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