Last week, I was in a meeting with part of my engineering team. It was just like any other recent meeting (lively technical discussion interspersed with laughter), but it was a perfect representation of the brilliant, efficient and goofy team that has made this past year of work so enjoyable.
I put a ton of time and energy into shaping this team, as individuals and as a whole. Despite warnings about perpetuating stereotypes by becoming the "mom" of the team (an organizational role that women typically fill), I choose to intentionally foster team dynamics because of how positively it impacts team output. When we enjoy each other's company and encourage each other to be better, we are happier and more collaborative.
People first. As a remote-first company, we reside all over the world (Seattle to Florida to Croatia), with something like 6 different accents. We have vegans and non-vegans, parents and non-parents. With so much diversity, in-person time is extra crucial to establish common ground and build empathy. In May, we did a quick team gathering in San Francisco and in December, we all joined the company offsite in Palm Springs.
Spending time together allows us to connect as people and not just transactional colleagues. When we all genuinely like each other, we don't have to spend time sugarcoating communication. It also means we support and cover for each other through family emergencies, natural disasters and severe illness, all of which we've endured together this year. The real proof is that we've all started referring to our partners, children and pets by their names, because they’ve become part of our team as well.
Maintain a quality bar. This is the part of my job that I lose the most amount of sleep over. Even though we have fun together, we come to work every day to exchange labor for compensation. As an IC, I've been on teams where people would complain an underperforming peer, and the manager's lack of enforcement would be a silent acceptance of the level of output that was tolerable. As a result, everyone would get just a little bit worse. Being judicious about performance management is crucial to your team health and output.
Additionally, whether it's insolence or lack of motivation, some folks don't think that contributing to a positive work environment is part of the job requirement. I only ever want people on my team who actually want to be there and are willing to contribute to an environment of positivity (i.e. be someone people want to work with). This creates a healthy culture of optionality for each team member, to know that you are surrounded by people who are also choosing to be here.
I am really lucky to work with every individual on this team. Even though I cannot come close to capturing the feeling of camaraderie, in Palm Springs, I witnessed two members of the team sharing a slice of cake, four of them debugging a heat lamp, and the whole team pitching into tracking Jeff Warren’s every move so our resident fanboy could meet him.