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Recognizing the Need for a Temporary Change and Communicating It Well

Building a Team
Conflict solving
Delegate
Collaboration
Reorganization

9 April, 2020

Being slung back and forth between different types of work can be extremely disruptive for teams. Xiao Ma, director of engineering and chief architect at Medium spotlights a time he assembled a temporary team in a flexible way that maintained team structure.

Problem

At Medium, I was facing a pretty big launch with an equally tight deadline. This launch was more of an internal deadline to shape a first vision of the experience. Unfortunately, the work that needed to be done was not evenly distributed across the multiple teams working towards these deadlines. I found that teams were at different stages and a lot of the work became highly interveined.
 

Actions taken

I think the idea of ‘team’ is more important than a group of individuals doing work. There are many other things that comprise a team, like how people feel about working together, the rhythm of the team, and a sense of belonging. Sometimes, we need to make some temporary changes in order to tackle other things.
 

I temporarily created a joint force of all the mobile engineers across multiple teams. While their original manager and the home team remained the same during this time, they were meant to be very cohesive for 3 ½ sprints over a period of 7 weeks.
 

Additionally, I clearly communicated the reason behind what we were doing and why we were doing it. Included in that email, was the assurance that they would return to work with their home team after the internal launch date.
 

Lessons learned

  • Strong communication is the most important thing we did to make this work. We maintained a constant stream of communication across the entire time period. We discussed up to date learnings, how the team was operating and reiterated the major reasons and goals behind the launch.
  • Sometimes people will read an email and may not actually internalize all the points, but if you reiterate it again and again, they will gradually absorb the information and behave accordingly. Similarly, people also feel like they have agency and autonomy by understanding the ‘why’, which then allows them to anticipate other solutions.
  • Although this approach was a bit disruptive to the original team structure, we felt that temporarily having this joint force was the best way to enable us to meet this launch date. It likewise allowed for more cross-team interaction.
  • Even though I am not a big fan of shuffling teams due to a lack of belonging, I think you can be more flexible in specific scenarios. There are certain principles that we should always respect, but we should also be situational in the case that an exception can be made. You must keep in mind, however, not to make too many exceptions because then it becomes the norm. We were very intentional about this throughout the entire process.
  • With the deadline being very tight, people still felt like this was an arbitrary, internal deadline. Even though we communicated the deadline several times in a more general approach, we can further individualize these conversations in order to better address future concerns.

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