How we ran our first fully-remote reteaming

In January 2021 Redgate’s Product Development organisation embarked on our annual “reteaming” process to reconfigure how our teams are assigned to reflect the company’s 2021 strategy and plans. For the last 3 years, our approach to these team changes has been to allow people to strongly influence where in the new team structure they will work, encouraging them to move towards the work they find most engaging. This year, for the first time, we had to run reteaming as a fully-remote process.

As I described in more detail in a previous post, our reteaming process involves asking people in product development to tell us their preferences for their team in 2021 and the reasoning behind those preferences. We then look to balance those preferences with the needs of the development teams and Redgate, forming a new team structure that could deliver against Redgate’s strategy but also give as many people as possible the kind of work they were most keen on. This post aims to share the results of reteaming and how we had to adapt the activity during a national lockdown.

The team changes we were aiming to make during reteaming

Before describing what happened, let’s focus on the desired outcome of of this year’s reteaming. We were looking to reorganise into 11 well-balanced, cross-functional development teams (that’s 10 stream-aligned teams and one platform team, Team Topologies fans). This included combining the remit of two teams into a single team and doubling the size of another team. Every team was to have an updated or brand new mission, reflecting our product portfolio strategy for the new year.

11 healthy teams, please!

In addition to these changes, we had several team leaders who wanted to move to work on different products and a newly promoted technical lead looking forward to kicking-off their first team leadership role. We also have a number of open software engineer roles that we will wanted to distribute across the team structure, ready for us to fill them as soon as possible in 2021. In related news, we’re hiring — you should come work with us 😉

How we build our new teams

It is significantly more effort for us to create the environment, share the information and manage the process that allows people to have a strong influence over which team they work in. We gladly invest that time and effort because we believe doing so reflects our principles of autonomy, mastery and purpose, spreads best practices and creates personal development opportunities across the development organisation (find out more about why we use a self-selection process for reteaming in this post).

Our Development Managers and Coaches owned the task of gathering people’s team preferences via one-on-one conversations via Zoom. We then went about building a new team structure that would best meet the needs of Redgate’s product strategies for 2021 while meeting as many people’s preferences as possible.

We used the following principles to help guide our decision-making:

  • Our goal is to have 11 healthy teams. We’ll put the overall health of the development organisation before the needs of the teams we are directly responsible for as development managers.
  • We should strive to respect the constraints and needs for team membership & skills called out by our team leadership groups.
  • We should consider the balance of each teams, especially regarding development experience and existing product experience.
  • We want to meet as many people’s team preferences as possible and strongly consider the reasoning behind their preferences when assessing team options.
  • We favour keeping people where they are if their 1st preference is to stay in their current team. We don’t want to move people who are content and settled in their team.
  • We should spread the open roles across the division as much as possible, rather than having a few very small teams.
We used a Mural canvas to help us guide the process and visualise people’s preferences against our desired team structure

These guidelines really helped us objectively turn 50+ preferences into a coherent team structure in a little under 3 hours. We ran the proposed structure past our team leadership groups to ensure they were comfortable with it and we had a conversation with everyone who did not get their first team preference to explain why. Worth noting we had to ask a handful of people to delay their moves for a little while to ensure they don’t leave their current teams in the lurch before new joiners have had chance to get up-to-speed with their new context. In every case, those people were very understanding and were happy to remain where they are for a little while longer.

How much movement was there and how much say did people really have?

The final team structure we assembled saw 37% of the people working in or with our product development teams join new teams or product areas. That’s slightly more movement than we had in our previous reteaming efforts, when around 33% of people moved. Our teams coped well with that disruption and the benefits of the moves vastly outweighing the drawbacks. So, I’m confident we’ll segue into our new team structure really well.

We were able to meet the 1st team preference for 83% of the people involved in the reteaming process. Which just goes to show that different people genuinely favour and are motivated by different kinds of work. Furthermore, 98% of people involved in reteaming will be in a team that they specified a 1st, 2nd or 3rd preference for. For the people that missed out on a preference, I’m pleased to report we were still able to find them a team that met the personal development objectives they were looking to serve.

I’d like to thank everyone in Product Development who engaged in the process, thought deeply about where they would like to work in 2021 and had open & honest conversations with dev/tech leads to explore their options.

How did we cope with reteaming while fully remote?

Organisers and participants alike seemed to handle it really well! Our experience working remotely over much of the last year stood us in good stead for running this process away from the Office. We flexed between asynchronous and synchronous styles of interaction and made good use of the tools that have helped us work effectively at home.

Mural and Confluence allowed us to share all the content relating to what our teams will be like in 2021 for people to consume at a time that best suited them. SpatialChat, a virtual meeting space platform, and Zoom made it possible for us to collaborate effectively face-to-face to explore, gather and fit-together people’s preferences.

Much of the context around our team’s plans were presented in lightweight team charter canvases, which our team leadership groups put together for the process. This year we converted our large physical A1 team charter posters from previous reteamings to a Mural template, which you can see below.

Our team charter template in Mural-form

These were prepared right at the start of the reteaming process and people were able to review them asynchronously to delve into the details and prepare questions to ask the team leaders at our 2021 team “expo”. You can also get a peek inside that open event, which allowed people to explore what our teams will be like in 2021 in the below video on our Ingeniously Simple YouTube channel:

Reteaming at Redgate: A tour of our virtual team charter event

In the video I take a tour through the expo, explain how the event fits into the overall process, see what goes into a team charter and interview a few team leaders to find out how the event was for them.

All-in-all, I can honestly say that our remote reteaming process seemed to run more smoothly than our previous physical attempts! If you have questions about reteaming, then check out my follow-up post for an Annual Reteaming FAQ.

This post was originally published on Redgate Product Development’s blog, ingeniouslysimple.com.

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