DOM PRICE is the head of R&D and work futurist at Atlassian. Originally from Manchester, now living in Sydney, Australia, Dom spends half his time on the road between the US, Europe, and Australia. We discuss what Atlassian struggles with and how they share and scale knowledge throughout their organization. We also discuss how they manage communication with teams having different backgrounds, cultures. and rituals – and what they do when conflict arises.
His tips on working remotely:
- Have a single source of truth.
- Evolve your rituals and disciplines to engage your remote colleagues.
- When one person is remote, everyone is remote. Try to level the playing field. If we’re distributed, we’re all equal.
- Giving people freedom allows them to bring their best selves to work. Bringing your best self to work doesn’t mean commuting into an office.
- Spend time together face-to-face. You can build relationships in person, and maintain them remotely.
- When working with different time zones, use your “overlap time” wisely.
- Before you try any products, make sure you get your practices right. If you don’t understand the disciplines of how you want to work with someone, no tool will solve that.
- Experiment and explore: try small things.
Podcast production by Podcast Monster
Graphic design by Alfred Boland
Lisette: Welcome to the Collaboration Superpowers podcast, my name is Lisette and I’m interviewing people and companies doing great things remotely.
Hello everybody and welcome to episode number one hundred sixty-eight I’m so glad you’re here. Today I’m doing an interview with Dom Price the head of R and D and work futurists at Atlassian and I know that a lot of you listeners out there are in the software world and if you’re in the software world you know Atlassian. You’ve used one of their products for sure in the past in your career but before we get into the interview I want to give you guys this week’s one minute tip.
This week’s tip is ‘when one person is remote then everyone’s remote,’ and again I got this tip straight from the interview with Dom who says that at Atlassian they really try to level the playing field as much as possible. So they move the conversation from being remote to being distributed and Dom says that when you’re distributed everyone’s equal. Whereas when you’re remote you have some people who are in an office somewhere and other people who are remote and that automatically gives an ‘us versus them mentality.’ So whenever possible try and level the playing field I did a whole podcast episode about; ‘When one person is remote the whole team should be remote,’ and that was back in episode sixty-nine. So go check that out, okay but let’s get on to the interview because this one was a really good one and those of you who are longtime listeners will notice that my voice sounds different which is because we were recording at eight thirty in the morning, and I know that’s not very early to some of you but I’m not a morning person. I am definitely more of a night out, so for me, eight thirty was early. Dom is located in Sydney Australia, so it was five thirty in the afternoon for him, now like I said before Dom is the head of R and D at Atlassian, he’s also of work futurist we get into all of that, but what I really like is his insight into what it was that teams at Atlassian were struggling with and then what were some of the experiments that they did in order to solve those issues, and then share what they found with the rest of the team globally. So get out your note taking device because this interview is chock full of information without further ado here is Dom price from Atlassian.
Let’s start with the first question which is what does your virtual office look like, what do you need to get your work done?
Dominic: My virtual office, actually I think I’ve probably got about twenty virtual offices, like I have this weird advantages because I work in so many different places whether it be the Australia office other offices around the globe, airport lounges, hotels, kind of shared office space. One of the things I like is I like to alternate between when it’s that deep work whether it be noise canceling headphones or just some peace and quiet to get my deep work done and when do I actually want to be in a space where there are other people to provoke me, because some of my best ideas are the ones that I get to spar with people. So it’s not always about alone time, a lot of it is about bumping into a stranger also who I’ve not seen for ages and throwing an idea at them and getting up at a whiteboard or do something interactive, yeah the same old stuff like. My laptop and Wi-Fi is essential, I’d be lost without it, but for me it’s alternating between the peace and quiet so it’s just me world where I get to be my tasks and then how does that differ from the times when I want to be surrounded by other people and grab their ideas and their cognitive diversity.
Lisette: Was it difficult for you to figure out what you needed in these different places or was it just kind of a natural process. I mean did you have to experiment a bit.
Dominic: I’d love if it was natural, it would have been a hell of a lot easier. I’ll be honest it’s an absolute night mare. I only realized how many of my disciplines and rituals where embedded in being in an office when I left the office. Because when I took on this role it logically just made sense ‘oh I’ll travel a bit,’ and I’ve traveled before. I’ve had the fortune of traveling with my entire life but I hadn’t really acknowledged how different it would be when you went from the on trip to being on the road half the time. I would say the vast majority of my rituals completely failed me, because you end up trying to do every job in every location, you end up trying to be on twenty four by seven. You end up wanting to answer every call, every inquiry at the work everywhere for everything, and you quickly realize. I slowly realized that I was doomed to fail, so I had to alter the vast majority of my disciplines and rituals to still be effective in that kind of remote.
