The art and wisdom of changing teams | Heidi Helfand (Author of Dynamic Reteaming)

The art and wisdom of changing teams | Heidi Helfand (Author of Dynamic Reteaming)

Heidi’s background (00:00:00)

  • Heidi Helfand has worked in the tech industry for two decades.
  • She became fascinated with how teams are organized, how organizational structures change, and how to set teams up for success through change.
  • She now teaches workshops, runs courses, and consults on effective team reorganization.
  • Her book, Dynamic Reteaming, delves into why change is good for teams, why super stable teams are not ideal, and how to execute effective reorgs to reduce attrition, stagnation, and knowledge silos.

How Heidi got involved with reteaming and reorgs (00:03:40)

  • Heidi's interest in reteaming and reorgs was sparked by her observation that teams in fast-growing startups naturally morph and change.
  • She wanted to explore whether her experience was unique or if it was a common phenomenon in other companies.
  • She realized that there was a need to focus on the "people layer" of company building, which involves enabling teams and organizations to succeed.

Advice for people dealing with reorgs (00:07:37)

  • Transparency in reorgs is important.
  • Visualizing the future team structure on whiteboards and inviting input from team members can help mitigate fear and anxiety.
  • Providing opportunities for team members to identify mistakes and suggest improvements in the design can foster a sense of ownership and engagement.
  • Open self-selection reteaming activities, such as those practiced at Redgate Software, can empower team members to choose projects and teams that align with their interests and skills.

The benefits of change and the RIDE framework (00:11:56)

  • Employees may feel excited about being involved in the reorg strategy, while executives may be apprehensive.
  • Involving everyone in the reorg process can lead to consensus challenges and distractions from work.
  • The RIDE framework (Requestor, Input, Decider, Executor) helps clarify decision-making roles and responsibilities during change.
  • Change can be challenging, but focusing on the people layer and fostering transparency and collaboration can improve the process.
  • Time-boxing the reorg process is recommended to prevent it from consuming excessive time and resources.

The five patterns of reteaming (00:17:11)

  • The five patterns of reteaming are:
    • One by one: Someone joins or leaves the company.
    • Grow and split: Teams grow and then split into smaller teams.
    • Merge: Two or more teams merge together.
    • Isolation: A new team is started as a beneficial silo for innovation or emergencies.
    • Switching: Moving from one team to another.
  • Reteaming refers to these five patterns of team change, while reorg is a traditional term that implies top-down changes with limited individual say.

The power of isolation (00:20:00)

  • Heidi Helfand shares her experience of being part of an isolated team at Expert City, a tech startup in Santa Barbara.
  • The team was tasked with developing a new product, Go To My PC, after the company's initial product, a marketplace for tech support, failed to gain traction.
  • Working in isolation allowed the team to experiment with new ideas and processes, leading to the development of a successful product that saved the company.

Advice on how to be successful by isolating small teams (00:27:38)

  • Isolate the team physically and psychologically by giving them a separate workspace and discouraging distractions.
  • Empower the team with process freedom and decision-making authority.
  • Encourage pairing and shared ownership of systems to avoid single points of failure.
  • Provide the team with a clear reporting structure and access to senior leaders.
  • Relieve the team of bureaucratic burdens and unnecessary meetings.

Supporting and protecting internal startups (00:33:27)

  • Having an executive sponsor who supports and protects the team is crucial for its success.
  • Isolated teams should be mindful of the potential for creating maintenance burdens for others.
  • Balancing the benefits of isolation with the need for collaboration and integration is important.

The one-by-one pattern (00:34:33)

  • When someone joins the company, help them feel a sense of belonging by:
    • Pairing them with someone for their first day.
    • Getting them to talk about themselves to increase their sense of connection and retention.
  • Pay attention to the people already in the company and ensure they are aware of new hires.
  • Coach the existing employees through the change, especially if they were not involved in the decision-making process.

The grow and split pattern (00:36:44)

  • As a company grows, teams may need to split when:
    • Meetings become longer and decision-making becomes harder.
    • The work becomes divergent, and people lose focus in standups.
  • Splitting teams can create new dependencies and challenges, such as resource allocation and coordination.

The merging pattern (00:39:20)

  • Merging occurs when two or more teams combine or when a company acquires another company.
  • Reasons for merging can include business decisions, departures, or consolidation.
  • To help merged teams integrate, conduct a "story of our team" activity where each team creates a timeline of their history and shares their milestones and achievements.
  • This helps create a shared sense of history and vision for the merged entity.

The switching pattern (00:42:14)

  • Switching teams can bring fulfillment and extend the lifespan of employees in a company.
  • Switching creates safety nets by building knowledge redundancy and fault tolerance in systems.
  • Pairing and switching pairs can enhance learning, joy, and fulfillment among team members.
  • There's no perfect org structure, but the best idea at the time should be implemented with processes to catch dependencies and overlaps.
  • Leaders should involve people in org decisions that will affect their daily lives, fostering a positive environment and culture.

Anti-patterns of reteaming (00:50:18)

  • The percentage anti-pattern: Assigning people to multiple projects with specific percentages of time allocation doesn't work well due to multitasking challenges.
  • Poof you're poof they're gone: Sudden appearance or disappearance of team members without proper communication.
  • Spreading high performers: The idea of spreading high performers across teams doesn't necessarily create the same high-performing dynamics.
  • Breaking up high-performing teams can disrupt the chemistry and dynamics that contribute to their success.

Embracing change and growth (00:52:49)

  • People worry about reorgs and team changes because they fear losing their current team dynamics.
  • Companies go through stages of growth and change, and it's important to embrace these changes rather than resist them.
  • Appreciate the positive aspects of your current team while also recognizing that change is inevitable.
  • Cheryl Sandberg's advice: constant change is a sign of growth, and it's better than the alternative of stagnation.
  • John Walker's advice: it's great to be at a successful company, even if there are challenges.
  • Change can be difficult, but it's often necessary for growth.

How to become a better listener (00:58:48)

  • Listening is a skill that can be developed and improved.
  • Focus your attention on the speaker and read their body language.
  • There are different levels of listening: internal, focused, and global.
  • Pay attention to the speaker's nonverbal cues, such as facial expressions and gestures.
  • Co-active coaching training can help you develop your listening skills.

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