New team, assemble!
One person’s adventures in bringing people together.
The beginning of November marked my first year as Liferay’s UX Design Manager for North America. As Design organizations are wont to do, we restructured and consolidated some designers from marketing and engineering into a fledgling User Experience team based out of our office in ̶D̶i̶a̶m̶o̶n̶d̶ ̶B̶a̶r̶ Los Angeles.
Spoiler alert: I made a lot of mistakes, but also learned a lot and thought it might be helpful to share some of these things.
Mergers & Acquisitions
(If you read that heading in Christian Bale’s voice — that’s interesting, please continue — this will be my last film reference. Yes, I said film.)
Let me preface this by repeating — I made a lot of mistakes — it took about eight months for our team to get healthy enough to jog. In retrospect that sounds like a really long time and believe me, it was.
Two things I would recommend to managers undergoing a similar process are to “rehire” all prospective teammates and establish a short “onboarding” period to use as a milestone for a team health evaluation.
“Rehire” all teammates that aren’t currently reporting to you
Provide time for a series of interviews, give your colleagues the opportunity to learn about you and your expectations for the team. You should also interview them as you would a new employee, learn about them, identify their strengths and opportunities for growth, and have an open discussion to see if you are the best person to help them and if they are going to be a good fit for the new team. Make the decision together — either party should have the ability to opt-out and explore other possibilities within the organization.
Give yourselves a 60–90 day probationary period
Evaluate and have discussions with each teammate around this time, ideally you’ll be having regular one-to-one’s with them anyway, but now is the time to really figure out how everything has been working out. If there are issues, take immediate steps to resolve them — if you or someone joining the team have any misgivings, this period should provide enough time to address those concerns. It will be much easier for someone to change teams early instead of waiting and allowing potentially bad fit to fester.
There are plenty of far more experienced and knowledgeable people you can read regarding the finer points of strong culture-building, but for starters my recommendation is to do three things regularly:
- Know your teammates personally — have weekly walks or chats with them. Don’t talk about work, don’t ask for a progress report, use the time to learn about them — their families, their passions, what they’re doing outside of work, etc. Investing in your team in this way will help you serve them in a more effective way.
- Listen more than you talk — in one-on-ones, in reviews, in team meetings, be slow to give your opinions — ask questions to clarify and guide the conversation, but you’ll learn a lot by talking less and helping your colleagues discover their own voices.
- Get an outsider’s perspective — have a mentor or coach that you don’t report to. This can be someone at your company but preferably outside of your business unit. Having a calm ear to vent to and a neutral voice of wisdom will help you discover your blind spots and provide an impartial point of view.
Grow and Get Better
Once you’ve successfully merged teams, it’s important to focus on growth. This can be in hiring, but it’s more important to help your current teammates grow personally and professionally.
Conduct regular evaluations to help understand the needs of both individual colleagues and the team as a whole. Being conscious of your company’s business needs and goals, and how well your team is equipped to support them, will help you in creating a case for hiring new teammates.
Creating a growth plan for your team is one of the most important ways to serve them and the business. If your teammates know where they are and where they need to go, they’re more likely to stick around and provide more and more value to the team and the company.
Having industry-relevant positions and goals will help you stay competitive in hiring, but it will also help your teammates stay relevant in the market. If you define your roles and goals solely based on your team’s past achievements, you won’t grow as fast (or quite possibly at all) because you’re only comparing yourself to the past and maybe to others who are a little bit ahead of you, instead of looking at the outside and setting a high bar that is difficult to hit.
2018 was a long year. I haven’t even finished all the things mentioned above, but we’re working hard and continuously improving. We’re almost always hiring, so if any of this sounds good and you want to join, check out our careers page (yes, we know it sucks, but the API is kind of hard to work with)!