Was our self-organising interview team experiment a success?

Back in August, I wrote about how we were tackling some dysfunction in a company process with a self-organising team and the magic of Theory Y (Theory Y is a model of workforce motivation based on assumption that people fundamentally want to do a good job and have some agency over their work). As the post explains, the process we were trying to improve is the recruitment of software engineers and we were trying to improve it because, although it was ultimately bringing great people into the business, our interview scheduling process was a massive pain. This was especially the case for our HR team, who spent a lot of time trying to arrange interviewers, book/chase interviewers and liaise back-and-forth with candidates and agencies.

We decided to gather together the group of people involved in organising and running interviews in a given week into a self-organising, collaborative team. We encouraged them to be open and honest about the pressures, pain and preferences they each had when tackling the task, to focus on the team’s goal of performing brilliant interviews to identify great new people to work with and to encourage the team to hold each other accountable for contributing to that goal. This approach gave people more responsibility and lead them towards having more empathy for each other. Each week a different cohort of software developers would be interviewing, so each Monday we had to form a new interviewing team to tackle the interviews coming up in the next 5 days.

So, what happened?

Well, six weeks into our experiment we’ve decided that it’s been successful, and we are going to continue with this approach for the foreseeable future! We consider it successful because we’ve seen the outcomes we hypothesised/hoped we’d see:

  1. The workload on the People Team to organise interviews and herd interviewers has reduced massively. The team now volunteers for the sessions they can run and commits to days where they will be available for late notice interviews. If there is an unexpected problem, like a poorly interviewer, the team have decided amongst themselves how to cover it, often without the need to the People Team to be involved.
  2. Our interviewers have had greater influence over their schedule. People have been able to openly discuss the pressures on their time and the days/time when it would be more difficult for them to interview. Others have stepped in to cover any problematic slots. Reciprocally, those that have had their preferences taken on board are ready to go out of their way to help the group at other times.
  3. We’ve seen that the load of leading interviews is spread more fairly across our interviewers. This has happened through team member self-regulation. With the old approach, interviewers could not see the number of interviews other interviewers were taking on. With the overall interview schedule visible to the entire team, team members could see whether they were taking on their fair share. In my last post I mentioned that this benefit happened almost instantly — in the first week of the experiment one team member noted the three interviews he had scheduled in a single day was going to be really hard, his team mate then piped-up, “Oh, that’s not fair — I can take one of those off you. Let me do the 9:30 one, as I’ve only done one interview all week”. It’s a little thing and obvious decision, but something that just did not happen when the interviewers were acting as individuals and not a team.
  4. We’ve seen leadership and ownership of the process from an array of people in the interview teams — from volunteering to cover an interview first to get the ball rolling, helping facilitate the stand-up at the start of each week to encouraging others to help with an interview when they cannot.

Part-way through the experiment, the below conversation took place on the private Slack channel we set-up to use each week. When this happened, I knew we were on the right track!

Open communication, self-organisation and team spirit in action 😊

While this approach has been in place we’ve continued to run high quality telescreens, technical tests and interviews. Ultimately, we’ve hired a number of really talented developers. We’ve also seen some additional positive benefits that we were not expecting. Thanks to the team being set-up and prepared to cover interviews on agreed days and at shorter notice, we’ve been able to confirm interview times that suit candidates more quickly and get them into interviews as soon as possible. As they were working more closely, the interview team discussed and agreed our approach to recording feedback for candidates which has allowed feedback, both positive and constructive, to be delivered to recruiters and candidates more quickly. To call it out, the self-organising team has provided an improved candidate experience!

This has been brilliant and a validation of our approach to trust a team and go with Theory Y. I have to say a big “thank you” to everyone that has been involved in software engineer recruitment over the past 6 weeks for really engaging with the experiment, nailing the team approach and meeting our ultimate goal — recruiting some awesome new Redgaters.