What are things like around here?

A manifesto for small teams doing important work

It doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, we have an obligation to change it.

The small team is the essential unit of forward motion.

Small teams get stuff done. They have a goal, a structure, and someone who takes responsibility.

Small teams are small enough to communicate effectively (aside: part of the power of Slack is that enables larger teams to act like smaller ones).

Small teams are large enough to cause collisions of ideas, to bring together points of view and varying types of expertise.

Small teams create action because they are juicy and vibrant.

Your town isn’t a small team, because there isn’t a goal, a cohesive structure and any accountability.

On the other hand, your bowling group might be one.

Big teams rarely defeat small teams, because while they might have a goal, and even a structure, they have trouble maintaining cohesion. Mostly, though, they spend so much time communicating that they don’t have enough time to do great work.

Your small team, the one that’s making a difference, is quite likely part of a bigger whole. You don’t have to be independent or tiny to matter.

The constraints are part of the deal. Removing the constraints of time or leverage or money require giving up the very elements that make small teams so agile, potent and focused.

Since we’re signing up to be on a small team, we might as well acknowledge that:

We are always under tight deadlines, because time is our most valuable asset.

If you make a promise, set a date. No date, no promise.

If you set a date, meet it.

If you can’t make a date, tell us early and often. Plan B well prepared is a better strategy than hope.

Clean up your own mess.

Clean up other people’s messes.

Overcommunicate.

Question premises and strategy.

Don’t question goodwill, effort or intent.

“I’ll know it when I see it,” is not a professional thing to say. Describing and discussing in the abstract is what we do.

Big projects are not nearly as important as scary commitments.

If what you’re working on right now doesn’t matter to the mission, help someone else with their work.

Make mistakes, own them, fix them, share the learning.

Cheap, reliable, public software might be boring, but it’s usually better. Because it’s cheap and reliable.

Yesterday’s hierarchy is not nearly as important as today’s project structure.

Lock in the things that must be locked in, leave the implementation loose until you figure out how it can get done.

Mostly, we do things that haven’t been done before, so don’t be surprised when you’re surprised.

Care more.

If an outsider can do it faster and cheaper than we can, don’t hesitate.

Always be seeking outside resources. A better rolodex is better, even if we don’t have rolodexes any more.

Talk to everyone as if they were your boss, your customer, the founder, your employee. It’s all the same.

It works because it’s personal.

The altMBA is my best attempt to fundamentally change the status quo, to help teams level up, to establish a high standard for seeing, deciding and communicating. I hope you’ll check it out before applications are closed for the year.

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