Three months ago, we told you about our big experiment to reorganize our Engineering department to scale with all of the brilliant new devs we’ve been adding to our teams. We needed to make sure that we had enough structure in place so that devs had a great relationship with their manager (i.e., no managers should have forty direct reports) and that our teams were small and nimble enough to go deep on specific problems, to make good decisions and to move quickly.
So, we introduced a new role in Engineering: the Atlassian Team Lead. To refresh your memory, at Atlassian team leads are expected to run a small team of 4-5 people; manage their own backlog and agile practices, provide technical leadership, do regular one-on-ones, offer feedback and career coaching and be the public interface for their team.
And we’ve given ourselves a goal that, in Scott’s words, “We should be able to develop our Team Leads to such a level that they could get a job not just at Atlassian, but at any of the other top software product companies in the world if they wanted.”
Things are looking pretty darn good so far, and we wanted to give you a quick update on what we’ve done so far. Soon after we announced Atlassian’s twenty-one new Team Leads, we decided it was important to bring the folks together as a team themselves. We thought it was important to make sure that our Team Leads had a strong peer group, people with whom they could share challenges and victories, and build out that network of personal connections that is so important to getting things done. We thought this was so important, in fact, that we decided to pull all of the team leads out of the office for a two-day offsite.
We booked out Q-Station, just outside of Sydney, for our little retreat. We had a chock-a-block agenda: We did a retrospective on the first few weeks of team-leading, where all of the TLs shared the good and bad of their experiences. The Founders talked about their vision for these new Team Leads; what they felt the TLs job was, what they expected to see from all of us, and how they hoped that the new TLs would improve our overall Engineering culture. We invited a guest speaker, Mick Liubinskas of Pollenizer, who gave a detailed presentation on Pollenizer’s aggressive program of customer validation. Mick’s presentation was brilliant, and forced us to think much harder about the features we choose to build, how we build them, and how we can get the most value for customers in the quickest amount of time.
In the afternoon, we took a bit of a break for kayaking! We grabbed boats, paddled ’round the harbor, and then landed on a near-by beach for the ominously named “Innovation Games.” The secret games, in fact, turned out to be quite a bit of fun – puzzles on the beach, encouraging team problem solving and quick critical thinking. Yes, there were lessons hidden in the games, but to the credit of the organizers, that didn’t actually make them any less fun. As the sun went down, lessons learned, we paddled back to Q Station in time for happy hour.
Happy hour transitioned smoothly to dinner, which bled into after-dinner drinks, which rallied for beer-fueled trivia quiz. We thought that would be a nice wrap up for the evening, but instead it just got everyone’s competitive juices flowing! So then we started playing Werewolf. I, for one, have never seen a better game of Werewolf in my life. The team leads were intense, and intensely competitive. Throwing them into a Werewolf game brought everyone’s personalities out faster than we thought possible. And we know now who to watch out for at the poker table.
On Day Two, we took all that we learned from Mick about customer validation and tried to apply it to some of our current work. We split up into ad-hoc groups and proceeded with some serious deep thinking. We asked some hard questions of each other, and each team presented their answers to the group. We tackled some of the biggest challenges facing our engineering organization, and it was amazing to see these twenty-one new Team Leads start digging into these problems with a new sense of ownership and possibility.
There will be more updates to come on the blog as we track the growth of Atlassian Engineering, but the Team Lead offsite showed us that Atlassian has a powerful new tool in our new Team Leads, and that we’ve got an amazing group of peers to work with. We can’t wait to see what they do next!