Lisette: Yeah I can imagine it’s definitely not the same, the office gives us a routine that doesn’t work everywhere. We’re going to get to the whole ‘twenty four seven always on’ thing but I want to first dive into it says you’re a work futurist at Atlassian, what is a work futurist? Head of R and D I can intellectualize that but I work futurist that could mean a lot of things.
Dominic: Yes, so what it means for us is we realize that a lot of the products and experiences that we build and the behaviors that we’re trying to change our behaviors that are embedded in the fact that the world is changing. It’s changing in epic right, the rate of competition, the war for talent, the fact that you kind of if you want to hire the best people you might need to hire them where they are, which isn’t necessarily where you are. How do you understand [inaudible – 05:32], how you understand your customers and the fact that their demands increase at an exponential rate, and when you’ve got all that change the thing that’s going to kill business is status quo. Is the belief that it’s just efficiency and as long as I understand the past, you know if I was successful last year, therefore, I must be successful this year or next year and I just bet that the holds true anymore. So out of my role and this is why I’ve split fifty, fifty half of it is internally in Atlassian, do we scale our business? We never want to be famous for being vague, we want to be famous for being awesome and that requires us to unlearn an awful lot of habits and rituals from the past and try new things. Then as we learn new ways of working how do we go and share that goodness, that secret source and not make it a secret and share it with others, so that we all get to benefit from how we can work better in the future as teams. I’m a big advocate of the fact that the human side of teamwork, about how humans work together is something that we still need to unlock and unleash because I think we feel like we’re in competition with each other, and we are worried about the robots taking our jobs and I’m convinced the robot won’t take my job. I’m convinced a person might, a human could quite easily take my job so I don’t know why we are worrying about the robots. So trying to find the human aspect of teamwork and getting teams to unleash their potential is something that I think we can do in the future but there’s a lot of learning from the past for that to be effective.
Lisette: Yeah indeed, yeah and I think Hollywood has a lot to do with the robot overlord [inaudible – 07:05] images that are coming about.
Dominic: I think there’s also a human side which is we like to blame the robots because they can’t answer back. There’s a recent article in Australia, thirty two percent of CEO’s in Australia for our top listed companies called Pizza or John. There’s more Pizza or Johns than there are women and so when I think about changes in the workplace and robotics and automation is a key part, for that to be done ethically and with good morals I need to be confident that that leadership team making a decision is cognitively diverse, and if I’ve got a group of Johns and pizzas it doesn’t sound very diverse. Does it so, it’s not a robot who will take my job it’s Peter or John that will make that decision, so how do we humanize that conversation to make sure it’s done properly?
Lisette: Not Atlassian is a huge, well it’s not a huge company but it is a global company and so has it always been global, has it always… I mean it started in two thousand and two in Sydney I’m assuming.
Dominic: Yeah, yeah I mean it depends how you classify global one of my, I think one of my fascinating decisions that’s in the bedrock of Atlassian is one of the first decisions that’s got [inaudible – 08:16] our founders made when they started the company which was they couldn’t afford to hire salespeople in every one of the locations they wanted to sell [inaudible – 08:24] being our first product where they would sell [inaudible – 08:26] so they decided to make it self-service and from that day we’ve never had sales people. So we’re a fifteen year old, eleven billion dollars valuation company that hasn’t got a single sales person in the organization and so we have been global from day one and far as any person in any country around the world can download and use out products and that’s still true today as it was fifteen years ago. So in that regards very global, our dev. teams are centered in different parts of the world across Australia, US and Europe and so we’ve also got offices all over the world as well. So global in our work and very global and the reach we have with our products.
Lisette: So I want to dive into remote teams of course because [inaudible 09:08] I think, well Atlassian and all the Atlassian products you guys power remote teams all over the world. I mean every software team that I talk to, everybody is using one of the products so that’s pretty cool, how do you, what do you guys struggle with in terms of your remote teams. What are the challenges that Atlassian runs into?
