A day in the life: Could you be a manager at a self-governing organisation?
A first-person insight into a radical way of working, from one of the innovative companies in featured in Leadership and Culture at Work: The CMI/Glassdoor top 20
Guest Blogger Mairead O’Connor
I’m an engagement manager, which means I’m the go-between for the client, the delivery team and the rest of Equal Experts. I’m responsible for making sure that everything runs smoothly. My background is in product management and business analysis and I shifted into this facilitative role because I like having a big picture view.
I start my day with a few emails and a lot of Slack messages! We use the messaging app across the business to keep in touch and share work and ideas. I have some team members in India so I’ll catch up with them early on in the day. Then I make sure my team knows where I am that day, in case they need me.
We work with lots of clients in lots of industries. The common thread is that we deliver custom-built software using pragmatic, quality-focused delivery practices – but we’re not tied to a specific approach. The team is self-organising and self-monitoring. We expect them to make good decisions that take into account the specific needs of their client and the product they’re building. I’m there to advise and help but we rely on hiring smart, sensible and kind people – they know best.
I make time to oversee the professional development of employees, through our Evolve programme. It’s designed to accelerate the learning of more junior technologists with great promise. We place them in teams with experienced consultants that they can learn from, but additionally I look for other opportunities that can help them develop their skills.
I tell my team that lunch breaks are important. Working through lunch is bad for your mental health. I do take my teams out for lunch regularly and that’s an opportunity to get to know each other better as human beings: it’s not all about work.
I’m often involved in the Advice Process. It’s new to all of us. The idea is that we consult our peers for advice not permission when it comes to ideas for how to run our business. We’ll discuss what we should do; how much money we should spend; who we should involve and how we’ll measure success. This can be for something relatively small like: ‘should we add a new employee benefit?’ or something huge like ‘should we expand into a new industry or geographical area?’ The challenges are how to select the appropriate range of people to get advice from, and how to handle serious disagreement. We still often seek advice from Thomas [Granier, CEO] but we try to be autonomous.
I work with our marketing team and our recruiters to help present Equal Experts as a great place to work: I take a close interest in finding ways to make Equal Experts a welcoming place for a diverse range of people. We share a lot of the same issues as other technology companies and it’s important for me to foster a culture where women and others from under-represented groups feel valued and respected.
My managerial style is friendly and non-confrontational. If something isn’t working the way we need it to, my approach is to try to understand the reasons why people act the way they do and to explore how their incentives and goals affect them. I’ll try to find a compromise that works for all parties, or I’ll change things around to find a better fit.
Although it’s rare that the partner group gets together, a few times a year we look at the company strategy and how we’re performing; how we’re fostering the company culture and values that we want.
Most of the time we work in more fluid and dynamic groups that we form depending on what kind of problem we’re trying to solve. For example, we’ll look at how to create the best possible experience for an associate joining Equal Experts, or how to fine-tune the interview process. It’s not easy to get the right people in the right place at the same time so a lot of conversation happens on Slack or [messaging and video app] Google Hangouts.
I live off my to-do lists and the reminders I set for myself in Slack. I’ve recently invested in a very nice Moleskine notebook! There’s a lot of multi-tasking in my job. The challenging part is recognising that not everything can get done: I have to prioritise what’s important and say ‘no’ to other things. That’s hard.
At the end of the working day, there are quite a few tech events that we run, such as our ExpertTalks, where we invite internal and external speakers to present. They are open to all.
At least once a month there will be a gathering just for people in the Equal Experts network to catch-up with each other. We also have company parties a few times a year, plus an annual conference. Every now and then there’s the excuse to get dressed up and go out to an award ceremony – we’ve won quite a few over the years!
Mairead O’Connor is a partner and engagement manager at Equal Experts. Click here for the full list of commended organisations in Leadership and culture at Work: The CMI/Glassdoor Top 20. Or, to find out more about promoting diversity in your own organisation, download the Delivering Diversity report summary here