Plenty has been said about spotting talent, grooming talent and how a great team affects the Organisation’s fate. I believed multiple theories about human capital and saw some work and some fail in the real world. Artesanal teams are the best, to my knowledge, considering all the variables that affect a team. I want to leave a few pointers that make an artesanal team.
Conditions for Flow
Artesanal teams recognize that motivation graphs are very diverse. The conditions to spark motivation could be caused by a good lunch, great tools, at 3pm, by good music, great wall posters, clean desk, comfortable clothing, having their pets around, etc. Great teams do everything to create the right conditions for flow.
Great Work happens at human scale no matter how much you push. Staying mindful of different stake holder requirements requires human level of work. For example, there are so many teams with a culture of lunch at desk but it is highly probable that taking good break to enjoy lunch and switch off thoughts of work could sparkle appropriate decisions.
Also collaboration is a much better way to drive performance than competition.
Easiest flaw to spot. Biased hiring affects a lot of things and it’s the first source of mediocrity. Bad hires also burden the team.
Artesanal teams take the issue of pay off the table. They may not pay exorbitant salaries but they don’t pay less than the average pay in the market. Its important to acknowledge that the first concern for any employee is personal wellbeing. Organization comes second. So not addressing the concern only delays the eventual expensive exit. By the way, losing an employee is way costlier than most people realize so avoid that at all costs.
Sense of Play
There should be a sense of play for innovation to happen. It should be easy to make mistakes and learn from them. One very important process to aid this in Software Development is Automated Testing. Fear driven management doesn’t work.
Every great team has one variable that they improve upon. That variable should have a potential to go exponential and have similar cascading effect on revenue and other business metrics. For artesanal teams, this exponential is human capital. They deeply appreciate that if the average employee moves to a higher level of personal growth the organization also moves to a higher curve.
Employees need Transparent and Immediate feedback to know if they are doing well and if they can improve upon something. So create processes for regular check-ins with the mentors, customers or other qualified people so that feedback flows unfiltered to the person. And this can’t be a surprise once in 6 months that leaves no time to steer things around.
Appraisals is a sensitive issue. There should be transparency over why some employees are not rewarded. Some HR policies share only an impersonal employee rating to reflect employee performance while keeping the exact reasons opaque. This kills morale, creates a sense of alienation and most importantly blocks the feedback loop. I’ll fire that HR in under 5 minutes.
Its best to build an intrinsically motivated team because they are always improving things just for personal satisfaction. It’s a virtuous cycle. Improvements release time from mundane stuff that can be spent on more improvements. The good news is that intrinsically motivated people are the majority. So you just need to hold the space for the natural drive to flourish.
I think this aspect is re-gaining attention now. No matter the technical brilliance businesses have to respect the classical wisdom if they want to last beyond a fad. This is Lindy Effect applied to human capital. Also human beings grow exponentially. So spending 1 hour learning a new idea typically prevents a loss of 10 hours in wrong decisions.
A culture of erudition, wearing good clothing, spending time with family, vacations, sane work hours are all signals of a team rooted in classical wisdom. Of all these, the culture of erudition is perhaps the most important signal. I mean books. Not blogs. Not Buzzfeed. If you don’t have an answer for “What is your latest favourite book and Why?”, it is difficult to validate your ability to grow.
Great tools inspire and reinforce a culture of excellence. A 20 year Software Management professional told me once,
I always ask in my interviews “What are your favourite tools?”. The ones who have an answer to that question see their job as craft and not just a trade
My friend used to work at classmates.com (May that site RIP) in Hyderabad. Every morning they’d share technology news in their common chat room and discuss whether they can integrate them in their next feature. They built a reputation for being a very talented team across Hyderabad. This daily ritual must have started very casually but it created enduring value for the team and the organization.
Skin in the Game
Artesans have no agency problem. Your angry face causes a biological reaction in the body and they hate it. As a team grows there is an unhealthy habit to shield some people from the downside while they still enjoy the upside. This asymmetry created many problems - right from management insecurity, to creative employees feeling blocked of their creativity, outrageous expectations from employees etc.
Resources to learn more
- Drive by Dan H Pink
- AntiFragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
- Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
You should definitely try meditation. I recommend Headspace.com. It can almost instantaneously upgrade your whole team to the next level.