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How teams work: ThoughtSpot’s development team

Staying in-sync on a fast-growing, remote team

October 29, 2021

Leading a team, especially a distributed or growing one, can be hard. Oftentimes the best advice and ideas come from other teams just like yours. That’s why we launched Lead Time: How Teams Work. This blog series profiles real teams, how they’re structured, and how they communicate through meetings and other touchpoints. Plus, each article features a top-notch leader who's got proven tips and real stories to learn from.

Meet Sumeet Arora, Chief Development Officer at ThoughtSpot

Sumeet Arora is ThoughtSpot’s Chief Development Officer. He oversees the company’s engineering, product management, and information security teams — spread across the U.S. and India.

We sat down with Sumeet to learn more about how his team stays aligned and communicates effectively as a fully remote group, and to learn some of his top tips for running a global distributed team.

How the team works

Team structure

As Chief Development Officer, Sumeet sits on the executive leadership team at ThoughtSpot along with other leaders like the heads of sales, marketing, and finance. He’s also part of the core product team, which consists of ThoughtSpot’s head of growth, head of design, and the company’s founders (who operate as CTO and exec chair manager).

Engineering, product management, and information security all ladder up into Sumeet, and the leaders of those functions are his direct reports.

Within Sumeet’s org, employees are organized into 21 V-teams — each responsible for a different part of the product. V-teams consist of engineers, designers, and a product manager, and they plan to add growth analysts in the near future too.

Team meetings and communication cadence

Here’s a look at the weekly meetings on Sumeet’s calendar.

Image representing Sumeet Arora's monthly calendar

Monday

  • Staff meeting:  Leaders across the org meet to kick off the week. Discussion is focused on sharing product and company updates (20 min, max) and then moves to weekly topics around hiring, employee feedback, and customers.
  • Strategy session: Dedicated time each week to discuss big-picture strategy and new ideas. To bring a topic to this session, leaders must prepare a 6-page pre-read (following the company’s template) and share it 48 hours before the meeting. Attendees are expected to read the pre-read ahead of time —it helps everyone prepare for a meaningful, productive discussion.

Tuesday

  • Meetings are kept to a minimum, but Sumeet may have 1:1s or project-related meetings.

Wednesday

  • No meeting Wednesday

Thursday:

  • Rotating V-team meetings: Each Thursday, V-teams meet with the product core team for deep review sessions. These sessions are more conceptual in nature — the team might review design mocks or a new product experience rather than simply sharing out project updates.

Friday

  • Team-building activity: These vary by team — for instance, the team in India recently started running a stand-up comedy activity each Friday to close out the week together with a fun, non-work-related activity.

Sumeet’s top tips for running a globally distributed team

1. End status update meetings

Sumeet says a big part of what makes his team effective is their meeting culture — or lack thereof. ThoughtSpot has been working hard to get rid of meetings that revolve solely around status updates and operational stuff — they believe these types of topics can be easily handled asynchronously instead.

“I’ve been making a conscious effort to minimize meetings, and so have the leaders who report to me,” says Sumeet. “If I go one level down, I don't want my individual contributor engineers to be in any meeting that requires giving status updates. If they have to be in a meeting, it should be about product strategy or design or architecture or brainstorming — not status updates.”

On his team, Sumeet says reviewing project status, quality, or bugs happens asynchronously, both to free up people’s time and to accommodate for the global nature of his team.

“I don’t want my ICs to be in any operational meetings,” he adds. “Their calendar should be free to empower them to write good code.”

ThoughtSpot’s async tech stack

So how does Sumeet’s team handle all this asynchronous communication and still stay aligned? Sumeet gave us a peek at his team’s remote tech stack.

  • ThoughtSpot: The team tracks metrics and commentary around them on their own software. This is where an Engineer might share updates on in-flight work and, if something is blocked, share brief thoughts on what’s going on.
  • Confluence and Google Docs: This is where longer form team documentation lives. Some examples include the 6-pagers Sumeet and team create before meetings and their product roadmaps.
  • Miro: The team likes Miro for its collaborative environment — teammates can draw and whiteboard out ideas together.
  • Slack: ThoughtSpot uses Slack both for asynchronous updates and real-time back-and-forths — for the most part, it’s replaced email for their team.
  • Zoom: They run all their remote meetings over Zoom.

2. Limit dependencies across time zones

Since Sumeet’s teams are spread out between the U.S. and India, it’s been important to create a working structure where they aren’t constantly waiting on folks across the globe to wake up and respond in order to move work forward.

“We’ve tried to design our org structure with loose coupling between time zones, meaning each geo can work autonomously,” says Sumeet. “We’ve invested in product managers, designers and engineers in every time zone we operate in.”

And because the team is adopting more and more asynchronous documentation, it makes it easier to stay aligned across time zones too. Without having to wait to schedule a meeting with folks on the opposite side of the world.

“Everybody can get the full picture without having to meet — it’s golden,” says Sumeet.

3. Break up the monotony

When your team’s fully remote, you start to become very task-oriented and meetings can often feel very tactical in nature. To make sure his team still feels like they’re part of something, and to break up the monotony of the daily Zoom grind, Sumeet’s eng team holds a virtual hackathon twice a year.

“The whole engineering team participates, and the energy that it creates and the ideas that come out of it are so powerful,” he shares.

The hackathon helps the team forge bonds, build trust and psychological safety, and drive engagement. The winners are voted on by participants and then actually become part of the product experience — so everyone’s really fired up about their role in the whole process.

“This pandemic has made us more task-oriented than we need to be,” says Sumeet. “But at the end of the day, we’re all humans.”

Sumeet says taking the time to step away from their day-to-day project-based work has helped reenergize his team and build new connections.

Beyond the hackathon, many teams hold Friday get-togethers over Zoom to hang out and connect on a  human level, rather than just as colleagues. For instance, Summer shared that the team in India recently started a weekly stand-up comedy get-together to close the week off on a non-work-related note, with a good laugh.

Learn more ways to strengthen bonds on remote teams
How ThoughtSpot's Sumeet Arora keeps his remote team in sync
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