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.
Automattic’s team has been fully distributed since the company launched in 2005.
On WooCommerce, Beau’s team consists of about 230 people across product teams, platform teams, quality, and testing.
They’re responsible for everything from the business’s open-source ecommerce platform to specific commercial products and services built to supplement it. They also operate a marketplace where people can buy third party solutions to help customize their WooCommerce presence.
“We treat synchronous time as the most valuable (and disruptive) time that we have. Because people are spread all over the world, and most teams are also spread across multiple time zones, defaulting to synchronous meetings just isn’t a good option for us.” — Beau Lebens, Head of Engineering for WooCommerce at Automattic
Each of the sub-teams in Beau’s org have somewhat different meeting schedules depending on their needs.
Here’s an example of what that might look like.
“We expect all team leads to have regular contact with their direct reports, but don’t specifically dictate the cadence, duration, or format.” - Beau Lebens
Being a distributed group, Beau’s team leans heavily on async communication over meetings, as it tends to be more inclusive across time zones and is a more effective way to communicate things like progress and updates.
“Everything we do is optimized for async communication. If something is more of a status update, we move it to an async format unless there are actually blockers or problems to discuss.”- Beau Lebens
The team’s async toolkit:
“We’re a writing-heavy culture, which means we expect things to be written down in a public place, and documented properly and ‘officially’.” — Beau Lebens
Being hyper-intentional with their use of meeting time (and keeping it to a minimum) has helped Beau’s team build more quickly and feel less drained from Zoom fatigue. It helps them get more out of the meetings they do have too, because people see the value of the time together and come ready to engage.
When you treat meetings as high value though, Beau says you’ve got to make sure you frequently check-in to see that they’re actually providing that value.
“Always question meetings—especially your recurring ones. If they’re not providing value then look for ways to either convert them to async processes, or eliminate them entirely.” — Beau Lebens
For distributed teams, meeting physically plays a key role in team-building and cohesion. As much as Beau’s org works to prioritize connection remotely, in-person meet-ups still reign supreme when it comes to building empathy for one another.
For that reason, Beau encourages sub-teams to get together on a regular cadence for a mix of work and fun time together. They switch up locations each time to make sure it’s inclusive for teammates in different locales.
“Because we are a 100% distributed organization (and always have been), we’ve always actively included a bit more social time in our schedule to reinforce team bonds and cohesion.” — Beau Lebens
Outside of these gatherings, the team also works to build smaller team-building activities into their daily and weekly rhythms. This helps them stay connected and continue to strengthen their relationships in between those bigger meet-up moments.