Dominic: Great, great question, I mean there’s a mix and it kind of change every quarter or year right. It’s human behaviors and disciplines also, I think early on the [inaudible – 09:39] was a single source of the truth and that’s what’s driven a lot of a part development which is how can you take the angst of communication away so that there’s more signal and less noise and signal, strong signal for me is a single version of the truth and I never really realized it until I started using some Atlassian products like ‘oh I waste a huge amount of time and politics, in mindless conversations often, with mindless people massaging ego’s to try and get a vision of the truth when actually here is this thing where we all see the same version, but no longer do I have emails flying around with version 14.4 final [inaudible – 10:19] and I just see one thing and I never really realized until I started to use [inaudible – 10:26], this freedom that that gave me but also how much [inaudible – 10:29] has it removed, like how much crap it removed from my day of like meaningless conversations or meaningless updates. So I think just one version of the truth it certainly fit distributed teams, the fact that I can wherever I am in the world connect and see the same thing that you can see, just it’s it takes away a lot of [inaudible – 10:46] and then I think that more recently for us the changes have been, the challenges I’ll say have been subtle but subtle doesn’t mean that they’re not profound. So how do you manage communication in terms of different backgrounds experiences and rituals? How do you, one of the things that we’ve been working on recently is how do we reframe the conversation from remote to distributed? If with distributed then we’re all equal but if your remote and I’m in a home office suddenly it feels like I’m a first class citizen and you’re a second class citizen and that impacts behaviors and not necessarily malicious behavior, but it’s just if you’re the one remote person and everyone else is in the office, it’s hard for you to connect, it’s hard for you to have meaningful impact and so what we’ve been saying to people is the majority of our teams are distributed and even if you’re not in a distributed team the chances are the people that you are relying on, all the stakeholders you need to engage with, internal customers whoever else are distributed. So you have no choice but to evolve your rituals to engage them because the more we make them feel inclusive the better the collaboration we have with them and the more we make them feel exclusive, we feel great about ourselves but actually all we’ve done is we’ve kept someone off at arm’s length while actually we needed their input. So we’ve been been looking at the disciplines and rituals more recently which seems softer but the impact of them can be quite profound when we get them right.
Lisette: Let’s talk about these rituals then, because team rituals are something that’s been brought up. I think on your LinkedIn profile you talk about team rituals and in a video that I saw you talk about team rituals. What are some of those team rituals that make everybody a little bit more equal, because I agree when you have some people in the office and some people remote those remote people, I mean that is the struggle that most people, that’s the hardest thing that most people have because when you’re face to face it’s like ‘hey Bob what’s going on?’ Whereas when one guy is remote he misses out on what’s going on with Bob. So how do you guys, what are the rituals that you have?
Dominic: Yeah so one of the most subtle but pro-normalized impactful storytelling, so we used our internal internet. We actually have conferences, our internet cycle. We do a lot of storytelling via conference via blogging and we’re an open company, one of our values is opening the company [inaudible – 13:09] and so we open up all our products by default in terms of any person in our organization can write a blog and send it to anyone, and the storytelling around that means that that story isn’t at the water cooler. It’s not me bumping to you over toast and avocado, it’s not the fact that I know you and we go out for coffee. It’s, I can share my story and that makes a lot of our communication a pull system rather than a push. Over information is there, I choose what I consume. So if I’m make amended I consume information I come and I enter into a dialogue with that person way more of our conversations are meaningful conversations, are happening in a virtual corridor, that we virtually pass each other without having to be in the same office. So that increases the awareness of what’s happening and keeps the strong sort of ritual of storytelling because those stories mean that I can learn from other people’s experience, rather than always having to always make my own mistakes and I make plenty of my own mistakes. I don’t need to make any more, I’d much rather learn from other people. So that storytelling brings down the barriers and then a fun experiment that we’ve been running, we actually learnt this from our brothers and sisters over at Trello, they have a little model which is ‘if one person’s remote everyone’s remote’ and so when they dial into meetings everyone dials and even if you’re in the same office. So it’s kind of cheesy but it instantly levels the playing field, like everyone is dialed in so we all have to change up behaviors because otherwise the people that are core to dominate the conversation and the people that aren’t sit there kind of wishing they could have some input, and so we just try and little quirky things and then one of our teams in Sydney they’ve got a lady on their team who’s moved to be in a remote worker. She had been in the office for a while but for personal reasons wanted to move to another location and we were very encouraging of that. they’ve had to, or they’ve chosen to move their daily standard to a time that works for her, when she’s not dropping the kids off and all they’ve done is in their area added a small screen, a cheap camera, a cheap speaker and so when they do their stand up she’s part of that stand up and it’s… again it’s not an expensive experiment but something that makes her feel included and enables her contribution to be exactly the same as everyone else’s because the fact that she’s in a different location should not be a barrier to the IQ and EQ that she has.
