When we started to shape stoica.co as an agency, I knew I wanted to build a team I will want to be a part of in 10-20 years as well. I wanted a team that felt like a family and worked like there was no tomorrow.
The books I was reading 6-7 years ago were mostly about how you should wake up early and work your ass off, how you should always hustle and you'll eventually get there. If you sleep less and work more and drink enough coffee, you'll eventually get there.
At some point it became obvious to me that this "hustle 24/7 attitude" is not sustainable and it would be crazy to try to build a team like that. If you want a team of sane, happy and productive people that's not the way. And I wouldn't want to be a part of that team for sure.
Here are a few ideas that worked for us so far:
1. Build a clear context
It's vital to define objectives and constraints, to build processes and to negociate expected outcomes with each member of your team in the context of the wider objectives of the company. Only this way everyone can own his role and act towards a shared goal. People are not robots and should not be treated as such.
As long as they understand their impact and they have the space to learn, grow and see the results of their work, people will stay motivated. This is their ”default” mode.
2. Transparency builds trust
Transparency is extremely important for a healthy work environment. It shouldn't be hard to share with your colleagues how much you earn and what profit you make each year and how much you spend on something. Or why you made a certain decision and how you got to deciding that.
I share my plans, the financial structure of the company and I try to have people understand that we’re building this agency together. I may overshare sometimes and some of them are not really interested in what I'm saying but the information is there if they are interested. If something doesn't feel right I'm here to answer any questions and discuss better solutions.
I also expect the same in return.
3. Accommodate different work styles
Remote work was considered impossible even for most digital companies and up until COVID19, many managers hadn’t allowed their employees to work from home. Last year they were forced to do it and apparently for some, it's not such a big deal anymore. Talking about digital companies here where the only most important tool is a device with internet access.
For digital companies, most of the times, it was more of a management problem and less of a technical one. Working from home means trusting your people and without clear expectations, good communication and transparency, trust is not built.
To compensate for their lack of trust, managers will default to controlling their colleagues and miss the fact that control is not an option. Even though I have my own fears, I treat them in therapy and try not to let them affect the way we grow the agency.
4. Efficient is better than more
Too many hours, tasks and crazy deadlines will only build an exhausted team, who is not efficient on the long term, doesn't have time to learn new things and improve their results and who cannot contribute to the growth of the company. People need to be relaxed, happy and comfortable with the day to day rhythm. Too many rigid short deadlines or a permanently crowded schedule will put a lot of pressure on your team and create tensions.
We usually plan for 80 - 120 hours per month of work. We try to focus on fixing problems for our clients or meaningful tasks for the team. The 8 hours per day are actually 6 if you think about it and start to be 3-4 if you look at the actual billable hours. More than 120 hours per month start to be too much and it may not be sustainable. We try to have time for random research, learning new things and time off.
If we feel like we need more work time spent at our laptops we know it's time to rebuild things, look at inefficiencies, the clients we work with and the projects we work on. Something is not right if we need to spend even more time at our laptops and we shouldn't compensate for that.
5. Culture is really important
To be able to understand the concept of organisational culture I thing about “what is being said” - what people say about things in a team, what they default to.
When a team with a healthy culture has a new task they tend to default to asking questions, prioritising and trying to find decent solutions and to improve. They look at facts and try to find the best solutions with the give constraints. Their growth mindset is their default next step.
In a team I wouldn't want to be a part of, people would tend to start by thinking about why they doing that task and not someone else. They would focus more on appearing competent and proving that they spent time on something and not so much on the actual outcome. They would focus more to tricking and convincing and proving and less on learning and growing and fixing and helping.
In our team, we try to foster an environment of learning, where people are invited to find solutions, learn every day, contribute, ask for more and give more in return. To build a common list of truths, an accepted reality, I repeat a few ideas like these with every opportunity. And this, I think, shapes our culture.
It’s not that complicated to build skills, but attitudes and realities are harder to shape and change so this is why I try to find the right people with the right attitude first. With the right people we could build anything at some point, even if sometimes it takes a bit longer.