How to Turn Teamwork into Culture

Kamil Nicieja

How to Turn Teamwork into Culture

Teamwork is hard.

Here’s the situation: the requirements have once again changed. The deadline is approaching. The current sprint ends tomorrow and some user stories are still not yet finished. If you’re a startup, you know exactly how this feels.

So your focus shifts towards delivering features and ignoring non-critical issues—things like updating guidelines, refactoring, or maintaining an open-source side project. “We’ll do it later.” Everybody says so, but you know how that works out. (Not so well.)

We have experienced this first-hand and we want to fix it.

That’s why we’re introducing Hunting Hussars. A lean way to manage your team.

The solution

Let’s say you’re working on a project and stumble upon a new issue or objective. Whatever the reason is, you cannot solve it now—and that’s when Hunting Hussars comes in handy.

Hunting Hussars challenge
  • First, you create a challenge. (That’s how we call the issues that need to be resolved.)
  • Another team member who likes this task will complete it and earn reward points.
  • This same team member can then use the reward points to post and promote his or her own challenge or add them to the overall prize pot of other challenges that he or she deems worthwhile.

But here’s the sweet part. Some of these points are set aside for a communal team reward—a new console in the office or a group trip, for example. Everyone completes challenges to get the group reward, so as cooperation between team members becomes more frequent, the goal is achieved faster.

The idea is so simple, but also extremely powerful at the same time. If implemented correctly, it can result in a tremendous shift in the group’s workflow and ability to acheive goals.

Through this challenge-based system, the team may self-organize and self-allocate resources. There’s no need to involve even more management to delegate tasks; people handle themselves and their affairs entirely on their own—which leads to a more efficient and dynamic work style.

Hunting Hussars even manages our key internal processes here at Monterail. The app allows you to have a few pre-set system challenges which repeat on a weekly basis, including tasks such as writing an article on Codetunes or performing a code review, for instance.

The inherently democratic nature of this concept is what makes it so exciting. The entire structure of the company becomes flattened and less heirarchical. Executives no longer force tasks on employees because anyone can post a challenge.

If you’ve ever felt constrained at work, we’re here for you. No more team politics. In our world, everyone is equal because that’s what real teamwork should be.

It’s all about decisions

The development was far from easy—and it wasn’t about code. We had to think through every detail, no matter how small.

We had to build our own economic system and consider the distribution and flow of points within the challenges structure—the most basic, but also the most important concept. Once we got started on development we faced what seemed like an endless stream of questions. How many points should we allow into the application each month? What if the team reward is reached too quickly or too slowly? What if this leads to everyone becoming discouraged before the idea even takes off? There were many concerns like these.

We now understand that if design is indeed how it works instead of how it looks like, then economy is design at its purest.

This process made us think not just like designers or developers, but more like architects of a fragile environment. Yes, we wanted to encourage the team to self-organize, but also to create a tool that would constantly remind us who we are. What we stand for.

The thing is, you can’t enforce culture on people in any workplace, because culture is not about setting rules. It’s about watching the peers around you in order to figure out what structures and styles work naturally for them, and allowing them to flourish into the future.

However, what you can do is design an environment that is friendly to your guidelines. It takes a bit of psychological attitude, a lot of patience, and a good eye for the details (potential cultural shifts always hide in details).

Team habits, for instance, are very important. You have to encourage the good ones, fight with the bad ones, and sometimes create new ones when you believe it’s necessary. Bad teams don’t control their habits; great teams choose them. Hunting Hussars is a tool just for that.

We set Codetunes as a challenge because we believe it’s beneficial for us to share knowledge and improve our communication skills. Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking. Clear thinking, in turn, leads to clearer code. We want people who can tell the difference between words that are important, strong, necessary—and those which aren’t.

It’s not only about developers or designers. It’s not about business people or executives. It’s about everyone.

I’m a developer. I joined the team not so long ago, about three months prior. And if I may for once in this manifesto—which is not about mere individuals—be selfishly personal… I believe that this idea is a perfect determinant of our internal process. Monterail is all about enthusiasm; it doesn’t matter whether you’ve been working here since the beginning or you’re new here—everyone believes that you can do important things from the very start.

You’re challenged to do it. Because this is how you progress. How we all progress.

If you look at it this way, the whole system is intentionally designed to be habitual.

Do you know how habits emerge? First, there’s always a cue—a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. For us, it’s HipChat integration. Then comes the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional—the challenge itself. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.

It’s natural. It’s transparent. This is simply how our brains work.

Of course, everyday cultural processes turn out to be more complex. It’s one thing to say something and another to live by it; that takes a lot of effort. But to be honest: we like it. We may build new things for people all around the world every day, but creating a solution set to be as Monterail-y as Monterail itself seemed so fresh, so new, so exciting.

Let us say it once again: teamwork is hard.

But we think we nailed it.

What’s next

The app’s still a work in progress, though. Complete the form below if you want to be informed when Hunting Hussars goes public. We’ll make sure to let you know.

Also, we’d love to hear from you. Feel free to tell us what you think about the idea. We’ll keep in touch!

Kamil Nicieja avatar
Kamil Nicieja