Nurturing Team Happiness

Focusing on Team Happiness doesn't mean that every day is going to be a stroll in the park or that every team member will be in a constant state of bliss; work still has it’s ups and down, good days and bad.

When you focus on Team Happiness, people love 'coming to work' because they know the company cares about them and that by being a part of it, they are making the world a better place.

HighlightTeam Happiness @ AutomatticWant to get a glimpse of what Team Happiness looks like inside Automattic? We spoke with the team here.Read now

We learned a huge amount about Team Happiness from speaking to Automattic, (the amazing team behind, but before we all quit our jobs and apply to one of their openings (and yeah, they’re hiring), let’s have a look at how we can apply these learnings to our own team cultures:

Autonomy & Trust

The number one thing that we heard when talking to the team at Automattic was how each team member loved the level of autonomy and trust. For them, these are not just abstract words written into their values, but truths that affect people’s lives on a very human level.

Greater autonomy changes how you look at work. When you have the flexibility to organize your own day, you feel like a free human being. You can be more involved with your family life because your work schedule can be arranged around it.

If we take one thing from Automattic I think it’s that increasing team autonomy and trust can have substantial impact on overall team happiness.

How do we go about implementing this? It’s a very human thing, and hence there is no single way of achieving this. Trust and Autonomy need to become part of your culture. They need to seep through every decision and every action of the team.

The first step in this is encouraging decision making from all people in the company, irrespective of ‘level’.

Less Meetings

The guys from Basecamp said it best in Rework: ‘Meetings are toxic’. The thing that you notice when looking at any remote team is that their number of meetings is radically lower than office-based teams. This doesn’t mean that less decisions are being made or that there is less collaboration going on. It’s simply because meetings are only used for making large decisions or instigating real-time collaboration.

This goes hand in hand with greater trust and autonomy because, in order to reduce the number of meetings in your team, you need to empower all team members to make more and more decisions without consultation. This doesn’t mean receiving less advice in the decision making process; the bigger the decision, the more advice that should be seeked out.

Once you have a team of autonomous, trusted employees, the key to cutting down on meetings is to ask this each time a meeting is scheduled:

“Do we need to do this in person? Could it be done online instead?”

You’ll quickly realize that the number of things that you thought were urgent and required everyone to be in the same room are a lot less.

And Better Meetings

When it comes to the few meetings that are still required, having a planned, shared agenda will give everyone a clear sense of why this meeting is happening and, hence, improve each person's perception and involvement in the meeting. We personally love Worklife.

Never Stop Learning

As Dan Pink explains in his book Drive, one of the key aspects of human motivation is Mastery. The desire to learn and improve is at the very core of being human.

Creating an environment of learning is all about values and processes. Learning has to be a part of your team definition of what is “good” in order to continue growing and improving. There are a few ways you can introduce a culture of learning into your team:

Dedicated Learning Time

The easiest way to implement this is by dedicating and encouraging the team to pursue learning on the company’s clock. Google does this by allowing people to spend up to 20% of their paid hours on learning and side projects. It doesn’t matter how you organize it, but you should install some form of encouraged learning time that happens in work hours.

There are plenty of processes that you can implement, but be careful don’t take it too far! People still need and want to get meaningful work done and contribute to the company's success. Too much dedicated learning can start to feel forced and laborious.

Informal Sharing of Learning/Passions

Learning in isolation can become boring and tedious, having team members share what they have learn’t is a great way of building a culture of learning and helping everyone stay motivated.

You can use blogs, channels in your team chat, or pages in your internal wiki to facilitate the sharing of learning. Regardless of how you implement this, having a culture of sharing passions and learnings within your team builds up rapport and trust between team members. To ensure the success, everyone needs to be doing it, not just a few of the members. If you see someone forgetting to share their learning, take it upon yourself to encourage them. In remote work culture, an all-hands-on-deck approach to motivation often works best.

Hire with Care

Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic, personally conducts the final interview for every new hire—that’s how important hiring is for creating a successful team culture. For us smaller fish, hiring is even more important because that next hire is going to contribute to a larger percentage of your culture (i.e. If you’re hiring your 10th employee, they represent 1/10 of your entire team.)

We can learn a lot from Automattic’s hiring process. Here are some simple ways that you can improve your hiring process:

Look Deeper in Interviews

We have all heard about using interviews to really get to know the person you are looking to join your team, but yet more often than not these interviews end up being the same, old back and forth—full of expected questions and typical answers.

Consider these less-used areas of discussion for your interviews:

  • Interesting experiences
  • Personal passions in non-work areas
  • Self-motivation & mastery
  • Attention to detail
Hire Slowly

It is not usually until you’ve rapidly grown your team that you look back and start to see the signs of bad hiring decisions: internal politics, ego wars, a lack of team collaboration. At this point it’s usually too late. In order to create an environment where each team member can thrive and work with purpose, you need to be careful about who you bring to the party. If Automattic can survive on only 350 employees when servicing 24% of the web, I think the rest of us can all slow down our hiring campaigns.

Trial Periods

Introducing real trial periods is a powerful way that many companies are now using to improve hiring fit.

Allowing your team and the potential new member to get a real sense of working together allows everyone to more accurately asses if this person is right from a skill, personality and culture perspective. Depending on the situation, this can be done as contract work or simply a short, full-time stint that gets re-evaluated at the end.

Implementing trial periods need to be more than just a mere contract. You should have a process in place for actively reflecting and evaluating how well the new member fits. This should ideally be happening from both sides: the team and the new person.

Good hiring isn’t just if the person is right for the team, but if the team is right for the person.


How To Go Remote
There is so much that any company going Remote can learn from Automattic, so we’ve broken down our learnings from Automattic into a practical HowToWD guide.
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