Traits of the Perfect Workplace: Letting the ideal define how work is done.

Much of the advice on management centers around either describing how to fix problems or instituting systems that are meant to safeguard against failure. The problem is that you are treating symptoms without fixing the root causes. What is missing is the vision for the final goal. If you are able to hold that ideal then it will inform how you tackle any problem that arises. We don’t want our work to be defined by the scars of past bad experiences but to be one striving towards the ideal with energetic optimism. This is where we start. How is work done in a perfect workplace?

First, a quick word on where I am coming from. My stock and trade has been the video game industry. The main characteristics to consider if this is not your field is that it is multi-disciplinary, release driven, and creative. To generalize it means that you are working with a lot of different people with different perspectives to solve problems that often require unknown solutions within a relatively fixed time frame. I am sure many other industries work with similar challenges so I hope this has use beyond the scope of video game development.

What are the main traits of the perfect workplace?

  1. Self Managed

People are informed of what needs to be accomplished but how they do it is up to them. They were hired because of a skillset they possess and you will trust them to use those skills to complete what needs to be done or to tell you why it is not a reasonable goal. They do not need oversight although they may want assistance.

In a self managed world you are creating the optimal situation for finding the best solution as opposed to the prescribed solution. When someone hits the inevitable snag they, the person most familiar with the subject matter, are empowered to solve it as they fit. Self management also encourages continual education with a focus on problem solving. Over time it makes people better.

2. Informed

You cannot have a self managed employee if they do not have the necessary information to make decisions. When a goal is presented to someone they will also have all of the necessary context that will inform them as they guide themselves through the daily decisions they make getting to the final product. They will not only know how this feature fits into the overall release but what the feature is trying to achieve and all of the other people that might be involved. Beyond the task level, the team understands the overall goal for the project and the company. They have been encouraged to take ownership and ask questions.

Everyone understands that they need to communicate out as well as receive information. They know that they work on a team and the decisions they make could also have an impact on others. The workplace is open in a way that encourages casual conversation about projects especially across disciplines.

3. Faultless

A fully informed self managed member of the team is not told when something needs to be done only the goals it is trying to achieve. Part of those goals include the desired timetable and why that time is suggested. It is up to the person doing the work to estimate the actual required time. If they don’t meet the time they estimated they know that they did nothing wrong. Blame and fault are irrelevant when everyone is acting in good faith.

However, in this trusting environment, the estimates are pretty damn good since nobody has an incentive to pad dates beyond the normal estimates for things like research and bug fixing. The company and the individual continually improve because they are exposing deficiencies instead of covering them up.

4. Supported

A team works at its best when they have the proper tools and work environment. The company understands that a fixed cost to buy or build a tool that will make an individual happier and more productive is not the best place to save money. In the rare time that tools are not made available it is understood because the requestor has the full context of the goals at hand.

Time off is never declined and there is never a hesitation to take a few hours for taking care of personal matters. The stressful parts of a team’s personal lives are never made worse by the demands of the workplace. Any short term problems this may cause for the team is vastly outweighed by the gain you get when someone feels fully supported.

The personal growth of an individual is encouraged by the company. This can be through additional training, changing of assignments and can go as far as helping them find other employment if that is what is best for that individual.

5. Freely Collaborative

In the pursuit of completing a goal people feel comfortable asking for advice and soliciting help. There are no walls between disciplines and everyone’s contribution is appreciated. A manager never stands between two individual contributors. A self managed person can determine an interruption versus a conversation without requiring a producer acting as a parent. The benefits of forming bonds between individual team members is so important to free collaboration that personal conversations are viewed as important as work specific conversations.

6. Learning

By developing openly there are opportunities for the best ideas to float to the top and a way for them to be recorded. The journey from start to finish is freely analyzed because everyone benefits when a lesson can be shared. With each milestone individuals improve and the knowledge of the company grows.

Part of learning is clearly defining the assumptions at the start then comparing them with the end results be they better or worse. Most of this work is handled by a manager or producer because everyone agrees that the person doing the day to day completion of tasks is better off doing just that. The information learned is documented and fed back into the team at large.

If you are still here then you might be interested in other articles that build off of this one.

The Role Management in the Perfect Workplace

Process in the Perfect Workplace