warning icon QCon New York 2020 has been canceled. See our current virtual and in-person events.
You are viewing content from a past/completed QCon -

Presentation: Context Matters: Improving the Performance and Wellbeing of Teams

Track: Building High-Performing Teams

Location: Empire Complex, 7th fl.

Duration: 11:50am - 12:40pm

Day of week: Wednesday

What You’ll Learn

  1. Hear real-world examples of different kinds of teams which have different tolerance levels for change and innovation.
  2. Find out why context is so important when working with teams.
  3. Get ideas to help teams to become more effective and efficient.


Do you want to improve the performance and well-being of your team? In this session, you will learn about what makes teams high performing, and the role of context in building and nurturing a high-performing one. Understanding the impact of context on teams will help members and leaders understand what opportunities are available for improving their team’s performance and/or how to begin planning the mission, composition, tools and working conditions of a new team to set them up for success.

By the end of this session, we will have:

  • Compared different contexts that teams operate in, and how these affect team performance, based on the first-hand experiences of the presenters (external macro-shifts, business model dynamics, organizational structure shifts, domains of work, and the knowns/unknowns of problems that teams need to solve)
  • Unpacked some theory behind what defines high-performing teams (purpose, roles, safety, diversity and inclusion, goals and measuring success etc) 
  • Identified constant elements that teams require to be effective, irrespective of context (elements for alignment, coordination, and structure)
  • Gained an understanding of how context affects teams’ reliance on the above elements, and how teams can gain agency to intentionally shape the way that they operate that increases engagement and goal achievement

What is the focus of your work today?


SC: I'm the director of I.T. at Etsy. We have a number of initiatives. We're in the midst of migrating to GCP from physical data centers. We’re also moving from a reactive and manual process to building automation and proactive models in order to reduce toil and make sure that the effort that we are putting in is actually bringing real value to the business and to the employees of Etsy. Other than that, as an I.T. organization we are always focused on keeping the lights on and trying to find ways to just make things work more efficiently and effectively for the company.

ZC: I’m the Director of Strategy & Operations at Etsy. The focus of my work today is designing and managing the systems and rhythms that help Etsy’s product management, design, product engineering, research and analytics teams set their strategy, reflect on their progress, and deliver on their goals. I’m also responsible for intentionally growing Etsy’s product development culture in a way that drives employee engagement and continuous learning, and that translates to great product experiences for Etsy’s buyers and sellers.


What’s the motivation for this talk?


SC: I've worked with a number of teams over the 18 plus years that I've been a leader. It's been a journey! I learned a lot from other people and what they were able to provide based on their experiences. We think there's a Pay It Forward concept where, like open source, as we learn more we're building this whole concept of teams and leadership together as a community. We like being able to give back what we’ve figured out.

The working title of our talk right now is “Context matters - Improving the performance and well-being of teams”. It’s based on experiences here at Etsy and my last role as Director of I.T. at Spotify, and Zofia’s past role as Manager of Strategy & Operations at Spotify. Zofia and I are going to use real-world examples of how different types of teams doing different types of work with different internal and external factors actually have different tolerance levels for change and innovation. Understanding the context and those variables and the situationality of it lets you support and drive teams forward towards becoming healthy and effective.


How would you describe the persona and level of the target audience?


SC & ZC: This talk would be great for anyone who is managing or leading a team. There's probably gonna be some ‘aha’ moments both for newish team leaders but also for more seasoned team leaders as well, because this is about context and context is so situational.


What do you want this persona to walk away from your talk with?


SC & ZC: We’d love them to walk away with ideas that they can take back and tangibly try and experiment with in one of their teams. And hopefully, create an environment that enables their teams to be healthy and productive.

We're going to talk about it more in terms of frameworks and context theories and give some examplesk for how you could apply them to your team’s context. It should be a fairly universal model where you can assess your team and then  try this or that type of approach.


What do you feel is the most important trend in software right now?


SC: I have a passion for security and data privacy. I think it's a critical and often overlooked area of software development. It's foundational in the sense that it should be thought of as part of the DNA of everything we build rather than something that you try to engineer after the fact or snap on. It's something that you should be really thinking about as you're designing and building your software.

ZC: I think there’s interesting work to be done in terms of developing strategies for creating more inclusive recommendation algorithms with and for more diverse groups of people that have historically been under-represented (both in terms of how the technology has been designed and developed, but also in terms of diversifying the content that is served up by the technology).

Speaker: Shawn Carney

Director of IT @Etsy

Shawn Carney is the Director of IT for Etsy, a platform that empowers creative entrepreneurs around the world. Shawn's two decades of leadership experience includes growing diverse, agile teams that deliver strategic business outcomes in fast-paced global environments. She previously served as Director of IT at Spotify and Director of Global Infrastructure at Universal Music Group and EMI Music. She is currently on the tech advisory board for Year Up, a national organization that provides professional career training to underprivileged young adults and helps them secure internships with top US companies.

Find Shawn Carney at

Speaker: Zofia Ciechowska

Director Strategy & Operations @Etsy

Zofia Ciechowska is the Director of Strategy & Operations at Etsy, where she manages the strategic planning and operations rhythm for the executive and senior management teams there.

Previously, Zofia was manager of the Strategy & Operations team at Spotify, where her mission was to design and run the company's strategic planning and execution model, Spotify Rhythm.

Zofia has a passion for managing and encapsulating organizational complexity. She does this by designing and running scalable agile systems for strategic planning and execution, and by coaching teams in responsive ways of working. In all that she does, she optimizes for continuous improvement, people over process, iterative decision-making, fairness and generosity.

In her spare time, you can find Zofia writing articles about music and art, dancing to techno, learning languages, stalking dogs on the NYC subway, eating bread, subverting the patriarchy, wearing glitter, or snorting at bad puns.

As a speaker, Zofia’s expertise includes:

Industries: org design, future of work, people operations, tech, apparel & fashion, social impact, media, music & entertainment

Topics: coaching agile teams, agile operations at scale, strategic planning, strategy and product development, customer experience, learning and development programs

Find Zofia Ciechowska at