The importance of space
Senior Engineering Manager Katja Lotz shares her reflections about the importance of *space*! Surprised? Then you should definitely read this.
"Maybe this is me kicking in open doors, but some recent events made me reflect on the value we as leaders can help create for our organizations, just by setting the scene and the context in which creativity and inspiration can run free.
I say “just setting the scene” and that is definitely downplaying the hard work that usually lies behind making these things happen. What I mean is that sometimes the most important thing that we as leaders can provide for the people in our organizations is space. Space to talk, space to think, and space to act.
I work as a Senior Engineering Manager at Epidemic Sound. The teams in my part of the organization are responsible for the core user experience on the web and mobile; enabling our users to find the right sound for their content with ease and delight. And just a few weeks back, Epidemic Sound organized our first internal Tech Summit, where we gathered the whole tech department to a full day of inspiration, conversation and collaboration. We wanted it to be an interactive day, and by bringing everyone together in our office, we were able to really build energy and engagement, and enable more connections across teams and domains.
We had invited Olga Stern, CTO at Tangy Market, to kick the day off with a keynote talk about tech debt, estimations, and how replacing deadlines with ”project goals” can help remove team anxiety and get solid products out there. Then we continued to dig into the instrumentation of our product, and how to arrive at business insights from tracking events. An inspirational talk filled with wisdom and an interactive workshop defined this part of the day, which we called EventCon.
After lunch, we held an Open Space, a participant-driven meeting format based on an agenda that is co-created by the participants at the start of the open space. Anyone who has a topic they want to discuss can bring it up with the group, and it gets added to the agenda. The open space technique comes with a few principles; namely that the people who show up are the right people, whenever it starts is the right time, wherever it happens is the right place, whatever happens, is the only thing that could, and when it’s over, it’s over. To accommodate this, the Law of Mobility plays a key role; basically, if you end up in a session where you are neither learning nor contributing, it’s your responsibility to find another session where you can.
The idea behind the open space is to allow for a wide range of topics, driven solely by the needs expressed by the participants. Our schedule contained three half-hour long time slots in six different locations, allowing us to have 18 different topics on the agenda. People talked about everything from technical deep dives on our data platform, mobile app development, and Django to organizational and process-related questions around our on-call process, roles and responsibilities, and our engineering culture to name a few.
Besides the value of having the discussions we needed to have and building alignment and relationships across the organization, we also saw concrete actions and results coming out of this day. One example is the backend forum that was born and judging from the immense activity in the newly started slack channel, this was a change welcomed by many. There’s so much built-in value in having a competence-focused community for everyone sharing an interest in a topic, no matter their role or previous experience. This backend forum of ours brings together our backend-focused developers, platform leads, SREs as well as frontend developers, engineering managers, and some others. The discussions are out in the open and people share their points of view on everything backend related.
I’m absolutely convinced there’s so much value in organizing events like these, even though it is sometimes hard to quantify. I believe in having it be a very important part of the culture of the organization, a culture where we want people to discuss and solve problems together, on their own initiative. We don’t want them to hesitate, to wait for approval before initiating a conversation. And to achieve that, our actions as leaders must match our words. We need to invest time and money into making these collaborative spaces a reality. We need to set the frames and get everyone involved and excited. And when we manage to do that, magic tends to happen!
What are your thoughts on this? What successful initiatives have you been part of, and what made them great? I would love to hear from you!"
Psst! Visit Katja's personal blog: https://firstname.lastname@example.org/