10 ways to make your team more human
I still remember that morning when the three of us, design researcher, designer and marketer were sitting around a table trying to figure out why our team website wasn't working. That site needed to be up ASAP, and we all hustled that morning to troubleshoot our way through it, even though technically, none of us owned that website. Weeks later, my boss recalls that moment at our team meeting,
"You know how I know we're a team? Because we save each other."
Our team wasn’t like that on Day 1. How did we get there? At Intuit, we not only have deep customer empathy for our customers, we know we have to have it for our stakeholders. What we want to do for our customers is just as important as how we solve for them as a team. I’ve found that the best teams I’ve worked on are the ones where we truly to get know people as people, where we go from colleagues to teammates. Here are some of the things we do at Intuit that makes it one of the most human places to work at.
1. Engage in non-work related (NWR) slack channels
One of my favorite downtime’s is catching up on my team’s fun channel. We meme each other, share puns/jokes and make fun of ourselves. It’s not just my team, there are so many NWR channels including cat and dog lover channels, moms channels, peloton follower channels and even a channel (more like support group) for the SF<—->Mountain View<—-> East/South Bay commuters.
2. Kick serious business off with NOT business
As a design strategist that works across a business unit, I get the privilege to drive and be a part of mission teams. This often means bringing complete strangers together. When that happens, it’s important to kick things off with activities that help us understand each other’s context. Who we are as people will influence how we work and understanding people will only make collaboration easier. In order words, it pays to go slow to go fast here. My favorite activity for this is to capture everyone’s HOPES / FEARS. We make it clear that these hopes/fears should not just be contained to work.
3. Look for the micro-openers
Even in daily stand-ups, I look for micro ways to get to know people. A stand-up is meant to be quick so you don’t want to drag things on. How can you sneak human-ness into seemingly processed-driven moments?
Who’s birthday is next? When is it? You go first!
Who had the shortest commute this morning? Great, you take notes!
(If we end early) Anyone experience something inspiring to share?
5. Capture milestones and NWR highlights
When it makes sense, ask people to share highlights from the quarter. Take the time to capture photos or videos of the work you’re doing. Capture funny things that happen at work like the day Lionel showed up to work wearing a navy blue shirt (he only wears black) or when Gina and Zoe literally showed up in uniform! I also do a lot of workshops and storytelling events, so capturing these moments makes for an interesting year book at the end of the year. And don’t forget the usual birthdays, baby/bridal showers. Due to the size of our team, we have scaled birthday celebrations to be monthly only.
4. Prioritize the “people on the phone”
its become increasingly common these days to have team members work remotely or work from home. Lots of tips out there on how to connect better with “those on the phone” but my personal favorite is to ask them questions about their environment (can’t help it, it’s the researcher in me). I found out my Canadian co-worker Steve is actually a tinkerer/inventor on the side - just by asking him questions about what I saw in his camera frame. Another one of my favorite is to level the playing field. There’s no reason why everyone in the room couldn’t also call into the meeting so everyone’s a face on the screen. There’s a remote engineer, Karen, on another team that is always dialed into iPad through FaceTime at work. She’s always connected and teammates can drop-by at anytime to chat with her, and even “bring” her physically into meetings.
6. Create physical environments for human connection
At our team space, we used to have a spot with about 4-5 lounge chairs. It wasn’t very comfy or conducive for working. As a result, it ended up being rarely used. The energy just didn’t feel right.
Our team admin, Katie, recently took it upon herself to switch out that awkward furniture for a studio-like setting with 12 seats. The difference has been night and day. There’s a buzz that centers around that table. People move in and out of that table but that’s where we now go to connect - whether for work or not. Physical spaces matter.
7. Share common experiences often
People immediately think of off-sites and year- end parties for how to bring employees together. It doesn’t have to be fancy at all! One of my favorite things to do with our team is the white elephant exchange. It’s low-key, low-bar for engagement but you learn a shit ton about the people you work with. What extent someone is willing to go through to STEAL a gift from another team-mate is extremely telling. One time, we decided to host a pantyhose bowling tournament in the patio. It was totally casual, we had some beer, people showed up to play, others just had a kick out of watching everyone make a fool of themselves. We lucked out and our CEO at that time, Brad Smith, walked by and was easily convinced to play a round of this game with us. (A test of a good CEO actually - will they walk by or will they play??)
8. Get out of the building
Magic happens when you leave the building. At Intuit, we make it a commitment to spend time visiting our customers. Since the days of our founder, Scott Cook, we’ve nicknamed it “Follow me homes”. When we do follow-me-homes as a team, carpooling always becomes an option. Other than saving on gas, I generally love carpooling. It’s an extra hour or two for the team to bond in a car without having to wait for an offsite. We learn about each other's musical tastes (or lack of!), and somehow inevitably talk about not-work.
Some of my favorite meetings happened on a pedal boat at shoreline lake, or walking around the campus with my manager, or when we went offsite for lunch. Trust me - the conversation changes. You still talk about work, but you also talk about a lot more about who you are as a person. A recent off-campus chat I had with a PM was a breakthrough moment for us - when I discovered something about him that explained why we kept butting heads in how we worked.
9. Share NWR goals
At Intuit, we make it a point to articulate our development and business goals every year. We do it on an individual basis but our leaders are actually pretty transparent about theirs. It starts with our GM sending out his goals, and then the VP of Design in my org sends hers out to the entire org. My boss follows and also has his pasted outside his office. And when you read it, there’s a pattern - we talk about our personal goals. It’s okay to have big, important personal goals that have nothing to do with work, but it has everything to do with who we are as people. We bring our whole selves to work and our goals is another good place for us to show that (to a certain degree, you don’t have to be an open kimono). Which leads me to my next point.
10. Leaders, please lead by example
One of the best things I see leaders at Intuit do, especially my boss, was to actually take time off. When he had his two girls, both times, he took his full paternity leave. This is one of many examples he has set for the rest of the team, especially the women and moms on the team. We’re allowed to be human and we should feel NO GUILT in taking all the time off to be with our children and that family always comes first.
What are some things you have experienced at your workplace? Share your stories.