Nearly two years ago, I reconnected with a former manager from Yahoo who had just begun at his new role. His “pitch” was to build a team where people want to work together for 3 to 5 years. Given his decade-long tenures at two tech giants (Yahoo and Microsoft), I was sold.
3 months after he started, I joined him at Wayfair, an online furniture retailer. Our grand vision was to personalize every customer touchpoint from email marketing to the storefronts. Shortly after, a world-class data scientist from Netflix joined our team. Then a brilliant yet humble engineering director joined us from Yahoo. He was able to attract several talented Yahoos to join him. The triad was the dream leadership team. Soon our team was considered the best tech team within Wayfair.
I was determined to create a team culture that people would want to work together. The next step was to make that happen through concrete actions.
1. Model behaviors you want to see
As a senior product leader on the team, I set up meet-and-greets with new teammates joining the team or syncs with those colleagues working on my initiatives. I always start out with what led me to Wayfair and what inspired me to be part of the team. For those I work with regularly on projects, I ask questions to learn about their challenges and desires (e.g. areas of growth).
After the initial syncs, I continue checkins consistently and put work into cultivating each relationship. I strongly believe that this type of outreach and human connection is infectious and leading to people connecting more deeply with each other.
2. Advocate for the team but listen intently
As a newly formed team (or rather a re-startup from previous attempts), we needed to build our reputation and trust with teams outside our immediate organization. I took it upon myself to articulate our long-term vision and speak about our plan to extend our current capabilities toward that. I respond transparently about what we can do and cannot do. Transparency and honesty go a long way in building trust with stakeholders.
Addition to advocating for my team, I listen to stakeholders’ wants and needs. When I took over a project from a colleague, the relationship with a partnership team had gone sour. I went on a “listening tour” to attempt to understand their perspectives, mostly frustrations. In return, I ended up becoming a “reverse” advocate to bring understanding back to my own team.
3. Inspire through stories
As a product leader, I am fortunate to be able to interact with many cross-functional teams in my role. I quickly turn around what I’ve learned to share with my teammates to inspire new ideas and implementations. The best way I find to inspire isn’t a laundry list of features, but stories on how a consumer would interact with the site or engage with the email. Forget about personas, just talk to your colleagues about consumer pain points you want to solve. A cohesive story unifies individual’s ideas into a shared vision.
One of my favorite quotes on inspiration is by the author of Little Prince Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
Do we truly have the best tech team within Wayfair? That is certainly debatable as we didn’t define metrics and measure against them. But are we proud of what we have? You betcha.
Originally posted to Medium