Team Coaching at ustwo

At ustwo lately we’ve been undergoing a number of changes. One of these, which I hope will support driving the rest of them, is a change to the way we approach project delivery and team dynamics.

Like most companies in our industry, we come from a pretty traditional approach: having a project manager who owns the project’s schedule, the budget, the contact with the client, and who is ultimately responsible for delivery of the projects.

ustwo allianz team 11

Personally, this model has never worked for me. I always found it hard to be in a position where I have to tell people what to do, and I found equally hard being the one who was told what to do. I also prefer to share responsibilities, pains and glory with a team that I love working with, rather than being a solo player under the spotlight: it gives me more energy and a greater sense of purpose.

We needed to start somewhere though, so when I started creating the ‘project management function’ in ustwo, I relied on what I’d been taught in university, and on what most people seemed to be doing at the time.

I realised quickly that it was not how I wanted to work, and that it wasn’t a system I could subscribe to. The main things bothering me were:

  • It didn’t really fit my style
  • I found people had a tendency to take less initiative with such an approach
  • Most of the companies working that way were not exactly high on the list of what I hoped ustwo would be

Luckily at ustwo we try to give people as much free rein as possible, and so I started researching and trying different approaches.

That’s when I first came to know about Agile, and specifically Scrum. I’m not going to go into any detail about it here, but that’s basically how we started looking at a whole different way of approaching the delivery of projects and people.

It wasn’t long before we realised that we needed to evolve beyond that too. ustwo is fundamentally a people-centered company where, for better or worse, decisions are often made taking people into account rather than what would make sense from a traditional corporate perspective.

With that in mind, it became clear to me that frameworks like Scrum appealed to us because they brought a much stronger people perspective to the table, plus a better process from a risk management perspective, which put learning as the main focus.

Again I started exploring what was out there, and after talking with a few people, and taking a couple of courses, we started looking seriously at coaching. We took our cues from organisations like HyperIsland and KaosPilot, which put people, leadership, learning and change at the core of everything they do, to challenge the status quo of education and business management. We hired some people with that background, and we began to experiment with coaching the teams, putting people and team dynamics at the centre of everything, and creating truly self-organising groups of people that have autonomy and ownership on everything they do.

Today we’re in full swing with the transition from project management to team coaching, and we want to do it our way, taking something from both worlds and creating a model that works for our people and for the clients we work with. We believe that we need to support our teams both from a process (we’re not in a pure learning environment) and people perspective.

Our current view is that our coaches work on three different areas:

  • Team within projects
  • Team outside of projects (i.e. at studio/company level)
  • Clients

The first area is pretty self-explanatory, and that’s where we started.

It was with the teams outside of projects where we noticed our coaches were adding a lot of value – helping the entire company, beyond project boundaries, to create a culture of learning, change and leadership at any level.

The clients area is perhaps the most sensitive for us, since it means that we need to gently onboard our clients to this different way of looking at people and projects, be understanding of where they come from, but also stay driven in terms of where we want to go and what our vision is.

Our main challenges with this change are, not surprisingly, with people. Each different person comes with a different approach, a different experience, and in turns worries about what this change is going to mean for them. Questions like “do I need to forget everything I learned so far?”, or “why are we even doing this?” are just some of the discussions we've had.

A good example is our “former” project management team: obviously we had people with different backgrounds, some coming from a more traditional agency approach, and others from something completely different. It’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing any sort of resistance as a nuisance, rather than questioning yourself and whether or not you’re being clear in your communication and in setting the context for this change. I’m definitely guilty of that, and I personally still have a long way to go in that sense. But what I can say is that once you start looking at that as an opportunity, you might find out that, like me, you like working with them and getting all the different perspectives. I now wouldn’t give up on any single one of them, and a testament to our culture is how all of us share the same values and mindset, which are all you really need as the right foundations for this change.