Choosing the Long-Term Well-Being of the Team Over the Small Things

Justin Risedorf

Director of Product Management at sticky.io



I’m a very Type-A, driven, achievement-minded person. I want to deliver, so, when I see the goal, it’s very easy for me to get into that heads-down, hyper-focused type of mode. There was a point earlier in my career where I experienced a lot of growth, new challenges and opportunities, because this type of attitude is valuable to a business.

I also hit a point early on where my natural desire to succeed began to butt up against my care for people, my teammates, most immediately. The idea that the project and the deadline is the most important thing to be achieved was troublesome for me. The notion that a bit of collateral damage in terms of team relationships was a real problem to be addressed.

I took a journey that led me to the understanding that this way of thinking actually leads to a deficit in the workplace. Prioritizing the short-term win of a project or a deadline over the team and the people that I’m working with actually ends up costing more than the value produced, every single time.

I think that success is not defined by any single achievement; it’s more about what we are able to strive for in the long run together. By prioritizing my relationships with my team over any one moment in time, a bug that needs to be solved or a release commitment to meet, prioritizing that person fosters an environment that supports true success through that horizon. You might be able to really squeeze a relationship in order to hit a goal or a milestone, but you’re sacrificing the potential of the person when you do so.

I like the fable of the golden goose — the idea is that the goose lays a single golden egg, every single day. If you get greedy and demand the rest of the eggs right now and you try to get them at the expense of the goose, you’re not going to have anything left.

Actions taken

This switch to “People over projects” — I’m not going to put this person at the expense of my problem or priority — was a really big, breakthrough mindset shift for me. I became more aligned outwardly in my work with who I am and who I want to be internally.

It’s super clear to me that caring about people is really important. One of the ways that I can love people is by doing good work. Doing good work at the expense of loving people, however, is not in line with the kind of character that I want to be.

People come first, and, then, together, we’re gonna solve these problems. Push comes to shove, when it’s either hitting the timeline or preserving the relationships within the team, it’s got to be the team, the person, the individual, caring for them, every time, and dealing with the consequences of the project timeline, whatever that thing may be. That’s kind of been a big shift for me in my career that’s made a lot of difference and impact in how I think about my day-to-day work, all sorts of different things.

There’s a lot to be said in terms of the difference between outputs and outcomes. This ties into the relationship side of what I’m talking about. If you have a focus as an organization on output, the work objectively being done, I think that you’re more likely, from a cultural perspective, to lean toward the side of immaturity, a place where I found myself early in my career.

On the opposite end of that is when, as a company, you’re very focused instead on the outcomes that your teams create. The companies that do this best create and facilitate these teams where trust really is the number one thing. The teams based on that trust then become highly empowered to solve those problems.

I find that, in my experience, when this is the way that the Product Development team as a whole functions, where camaraderie and the interpersonal relationships on the team are core area of focus, because this way of thinking supports sustained innovation and truly great Product Development, that’s where you really see these principals leveraged and leveled up, from the individual’s experience to the company’s success overall.

Lessons learned

  • For me, the first part of this was realizing that I was not acting consistently with the type of character that I wanted to embody. Getting feedback from my teammates I was putting too much pressure on them was also helpful. My problem became their emergency. From there, it really became natural to go introspective and to ask myself how I got to this point. What was really going on? Out of that exploration came the clarity that I was not living in alignment with the values that are truly important to me. At that point, I found that going back to my people individually and asking for that forgiveness reconnected me with them spiritually. I communicate that I value the relationship more than the business.
  • All things equal, it’s great to try to have balance — strong relationships, and strong delivery. But when push comes to shove, and it’s either one or the other, I know where I’m going to go. It will always be toward the side of the person. It’s a two-way street. If I prioritize the relationship over any one thing that myself and the individual happen to be doing together. It allows for me to come back and to acknowledge when maybe I need some additional help myself. It’s humanizing. It makes for a better foundation for all of the things that we seek to do together.
  • An indicator of a successfully-established company culture and atmosphere that embodies these beliefs is when a majority of your people are beginning to have these “Aha!” moments. It shows that people feel safe to bring their whole selves to work and to be who they are. There is no work veneer. In our type of work, when you’re a cross-functional team, you see breakthroughs happen when vulnerability is supported from a managerial level. People begin to speak up and to share their thoughts genuinely or to ask questions that they may be reluctant to ask otherwise without that sense of safety there. When they know that everybody in the room cares about them, even if they ask a question that doesn’t make sense or that seems to be off, the safe space created will protect them. That’s what we want. We don’t want a team of one hundred “Me”s creating the product — it’s going to be a really bad product. We want a “Me”, and a “You”, and a “Him” and a “Her”, too, this mix of people who are working together. The result of that type of team is an outcome multiplied by the sum of each unique, Individual Contributor.

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Justin Risedorf

Director of Product Management at sticky.io

CommunicationCulture DevelopmentFeedback TechniquesIndividual Contributor RolesLeadership RolesEngineering ManagerTeam & Project ManagementDiversity & Inclusion

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