7: Any team can be a great one. No team stays great without work.
We often joke that over the course of making this product, we’ve moved though all the Teamworks team types—from “Inspired but Tired” to “Fierce but Fragmented” to “On a Roll.” Teams are constantly changing, and keeping a team in flow requires deliberate attention. When we took the Teamworks diagnostic last week, we got On a Roll. We’re hoping to stay that way for a while, but we’re starting work on a new habit next week. Because you never know…
We’d like to end this post with a round of appreciations: A big thank-you to the smart and dedicated folks in our private beta — your insights have been invaluable. Thank you to everyone on our team for putting their hearts and souls into Teamworks: Audrey, Beth, Dan O., Dan P., Diana, Jo, Julie, Keith, Najati, Susan, and Shahirah. Much gratitude as well to Brian for pouring so much of himself into Teamworks in our early days — we wouldn’t be here without him — and to Aldric and Jacob for being here in our most crucial hours. Thank you to Nancy for sharing her learnings from Unstuck. And, finally, thank you to Denis, Jeremy, Melissa, Michael, Pablo, Patrick G., Patrick P. Wes, and everyone else who helped us make it this far.