Lisette: Yeah and I love, I mean think about the loyalty then she then can demonstrate to Atlassian within which is she’s now able to take her kids to school and the team adjusted around her. I mean I’m sure the loyalty that she gives back pays off in spades in terms of on the team, yeah that work like…
Dominic: It doesn’t and the other subtlety that I miss is where I get a little bit annoyed with some of the questions I get about remote working. When people ask me about the cost of it, of the inhibitors, it’s like they’re looking for the reasons not to. In this particular situation this person is probably become two or three times more effective by being remote. Remote is not a downside, it’s not a ‘oh should we, shouldn’t we?’ Like this person now has the freedom to live a life and they get to bring their best selves to work every day. To bringing their best selves to work just means they don’t reach the office but the best bit of their self they bring is their passion, their heart, their instinct their intuition, that vision, that courage. I’ll pay a lot more for that, than someone sat at desk typing a typewriter.
Lisette: For sure.
Dominic: Because they head and the heart that comes with that freedom is way more powerful and productive.
Lisette: Love it, has there ever been, I mean with Atlassian I can only imagine your software is made basically for distributed teams. I mean it’s not the only thing, the single source of truth I think is probably one of the most important things for any team. Wherever you’re working, has there ever been a method that it wouldn’t be allowed or has been sort of from the beginning that teams have been allowed to work where their most productive, or people are allowed to work where the most productive?
Dominic: I think it’s varies to be honest, it’s an area where we’ve matured an awful lot. We hire for values and so we aim to hire fully formed adults that know the appropriate behaviors in and out of work and we’re also I think by our matron design we’re not control freaks. So it’s not like I stand behind my team’s desk watching them work and check if they’ve processed enough widgets today. So we have got that freedom in the way we work, but that said there’s still this strange human instinct of if I can see you there’s more trust and so we’ve had to buckle that and we’ve had to build trust in other ways. One of the experiments I asked to run with one of the teams I work with, we’ve got eighteen members in six different locations and one of the things we do is once a year we just try and gather in one place. Maybe spend the week together, we break bread together, yes we do work and we do an offsite and we do all the normal stuff that you do but we also just hang out and just chat. ‘How are the kids, how’s family, how family?’ It’s good to give a shit about each other and in doing that what we find is, we build relationships in person and we can maintain them remotely. So if we have that meaningful time together, our time apart is very productive but if we never have time together it’s really hard to replicate that into a personal connection. So that’s one of the things that we’ve been doing to build trust to allow more distributed teams, is still having the time together. Something that we struggle with because there is an overhead, there is a management overhead with having people geographically dispersed right. It does become hard or as a leader to do and so it’s a natural point of resistance because you don’t want everyone to be everywhere, and I mean we’re two and a bit thousand people. If we had two and a bit thousand people in two and a bit thousand locations it would be really hard to manage but that shouldn’t be the barrier that stops us doing it. It should be this thing that makes us consider, is this the right thing for both parties and what are the things we need to do to make it work and that’s where we start to mature. Its how can we do this, not should we do this?
Lisette: Right, right and do it in a way that makes sense so it’s not like two thousand people all over the place indeed, that’s just chaos.
Dominic: Yes and make it right for both parties I mean there’s a tradeoff involved, career advancement is a good example. One of our guys wanted to work remotely and so what he was in a location, one of the things that he was really good at was inspiring and coaching and mentoring with people which required a kind of in person meeting. That when you’re having a deeper meaningful conversation and you’re exposing yourself and being vulnerable that can be a bit easier when it’s in person and so the conversation with him wasn’t ‘your career is now static,’ it was ‘how are we going to enable you to still do those valuable things when you’re not physically here, and that might mean your progression is slower but it doesn’t mean it’s static.’ It just means we need to be purposeful about how to do that. So yeah that was an honest conversation we had up front about the tradeoffs of what can, in a distributed fashion.
Lisette: Right, right especially when inspiring is one of the main things that was part of his job description.
Lisette: Indeed, so I want to talk about time zones really quickly, you’re in Australia it is six PM for you and nine AM for me that is a brutal time zone difference. You guys must deal with this in many ways, all the time. I want to know how, teams all over the world want to know how you guys deal with time zones.
