Track: Empowered Teams

Location: Empire Complex, 7th fl.

Day of week: Thursday

Empowered teams deliver better products more quickly, require less management, and have more fun.

This track will showcase innovative ways our industry’s best teams have created amazing outcomes by empowering themselves to become better engineers and better human beings.

But there is no single way to build an empowered team; instead they are stitched together as a patchwork of emerging organizational science practices and modern team-building tactics. Come learn how they came to be and how you too might learn from their successes.

Track Host: Harry Brumleve

Architect: Solution/Systems (integration focused)

Currently director of engineering at HomeAdvisor, Harry Brumleve brings over 20 years of software engineering experience from around the globe. He's helped build solutions of all types: from the frivolous and fanciful to the life-saving and mission critical. His recent work focuses on helping people create rewarding cultures and deliver products that that delight their customers.


10:35am - 11:25am

Dynamic Reteaming: The Art & Wisdom of Changing Teams

Let’s debunk the myth that you must keep teams stable or “the same” in order to have a successful company. Changing teams can help reduce the risk of attrition, learning & career stagnation, and the development of knowledge silos. I’ll share original case studies from companies that enable dynamic change to their teams propelled by retrospectives and other humanistic practices. In this talk, you’ll learn tips and tricks for building a sustainable company by changing teams – whether it’s by growing and splitting teams, merging teams, seeding teams, adding new people across multiple teams and more. I’ll also share reteaming antipatterns and what not to do.

Heidi Helfand, Director of Engineering Excellence @procoretech

11:50am - 12:40pm

The Story of Teams Autonomy and Servant Leadership

When faced a tremendous growth, company may have a problem - how to motivate all their employees and set them for success? One of the possible solutions we experimented with at was idea of having autonomous teams - teams without direct managers (team leads) and where each and every member was equally responsible for team dynamics and perfromance. We believed that through providing autonomy, people will drive their own and company's performance.

It was partially true but also not. We had to stop the experiment, but we gained many useful learnings, which helped us improve the way teams are working. Not giving up with autonomy, re-introduced team leads back as servant-leaders - people who drive and control team's autonomy and who can adjust to the situation.

In this talk you will be guided through the story of team leaders evolution at You will learn how did autonomous teams perform and what was great about it, will also learn some lessons we learned, and get some insights on how teams are organised today in the organisation with more than 1,500 people in IT.

Georgiy Mogelashvili, Senior Developer & Team Lead @bookingcom

1:40pm - 2:30pm

Empowered Teams Open Space

Open Space is a simple way to run productive meetings from 5 to 2000 or more people, and a powerful way to lead any kind of organization in everyday practice or extraordinary change. In Open Space sessions, participants create and manage their own agenda of parallel working sessions around a central theme of strategic importance.


2:55pm - 3:45pm

Breaking Codes, Designing Jets and Building Teams

Throughout engineering history, focused and empowered teams have consistently achieved the near-impossible. Alan Turing, Tommy Flowers, and their teams at Bletchley Park broke Nazi codes, saved their country, and brought down the Third Reich. Kelly Johnson and the Lockheed Skunk Works designed and built the XP-80 in 143 days, and later produced the U-2, the SR-71, and the F-22. Xerox PARC invented Smalltalk, graphical user interfaces, Ethernet, and the laser printer. What can this history teach us? Well, basically everything.
Effective teams have a mission - a clearly defined problem which the entire team focuses on and owns end-to-end. 
Effective teams collaborate without hierarchy, across disciplines and between diverse individuals. It should be no surprise that Bletchley was an eclectic mix of "Boffins and Debs" - almost 75% women at its peak; or that Skunk Works' founding team included the first Native American female engineer.
Effective teams rapidly learn and adapt. Constant experimentation, tight feedback loops, and a policy of embracing failure are all part of the recipe of success. Innovation does not arrive on a waterfall schedule.
If this sounds a lot like DevOps, or true little-a agile, that's no coincidence. But too few organizations actually practice these three-quarter-century-old ideas despite the overwhelming evidence that they work. As Santayana wrote, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." So let's relearn those history lessons.

Randy Shoup, VP Engineering @WeWork

4:10pm - 5:00pm

Empowering Agile Self-Organized Teams With Design Thinking

My experience and research has shown that design thinking empowers employees and teams, enabling them to create a more resilient, value-focused organizational culture.

Innovation-driven growth at the organizational level requires a multidisciplinary approach to designing systems that create the right conditions for self-organizing teams to explore and create while maintaining system hygiene. To achieve that growth, leaders and managers must adopt a strategy for fostering new thinking, practices, and processes that convert strategy both laterally and vertically into new value. To foster the right kind of environment, you must manage the boundaries of the teams, establishing the right cadence and rituals to ensure trust and psychological safety.

“Organizations that operate from the authoritarian, hierarchical, command and control model, where the top leaders control the work, information, decisions, and allocation of resources, produce employees that are less empowered, less creative, and less reductive.” – Journal of Strategic Studies, Creativity and Innovation: The Leadership Dynamics.

In this talk, we’ll discuss boundaries, policies, cadence for self-organizing teams, then cover the key principles and practices of design thinking and how it can be leveraged by agile teams to collaboratively test new options and create new value. Design thinking all comes down to the collaboration utilizing divergence and convergence: acquire and synthesize insights, formulate hypotheses, prototype solutions, and ruthlessly test them with real customers. 

We’ll cover that with a case study of how an infrastructure engineering team transformed themselves from waterfall to agile, while learning the key practices of design thinking to reduce the lead time for delivering services and systems from 9 months to days, and in some cases, hours.

 The key aspects of Design Thinking we’ll cover:

  1. The importance of trust, boundaries, and candor for team dynamics;
  2. Customer-Centricity. Who are they? What are their challenges? What are their ‘jobs-to-be-done’?
  3. Empathy and Understanding to engaging with customers in their context;
  4. Validate through experimentation that the team is solving the right problem;
  5. Bringing the whole team together to collaboratively explore the problem space and engage in divergent and convergent exercises;
  6. Prototype lightweight solution hypotheses to ensure that the problems are solved before scaling out and investing in delivering the product or service to customers;
  7. When design thinking is appropriate, and when it’s a waste of time (when a user story is simple, simply do it!)

William Evans, Chief Design Officer & Design Semantic Foundry

5:25pm - 6:15pm

A Neurobiologist's Guide to Empowering Your Team

A useful-psychology double-whammy: (A) Developers are great systems thinkers. Surprise: your brain is a system too! Reframe frustration into accomplishment, and become a more effective and bubbly person using a frontal cortex feedback loop. (B) Want your team to be the happiest, most productive team around? Recent psychology research reveals one key attribute of the most successful teams, and it's within your influence.

Casey Watts, Lead Software Engineer @Heroku