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Presentation: The Story of Teams Autonomy and Servant Leadership

Track: Empowered Teams

Location: Empire Complex, 7th fl.

Duration: 11:50am - 12:40pm

Day of week: Thursday

Slides: Download Slides

Level: Intermediate

Persona: CTO/CIO/Leadership, General Software

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What You’ll Learn

  1. Hear how booking.com has moved from legacy team management to fully autonomous teams then a blend of managed and autonomous teams.
  2. Learn what are the benefits of autonomous teams.
  3. Find out how an autonomous team can evaluate its members.

Abstract

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 Booking.com 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, Booking.com 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 Booking.com. 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.

Question: 

You are with booking.com. What do you do there?

Answer: 

My current title is called Senior Developer and Team Lead. I look after two teams which belong to the business booking organization which is aimed toward business customers. Those who travel for business, those who organize travel for others, an enterprise solution on our platform. My day is mostly solving team problems and helping people to overcome the problems they might have. I take care of interactions within the team, interaction externally to other people outside the team. Being a team leader, a people manager.

Question: 

What's the motivation for this talk?

Answer: 

This talk is based on my experience at booking.com. I've been with them three and a half years, and during this time I saw how the team organization transformed from a team where a team leader made all the decisions and facilitated all the meetings, and was the person responsible for the team performance. Then I witnessed and was part of the autonomous team where there was no team leader and people within the team were equally responsible for driving the team performance and making it happen. In the end, we have reached the third leadership concept, a combination of two worlds, having a team lead but also using the team autonomy.

This person is responsible for making sure that autonomy is respected, and can step in to fix that. I found this valuable experience, I found how to be efficient as organization, how to transform its internal way of management, way of organizing teams. We've had really interesting learning from there, some failures. I'm going to talk about this experience. I hope this might help other companies to know these things in advance, see what's possible. I think autonomous teams are a quite uncommon way of managing people and managing teams, and these learnings might inspire other people to try to do something within their organization if something is not going well.

Question: 

What does it mean to be following servant leadership?

Answer: 

Depends on the situation. If we look into the Tuckman's model for example, where the team is forming, storming, norming, performing, the role of the team leader in each of these phases is different all the time. When the team is forming, you have to be there, you have to lead. Nothing would lead, you have to push people in the right direction, do many things on your own, make some decisions, and make sure that everything works. However, when the team becomes more mature and it goes to the performance stage, the team leader may step down a bit and say, okay guys, you know what to do, do your work, I'm not going to interfere. This adaptability of a leader, adjusting their leadership style, when to do things, when to delegate, is a key thing for a skillful leader.

Question: 

Can you give me an example of one of the stories you might share?

Answer: 

Autonomous means that everybody in the team is equally responsible for team performance, and that makes people really care about the product they're building. When there is no team lead you can rely on, you start taking more and more actions in order to fix things or in order to drive them in the right direction. I will share in my talk some real life examples about how things were solved in an autonomous way. For example, how do we manage performance reviews of each other. If there is no direct manager, we have to come up with a way to give score points to everybody. We are sitting together in a room and discussing each other. It was scaring in the beginning because now I have to discard and now I have to assess performance of my of my peers who I work with, and it was a bit of like, hey, will it go well? What happens after we evaluate people? Will that offend someone or how the relationship will go afterward? In my team it proved to work very well, and people really could get the feedback, and since it was not given by a person but by a group of people, the feedback was much more diverse and it was much more objective comparing to one person.

Question: 

In that particular example, did you have a major underperformer that was getting feedback and how did that go?

Answer: 

Yes. I can't speak about other teams, but the person who didn't perform well enough was a strong contributor, but the rest of the team considered as being below expectation. I was really scared because I was expecting that person start a conflict, will start arguing. Buut in the end I was really surprised with the outcome when that person said, yes, I hear you, I got your feedback and I think you are right. Your arguments make sense. So I'll accept the score, I'll accept whatever you give me as the feedback, and I'll try to work on that in future. And then, after this person acknowledged that there was a problem, everybody in the team knew that there was an issue and helped that person to fix it. In the end, it really turned out super well.

In my talk, it will look like my team was the ideal team. Everything was really nice, everything was really working well and perfectly. However, it's not the case in every team. There are teams that might look like being the opposite.

Question: 

Do you have any stories that are the opposite? .

Answer: 

Not concrete examples. But the main reason why it didn't work well at booking.com was that we couldn't keep teams on the performance page all the time. We give people much freedom to change teams, and that happens often and it helps with growth, but when somebody changes a team the dynamics of the team is affected. So we couldn't keep the high performance stage of the team. It was mostly like a forming-storming stage. This was the main problem. Plus there was a huge overhead of managers. There used to be a team lead with a team of five-six people. And there was a senior team lead above them which managed five team leads. There was a huge overhead when everybody had to report to their direct team lead. So we had to change that.

Speaker: Georgiy Mogelashvili

Senior Developer & Team Lead @bookingcom

In his 10+ years experience Georgiy had a chance to work for small local companies, country scale enterprises, non-profit organisations and international corporations.

Today Georgiy is working at Booking.com, world's leading online travel agency. His role there - Senior Developer and Team Lead, and he is responsible for company products development as well as people management.

Georgiy believes that main skill each manager should have is openness - ability to honestly and fairly talk to your direct reports and people around you in order to achieve results together.

In his spare time Georgiy likes constructing Lego Technic creations, planespotting in airports around the world, and spending time with his wife and little daughter.

Find Georgiy Mogelashvili at

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