Lisette: So we try to maximize the overlap wherever we can and so I mean a good example of this was the distributed team I mentioned before eight people across six locations. We wanted to run a one week offsite, we wanted to run spike on our road map the other week and for personal reasons most people couldn’t fly into a location and so we did a remote offsite. It was great fun, one of the things that we did is the two hours in the morning for me, the two hours late afternoon for the Americans and a few other people coming in. That was the prime time for overlap, so in that time we discussed the noly, complex, tense, the areas of debate and discussion where we violently disagreed and then what we did was after those two hours stints we would all go off and do our deep work. Which for me was the same day, for them they’d go home to their families and friends and don’t do stuff. When they come in the morning they would do their activities whilst honestly. I mean then we reconvened and it actually made for a really productive week because when we did meet we brought our best selves to those sessions, like they were brutal, they were arguments, there were tears, there were tantrums. It was such a great inspiring session because all the passion came out. All the passion came across, the tech and the distributed nature wasn’t a barrier and so we actually used that free time to bring up ourselves and the discipline though for me and I’ve had to learn this in the last year in my global role is if there is the availability for me to work twenty four by seven and there’s no parents at work, looking over my shoulder telling me to stop working and so the discipline has to be me and how do I bring my best self to work, if by making sure I spend plenty of time away from work, detached from my work because if I don’t give my brain a chance to recharge then I’m not bringing my best self to those twenty four hours a day. So that discipline something I have to apply to myself.
Lisette: Was it hard to figure out I mean…
Dominic: Oh it was a nightmare, it was a nightmare.
Lisette: Good to hear.
Dominic: I mean because it’s easy to say and it’s bloody impossible to do because you sat there going ‘it makes sense, it completely,’ what I know there’s, here’s what I know and here’s what I apply right. So I often talk about dysfunction in the gap between what you know and what you apply. So occasionally I’ll read a book about fitness and exercise and nutrition, I [inaudible – 23:09] because I love pizza. So I know the green things are healthy but I don’t apply that knowledge and it is the same with remote working. I know I should switch my phone off but I’m like what if something comes in that needs my attention? And it’s only when I realized that I was giving about half of myself in a few sessions and those sessions were productive and therefore I was having to repeat those sessions that I realized I was living in insanity. So I had to put some disciplines in place and then the funny thing for me was when I chose to not attend some sessions, and when I did disconnect, when I then reconnected and I realized that the world hadn’t caved him in my absence was quite profoundly and you’re like ‘oh you seem to do quite well without me.’ Some of the sessions now I purposely don’t attend because I know the team can create better ideas without me the room and that was quite, originally it was a bit of a dent to my ego but then my ego was repaired from like ‘hang on we are coming up with better ideas.’ Like that’s my goal here, my goal isn’t self-satisfaction or an ego in my size. If me not being in the room sometimes gives our teams more freedom to explore then I should do that, and then what is the right time for me to be in the room to joke and provoke them and challenge them and so picking the times where I can be most useful and then making sure I get time out to give your brain a rest, because I think the more complex work we’re doing we’re taxing our brain more than ever before and I don’t think we understand the toll that it can take.
Lisette: Yeah I mean rates of burnout are just skyrocketing and it’s not for manual labor, it’s from brain labor that’s the thing that I’m seeing a lot of and it is really hard to turn off. The phone so shiny and it offers portals into all kinds of great world so yeah I am also a victim for sure. So in terms of that though I want to talk about your team health monitor, I’m kind of conflicted because I’d also like to talk about how you guys handle conflict on your team. I mean you’re saying you’re having these firing sessions so let’s do conflict first and then will do health, oh they are the same, great even better. Let’s do this then so…
Dominic: Yeah I’m actually call the calls in effect model. Essentially the way it came about when we were small and by small I mean kind of five six hundred people. A couple of locations, we seemed agile and nimble and effective but I think we were agile, nimble and effective because we were small and then as we started to grow we start to become a little bit efficient and bureaucratic and hierarchical. We were building monoliths teams, we’re getting bigger and we quickly became aware that if we didn’t attack that on purpose we’d become one of those big boring organizations by accident and none of us wanted that, and so what we decided to do was how do we evolve our ways of working to account for that scale, to keep as nimble and agile and a fun place to a work on purpose? Now one of the things that we realized was, me and a team of other people and we were frequently being parachuted into teams to go and run these little workshops with them. To help them kind of unblock themselves, and one of our founders Scott sat me down one day and said ‘I can’t clone you so how can we enable you to be in all rooms all times because if we grow you can’t physically do that.’ So I worked with a few other people and we quickly realized that if we set we set ourselves a goal of making ourselves redundant which was the goal we set. How would we go about doing that and we realized that the best thing for us to do is to enable teams to be successful without us which seems a bit perverse because you’re like ‘hang on job security,’ and I’m like screw job security right, forget job security. If we can make ourselves redundant we can go do more fun things, so how can we and the role was kind of program manager agile coach facilitator how can we make that role redundant? And so we created something called the team health monitor and the idea behind it is, its eight attributes for a healthy team and our teams whenever they choose, will sit down around a table. No technology, no phones, no laptops unless we’ve got remote members, it’s not a technology exercise, it’s a human to human conversation merely about how we work together. So for example do we have a shared understanding of why we’re working on this project and do we trust each other, and it’s a very simple voting exercise thumb up, thumb sideways or thumb down or sometimes we use code posted notes and what we do with all of our team members, whichever level they sit in the team everyone’s view is equal. There’s no hierarchy, is we vote first and we talk second, because I want the introvert there to share their view, or the remote person, or the non-celebrity. But I also want to give the celebrity to a chance to speak but in good time and so with the team we assess these eight areas of health and then we pick one area only and we pick actions to go and improve in the area and so we’ve got health monitors now, the project teams that they are traditional kind of start middle and an end cross functional teams that work together on a common goal. And we’ve also developed a health monitors for lead mission teams, they are different in their kind of approach and needs in environment and then more recently we’ve added one for service teams so in my environment service teams typically work of a queue and not a backlog and service teams are there to provide a service either to internal customers or external customers. So IT helpdesk, HR operations, customer support, actually some of our platform technology teams are starting to behave more like service teams and you find with service teams its traditionally they’re great firefighters and what we realized is that awesome service teams are also fire proofers. They spend as much time preventing as they do curing and so we’ve created those three team titles so much like personas and our teams now across the globe can self-serve on that. It doesn’t need me to go and run a session. They just click a button, the attributes come up, they do the voting, they take the actions and then they share stories around how they develop solutions to those challenges.
Lisette: Wow and in these teams and you guys are duking it out, how do, is there a moderator and when emotions are running really high I mean that happens on every team right, and it’s healthy it should happen. If we had ‘yes people’ we’d never go anywhere but how do you do it constructively?
Dominic: So the funny thing there is, is doing this for the lasting and I’ve done a hundred sessions now with other companies externally because part of my desires is I want to break this model. I want to find how it doesn’t work so I have been running it with organizations of all shapes and sizes but one of the things I’ve seen is actually too much agreement. There’s too much happy clapping and high fives and I’m not seeing enough of that respectful dissent in a lot of teams. This is a technique allows that respectful dissent which is because we get into the voting first, so what you see a lot of these people doing that, their thumb down and then suddenly changes their mind because everyone else has gone, some of them might not know you’re first answer was the right answer, what did you see? So the first thing we do is we get them to say what did you see that made you rate it that way and avoid the temptation to solve and then collectively we try and do the solving together. One of the things that we’ve been encouraging when we facilitate these is how do you create an environment where we respect the fact that everyone sees the world through a different lens, and so while she might see a glass half full, I might see it as half empty and someone else someone else just doesn’t see at all, and how do we embrace that because seeing those differences is more valuable than arguing whether I’m right or you are wrong. And so what we say to people is embrace the fact that you get different opinions. What we want to focus your energy on is how do we pick one area, how do we pick the root cause of what we’re struggling with and how do we drive improvement there, what are the things we can try? What we tend to find is about eighty percent of our sessions the teams will run themselves. That they can self-serve and a member of the team will run it, what tends to happen is someone in the team if they know they’re in a key milestone or as a team they’re struggling, or get me one of our other facilitators to come in and do it independently because it means that they can participate and not facilitate and I could be independent. So I can ask all those tricky tough questions and I can ask the celebrity to maybe take the pen and described for a minute, so that’s when I’ll have a voice and that’s part of the role of the facilitator. It doesn’t essentially need a facilitator if you’re doing it in a normal course of business.
Lisette: I love it, so teams do it autonomously most of the time and then when there’s a really tricky situation you get a facilitator to come in.
Lisette: For a more objective outlook it sounds like.
Dominic: More objective yeah and so what we tend to find there is when it seems running one for the first time or they are on a new project they often want to an because it’s just nice to get that. The other the other kind of signal our best sort of team leads and developers call out is when they feel like getting group sick. When they feel like they’re just agreeing and it’s not it’s not passive aggressive it’s just you’re so used to each other your accepting things that an independent person is going to say ‘but why do you do it that way, why have you accepted that, what’s that for?’ ‘But what for?’ has become one of the most powerful questions we ask. This one goes ‘oh I do it this way.’ ‘Oh cool, what for?’ and like ‘we have always done it that way.’ ‘Oho okay, what for?’
