How to Lead the Happiest Teams with 5 Simple yet Powerful Rules

Two years ago I wrote an article named “How to Lead Happier Teams with 6 Simple Rules”. Retrospection and learning from past experiences are really important to me so I wanted to look back over these two years and revisit my article and see what I have learned since and if there is anything to add or amend.

What has changed since? Our team grew from 35 to around 50 by early 2020 and then shrank down to around 40 with a single termination and mainly due to controlled attrition as our industry has turned from a growth-at-all-costs mode to a sharp turn towards the path to profitability while at the same time being severally impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this very challenging and turbulent business environment, using these rules, our team has been enjoying the highest eNPS (Employee Net Promoter Score) in the company (and 22 points higher than the benchmark of all industries) while our business performance has been exceptional given the COVID-19 context.

Looking back at these rules, I realise that the most important thing (transparency) did not have its own rule so I wanted to correct this. At the same time, I combined some rules and lowered their number to 5 because Less is More.

Rule #1: Be Transparent

Most disagreements arise from the fact that people do not have the same context and information available. Management tries to steer the company based on the consolidated information they have available while front-line employees have first hand knowledge of all the details affecting their product and customers.

If you follow rule #2 then all your front-line employees and middle management are great and capable people able to solve most of your problems and best positioned to seize opportunities that arise. It does not matter if you hire the best people in the world if you do not empower them to help you. Information is empowerment and your people are perfectly capable of handling the truth. Trust them with it. People will rise to the occasion and will be able to come up with solutions you did not even think about.

Transparency builds trust. Trust from both sides. Your team will trust you for being sincere and open with them and you can trust your team to make good decisions because they have all the information and context.

Trust your team with the truth and trust them in advance. People will rise to the occasion, they will be the best they can be and will rarely disappoint you. Trust them with information and they will keep it secret. If you do not trust them, they will sooner or later get the information and will reflect your lack of trust by sharing the information you failed to entrust them with.

A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity. — Dalai Lama

Rule #2: Hire Only Great People

Hire only humble, ethical and sincere people that show a solid combination of determination and raw ability. Experience is much less important than the above. A mix of different characters is also important to have. Some people are going to be introverts others extroverts, some are going to be more like you and others completely different but all of them can do great work in their own way as long as they are down to earth, open to feedback and nice to others. Don’t compromise character and company culture for an impressive CV or an urgent staffing need.

Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you. You think about it; it’s true. If you hire somebody without [integrity], you really want them to be dumb and lazy. — Warren Buffet

Rule #3: Lots of Laughs

Create a fun, friendly, and open environment where people can be themselves. If people do not laugh a lot around the office, your company is in trouble. We spend way too much time at work for it not to be fun. Do not take yourself too seriously. For example, when we say something that reminds us any silly or horribly cheesy song, we play the “Crappy Song of the Day” that is both funny and it reminds people that we should not take ourselves too seriously. Respect is not just about how we act and the way we talk to each other, it is about accepting the other person for who they are and about celebrating our differences.

Laughter connects you with people. It’s almost impossible to maintain any kind of distance or any sense of social hierarchy when you’re just howling with laughter. Laughter is a force for democracy. — John Cleese

Rule #4: Celebrate Learnings Not Results

Make your team feel at ease with making mistakes and taking appropriate risks. In order to move quickly, you need to take risks that are comparable to the marginal gain of moving quickly. Explain to them that the goal is to move on average on a positive direction with maximum speed. You are not aiming for perfection you are aiming for speed and best effort.

Do not define success as a positive outcome. Define success as setting clear goals, measuring outcomes, and learning from the experience. Celebrate the teams that are not afraid to show that despite their best intentions things went to shit. Define failure as the inability to learn from past experiences.

Make sure you call out your own mistakes so that people feel comfortable with making mistakes and being open with them. At the same time, never miss the opportunity to praise people, and reinforce positive behaviours and actions.

Don’t find fault, find a remedy. — Henry Ford

Rule #5: Above All a Mentor — Not Just a Manager

Develop people and help them grow even outside of your company or team. Even if in the worst case your team or company cannot support the growth of an individual or even there is a mismatch between their preferences and company needs, make sure you guide them to a role that will allow them to continue growing even if that means leaving the company. They will surely deliver 100% of their abilities until their last day and others in the team will step up to cover the gap. Your number one goal as a people manager should be to hire great people and help them grow professionally. You should measure churn as someone getting fired or quitting without you having helped them get their next great role. Maybe in a few years you will get the opportunity to work with them again or even collaborate in a client — vendor relationship. If you care more about your employees’ success than you do about your short term business goals, you will end up maximising your company’s value in the long term.

I am very proud that all of our attrition and even the one termination helped people move into new roles that helped them progress their careers either within the company (e.g. moving from customer support to IT) or outside the company. People want to be useful and productive. Even if you restructure a role and there is no need for the specific position any longer be frank and give people the time to find an appropriate role inside or outside the company. The extra months you will pay will probably match the cost of a separation package but at the same time you will enjoy some productivity from the employee and will spare the rest of the team from fear and uncertainty. Of course, to make this work you need to be transparent and have a trustful relationship with the employee already. Always remember that how you treat any single employee affects how all other employees feel about your company.

Summary

I bet you have noticed a pattern here. Trust is the key to building happy and successful teams. To build trust, you need to be transparent with people, you need people who are able to trust others and be trusted, you need to encourage humour and laughter which releases oxytocin which in turn helps build trust, you need to encourage people to make mistakes and learn from them without fear or judgment, and you need to treat people in a way that helps them feel secure about their future be it in your company or elsewhere.

It really is as easy at it sounds. Trust me on this!

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Vasilis Danias

Co-founder & CEO of Bitloops. Very interested in software engineering and software architecture. The main proponent of the Picoservices Architecture.