Transparency is a must for an organization that wants to operate with agility and avoid red-tape. Openness allows self-organizing teams to operate independently. Agnes and Peter, both recent hires at Smartly.io, share their take on how all Smartlies are involved in strategic decision-making at our biannual Futurio strategy day.
One of the cornerstones of the Smartly.io company culture are self-organizing teams that are trusted with the freedom and responsibility. However, no team—no matter how self-driven—can be expected to make the right decisions without context. We foster extreme transparency to make sure our self-organizing teams have all the data they need to take ownership of their own work and make smart decisions that help us succeed in the long term.
Futurios are one way of facilitating transparency. Twice a year, we fly most of our team of 150+ people from our offices in NYC, San Francisco, Berlin, Singapore and Buenos Aires to Helsinki (or some other place), to discuss our vision and strategic goals, make decisions and get to know each other face-to-face. It’s a big investment both time and money-wise, but we’ve seen that it’s worth it. It helps us stay agile and move fast even though we’re growing quickly, and work together across time zones and offices.
Everyone has a say in the company’s 6-month goals
This June’s Futurio started with a sort of “State of the Union” by our CEO Kristo, where we synced on where the industry is going and where we fit in. The idea was to bring everyone up to speed on the big picture and give all attendees the best possible frame of reference for the day’s discussions. Next, the leadership team presented their suggestions for the new Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), i.e. what the company should focus on in the second half of 2017.
“I was pleasantly surprised that the vision of the company was collaboratively created by the leadership and the employees. First, leadership presented the key actions they thought were most crucial for the company's continued success. Then, they asked us if we thought they were right, and the entire team had a long discussion”, says Peter, an MIT senior who started as a backend developer at Smartly.io about two weeks ago.
Agnes, an account manager in our San Francisco team since May, flew to Helsinki to attend her first Futur.io. She, too, was impressed by the team’s opportunity to influence the company-level goals: “We worked in groups of 10–12 people, and went through every Objective and Key Result. After the discussion, all groups pitched their improvement ideas on stage. The next Monday, the leadership team followed up with modified OKRs, based on the feedback from Futur.io. Now, we’re building our team-level OKRs that help us focus our efforts to reach the company-wide goals.”
Open Space sessions tackle company-wide challenges
As usual, a third of the Futurio day was reserved for Open Space sessions, where anyone can raise any topic and collect a cross-functional group to discuss and solve it. This time, we discussed topics like feature adoption, industry insights, working efficiently, user experience, improving our internal global communications, and onboarding new Smartlies to the team in the best way.
“One of the sessions I attended was about automating our internal work. What I really liked about the concept was that the groups were cross-functional: we had account managers and developers sitting around the same table, brainstorming how to work more efficiently”, Peter says. “Together we came up with an idea of how to automate some of the account managers' overhead work so that they can spend more time helping customers. And even better, it wasn't just talk – I'm really excited to be part of a new development team we created to bring this to life.”
Open Space sessions help make hidden bottlenecks visible. They produce self-organizing task forces and get more brains to work on development projects, fix things and solve problems. They’re also a great way to get to know colleagues we don’t work with on a daily basis, which helps us work together also outside Futurio.
Transparency isn’t a biannual thing, it’s a 24/7/365 thing
Twice-a-year Futurios are just one element contributing to our transparency. At Smartly.io, we believe in T-shaped communications, or opt-in transparency, which means that all data (except compensation details) is made accessible to all Smartlies. Practically, all information is communicated openly in a summarized way so that anyone can grasp the essential points easily. And if someone wants to dig deeper, they can find more details easily, behind, for example, a “read more” link, or by pinging the contact person in our team chat.
In addition to documenting information openly, we host weekly all-hands sessions like Monday Breakfasts and Friday Demos, where each Smartlie is given a comprehensive view on what’s happening on the product, business and organizational fronts of the company. Transparency is also visible in our internal communication tools: we use Flowdock for our internal team chat, and all flows (or channels) are by default open for anyone to join, read and comment.
“Everybody is always up to date on what is happening in the company”, Agnes says, “In the Monday and Friday all-hands meetings engineers share the newest features or improvements they’ve made to the product, and account managers share learnings from both won and lost customer cases to help others learn.” Peter agrees: “Even though Smartly.io is a 150-person company, I feel like I know as much of what’s going on as I did in a team of 20. There are no silos, everyone talks with each other, and data is shared openly.”
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