Lisette: It’s like a kid why, why?
Dominic: And then eventually kind of, ‘you see the little sort of bells connecting the dots going to have the light.’ ‘No we have no idea why we doing that, it’s just a ritual we had, we copy, cut and pasted,’ and actually if we if we delete that one it’s not going to cost us but it gives us some time back. So it’s a challenge and then one of the things we’ve been practicing with the health monitor is how can you identify areas that you’re good at and not only double down on those because it might actually amplify your cause but when you find something your good at how can you tell the story? So back onto storytelling, how can you tell the story because you telling a story about how you got really good at something will help other teams mimic your behavior. So one of the examples that we have is value of metrics, so one of the areas on the health monitor, do you have, do you understand your value proposition and do you have metrics which gives you confidence as in lead indicators and lag indicators and a whole of our team is like ‘now were terrible at that, we’ve either got all lag indictors or lead indicators or actually most of the measures we’ve got, we can’t even impact them. They are the measure of the month. We’ve just picked them off a company website and what we are applying them regardless.’ And so in looking at that a few of our teams got quite good at it and blogged about how they got good at it, and so now we’ve added. We’ve got a series of plays that complement the health monitors, so we’ve got the twenty six plays. They are like the exercises you can do to get good for any of the eight areas and one of the plays we added was goals signals metrics. A very simple flow of saying, do you understand the goals of what you’re trying to achieve, do you understand the signals that can give you confidence you’re heading in the right direction? So the idea of progress ever perfection and then finally what metrics do you think you should measure? We do those three steps before we pick how many percentage points we want it to move by and what we realized was a lot of our teams would jump into metrics without truly understanding what the goal was of their projects and what the different signals versus noise were, and so what we found was a hold of our teams were trying to measure things that were irrelevant to that project. They were not impacting them in any way at all, but it was just noisy right, easy to get carried away with and if you can’t measure it then it’s not going to get done. It’s like ‘calm down’ sometimes we make way better decisions by making progress than we do drop by trying to achieve perfection because with the complexity of the world in the uncertainty and ambiguity. What we’re doing perfection will kill innovation and it will kill new ideas.
Lisette: One of the biggest challenges I hear on teams is alignment. Like everybody going in the same direction and from the beginning of this interview you’ve really been talking about how it last and how you guys really stay aligned. So it sounds like this one source of truth, of course you’ve got the perfect software for that where you can, where everybody can see what everybody’s working on and then the one source of truth and there’s a couple of other things that you had mentioned in here that really play to you guys staying aligned as a team or as a global organization. I think that’s something that a lot of people struggle with, advice for other teams out there for keeping ourselves aligned?
Dominic: It’s really easy to get wrong, so what I see a lot of organizations do is top down, everything is top down, top down that’s not alignment it’s broadcast right. It’s very, very different than alignment, so people forget the communication occurs at the ears, it doesn’t occur at the mouth. I talking to you that happens from a laugh but what people hear that occurs in their ears and we forget that. So one of the practices, one of the plays that we added is called the project poster. So every one of our teams has a project poster. It’s like they are a band poster and they create it together as a team and it’s really good fun because what we realized when we run the first two sessions, it’s a very simple format it says what’s the problem you’re solving, what do you believe the impact of the problem is, what’s your proposed solution and what assumptions are you carrying that you might need to go on validate? So problem, impact, solution, assumptions really simple but what we do is we get teams to do it as individuals and then they do the compare and contrast and they show each other the project posters and it’s hilarious. So I did a session the other week with a team, they had violent agreement in the solution and they were like ‘oh so we can carry on.’ I’m like ‘timeout you’re all solving a different problem,’ and what I mean when you go distributed, then you are autonomous we’re going to make very different tradeoffs. So you over there, you’re spending money because you want to grow something and you over there you’re saving money to sprint something. Now you’re approaching it the same way but the problem is you’re going to net off and deliver nothing. Like you going to expel a mediocrity, so how do we understand the priorities and tradeoffs as the problem were solving, and the impact because the impact is the outcome we want to measure and so the project poster isn’t a static document, every time we iterate as a team and we learn more from customers and stakeholders and we get feedback. We update and alter the project poster, it’s a living breathing document and so that just keeps some humility in vulnerability and saying alignment isn’t shouting at people and sending them a Power Point deck of your strategy, that’s not alignment that’s a broadcast. Alignment is going message checking, that the people that you’ve empowered and trusted to do the work have the same belief that they’re delivering the same thing as you, because if they don’t and they don’t know why they will deliver the what, which is never as useful as the why.
