Posts in Category: Effective remote teams

Transparency, diversity, and psychological safety

This hadn’t been the post I planned next, but I’m preoccupied with current political & social upheaval. So: today I’m posting about the leverage companies have to both improve their developer teams and society as a whole.

I’ll just lay out my current mental model — if this is useful to you, excellent. If you see flaws or can offer refinements, even better. Note on context: I’ve only ever worked in smallish companies; some dynamics change in larger orgs.

My basic thesis:

  • By default, most developer teams will tend towards poor diversity & biased people decisions, even with effort to do better — and even if they are (somehow) bias-free, it will still LOOK like there’s a problem. That sabotages the team image for potential hires (plus you simply lose out on the well-studied benefits of a diverse team).
  • Once a startup has grown into a medium-sized company that took the default, not-great path, it’s expensive & difficult to correct the trajectory.
  • But the crucial corrections will make any team more effective; so even if you feel that a startup can’t spare focus to work on diversity, keep reading.

Super-short, skip-to-the-ending version of a better approach:

  1. Convert your processes to be concrete, transparent & data-driven
  2. Share them (internally, then publicly)
  3. Result: you’ll drive both real diversity, equity & inclusion
  4. …and take huge steps to foster team psychological safety

More details & specific guidance: read on.

Poor communication red flags

A “code smell” in software dev is a case where it may not be perfectly clear what is wrong with a section of code or a design, but … there’s definitely something, and the team should dig into it before going ahead. There are similar red flags that communication in your team isn’t happening as it should — and you should take a closer look, whether you’re leading the team or not.

Peter Senge’s focus on systems thinking is very relevant here (see “The Fifth Discipline”; a classic). A team (and a company) is a complex system that’s not self-correcting/improving by default; if you just leave your communication culture to develop on its own, this system will lose energy & focus to random communication failures, and break down dramatically under strain — i.e., at the worst possible time.

Here’s a list of 8 red flags that your team isn’t communicating effectively — see which ones you recognize, and we’ll review some strategies to address them.

1. You’re nearing a secret tipping point

There’s a growing problem; when it hits a tipping point, then you’ll take some irrevocable, probably harmful action.

angry, crossed arms

What?! That’s the 2nd time this week he’s gotten into some kind of pissing match with his team lead. I don’t know what’s gotten into him lately, but this is the last straw; he’s got to go.

Building effective distributed teams: series intro

Audience: Anyone leading or working on a distributed software development team keen to become more effective, motivated and fulfilled.

I’ve spent the last decade working full-time+ on a fully-remote healthcare startup, and stepping away of that particular mad plate-spinning exercise has been surreal. I originally joined the company straight from my own ed tech solo startup, so really, it’s been a very long time since I’ve been able to wake up in the morning without that threatening cloud of so many things to do!! 😱 looming over my head.

Untangling a hard problem triggers an urge to help others avoid it, and so I have scores of essays & articles that I’ve started over the years, but then set aside for more urgent tasks. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been taking time to read & reflect, firstly, and to revisit some of those notes.

Topics are all over the place, circling around remote software dev & management (my life for 17 years, now), branching off into other topics that interest me (technical or not).

But I’ll start with the most important one: building effective remote dev teams, founded on psychological safety & robust human feedback loops.

Why focus on psychological safety?