Make it Safe

05 Feb, 2018
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These days I’m reading The Manager’s Path by Camille Fournier. Camille, a deeply technical person1, did the engineer -> tech lead -> engineering manager -> CTO transition some time ago.

One of the sections struck a cord with me, the one talking about Team Cohesion. Camille writes2

Most gelled teams have a sense of camaraderie that makes them joke together […] and feel friendly toward one another. They may have obligations they respect, and passions outside of work, but they don’t view their team as something they’re eager to escape every day.

I immediately thought: This is what GoDataDriven looks like! I am a father of five, so my obligations and passions outside of work are numerous, however I really enjoy the company of my colleagues. And this is true, for what I know, for everyone working here. But why is this important? Camille continues:

The real goal here is psychological safety […] a team whose members are willing to take risks and make mistakes in front of one another. This is the underpinning of a successful team.


One thing I’ve introduced at GoDataDriven to help, especially newcomers, is to use Basecamp to stay up to date about what other colleagues — which are often working at different clients, in a pseudo-distributed fashion — are doing.

This includes frustration, successes, and mistakes. People often react in the comment section, or clap for an update. But everyone, or almost everyone, reads what’s going on.

Often we also write about our personal vicissitudes, such as what’s going on with my latest son and his illness.

You might read the above, together with the Basecamp post where they describe why they’ve introduced Daily Updates, and you think what a colossal waste of time all is.

As a nerd, I’ve always thought that small talk at my work is a frivolous occupation at best and a total waste of time at worst. Hence I never did much of it. There was real work that needed to be done.

What has changed that I introduced a tool where you can basically do small talk but in written form (i.e. even more time consuming)? The whole point is: how easy is it for your company to buy what this gets you? Can you buy a cohesive team? Is a team event, once or twice a year, enough?

The feeling of connectedness, the fact we are all human beings struggling with life, is a tremendous help because

it fosters relatedness, the sense of people as individuals and not just anonymous cogs.

If you are friendly with each other — and you really mean it — chances are that you’ll be happier as well. I don’t need to tell you that a non-happy workplace is not a place you can easily get work done.

If it’s safe, you are more likely to question decisions from your peers, or your boss, because you both know that bad decisions are bad for the team and there’s nothing personal when giving feedback if you’re feeling safe. You give feedback because it’s good for the team, and you calmly receive feedback because… it’s good for the team!

And, as painful as it might initially be to have your decision tanked by rightful criticism, it’s much better thank to have reality tank it once it’s too late to fix it!

Making it safe is key for better teams.

If you’re missing it in your current workplace, I suggest you start looking for ways to begin. Or come work for us, we’re hiring!

  1. You know that once someone is involved in projects such as Apache Zookeeper, the butter to distributed systems. 
  2. All the quotes here are from her book, go get it! 

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