Lisette: Indeed, I have so many more questions but we’ve already gone over the time that I allotted, man it’s good as, so I want to I guess I’ll just end with the last one which is advice, advice for people who are just starting out, companies that are just starting out with maybe remote or distributed teams. What advice would you give them besides using Atlassian products of course to have one single source?
Dominic: I think actually before any, it’s going to be weird for a guy who works for a product company, before you try any products make sure you’ve got your practices right, like if you don’t understand the disciplines of how you want to work with someone no tool is going to solve that for you. Like if you’ve got terrible practices, you can plug in the best tool in the world, the problem is a fool with a tool is still a fool you’ve just made them faster and so one of the things we decided to do in October last year was after a couple of years of developing our own ways of working we actually open sourced our team playbook, so it’s available online at atlassian.com/team-playbook the same version that’s online that anyone in the world can see is the same version hundreds of teams in Atlassian use every single day. So we’re constantly evolving, it’s not static, it’s not a book that we can publish and sell it’s free of charge but the idea behind it is how do we embrace practices of how teams work together to genuinely stir potential. Once you get practices that are congruent with products and tools and technology awesome things can happen, but if you’ve just got tools, it’s not going to work. So it is how do you get those two things in composition?
Lisette: Why make it open to the world? I know I said it was the last question but I have to ask.
Dominic: because knowledge is ubiquitous and the application of it is the power, so I don’t want to, I don’t think knowledge is power anymore. Twenty thirty forty years ago it was, knowledge is ubiquitous, me sharing that knowledge does not cost me anything and it enables hundreds and thousands of teams around the world. So when we stir potential it’s worthwhile exercise. What I get in return is a huge amount of feedback from people about what does and doesn’t which enables me to continually evolve the way we do it. So we want to share this stuff because it shouldn’t be a secret source, just like this podcast why are we sharing our knowledge? Because we think it’s good for people to learn new ways of working, we want to challenge them and so we decided to open source it because we want everyone in every team around the world to feel that they’re empowered to do the best work of their life. They won’t do that by doing the same thing they did last year, they have to unlearn an old habit and try something new.
Lisette: I really, really like that, it’s true I mean people can get the knowledge but unless they apply it it’s not going anywhere and so many people don’t apply it. I think that’s one of the biggest things that I’ve learned from the workshop that I give, it’s a called the work together anywhere workshops and after I do a thirty day check in with everybody on what did they try in the last thirty days. Ninety percent of the time they tried nothing, I’m always so disappointed. I get so excited for the thirty day check in’s and they’ve not done anything and I think ‘oh man damn, damn what an opportunity.’
Dominic: Those habits die hard, habits die hard and that’s why we try to make these really small bite sized munch able chunks, like small things you can go and try. Health monitor you can do in half an hour, get your team together [inaudible – 41:19] down. You will learn more from that half an hour than you will from any team meeting or broadcast. So how we can take these things into small chunks to try them rather than trying to prove them. Because I think trying things is the way that we experiment and explore and the burden of proof means that something has to work before you try it, it’s probably too late.
Lisette: Awesome, that’s great advice to end on. Okay everybody try things just go out and do small experiments. Nothing that causes too big of an explosion but a little explosion is okay. Thank you so much for your time today I really appreciate it, I think my listeners will be very excited to hear the advice that you’ve given and also to hear how Atlassian does things, sound like a really great company to work for. So okay very last question if people want to learn more about you and about Atlassian, I know that was the third last question but where would you direct people to. I mean if you’re looking for, if there’s a programmer they really want to work for you guys, where do they go?
Dominic: atlassian.com has all the information of our products, you also see atlassian.com/team-playbook for all the health monitors in place and then if anyone wants to reach out to me personally I’m at Dom Price at LinkedIn and Twitter and I’m happy to take feedback questions, queries from people because I genuinely believe that sharing is caring.
Lisette: Thank you so much for listening everyone and I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did. If you want to hear more stories of remote teams doing great things then head on over to the Collaboration Superpowers website and sign up on our newsletter. Every other week we’ll send you all the best stories tips, tools and tricks straight to the inbox of wherever you are.
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