Brandon Konkle
Brandon Konkle

Engineering Manager, type system nerd, Rust enthusiast, supporter of social justice, loving husband & father, avid comic & manga reader, 日本語を勉強してる。

I’m a Software Architect with more than 15 years of experience creating high performance server and front-end applications targeting web and mobile platforms, & today I lead a team at Formidable Labs.

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How to Build a Compassionate Team

…and how it will actually make your business stronger

Since the idea of starting a consultancy first started to form in my mind, I’ve wanted to build a solid and innovative company that embraces some radically compassionate business practices. I believe that the best way to build an outstanding team is by supporting and affirming your team members as human beings first and foremost, building strong relationships while reinforcing emotional health, and investing heavily in helping your team accomplish their personal goals.

I love Daniel Pink’s perspective in his talk “Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us”. He shows that money is only a strong motivator up to a point. We often have stronger psychological drives to be self-directed, build mastery in our skills, and pursue a deeper purpose. If you commit to supporting your team as humans and helping them meet their personal goals as well as their financial ones, they’ll be ready to tackle tough business challenges to help support the company. With your team relaxed, inspired, and motivated there’s no limit to what they can achieve!

In this article I’ll talk a little bit about the values that Ecliptic will strive towards as we build a strong, compassionate consultancy. These will be some of our guiding principals as we launch, and we know we’re going to learn a lot along the way. We’ll check in again next year and talk about what’s working, and what did not. Hopefully it will inspire you to try the same, or to share other things that have worked for your team!

Transparency

Transparency is a very important value to me, and one that I’ve seen demonstrated in a powerful way first-hand. I had the privilege of working with an excellent consultancy several years ago, Lincoln Loop. Inspired by books like Maverick and The Lean Startup, Peter Baumgartner founded a radically transparent distributed company with open book finances, the ability to set our own salaries, very flexible hours based on a 32-hour work week, and a strong commitment to giving back through open source and charitable contributions. His commitment to the wellbeing of his team members, clients, and community has helped him build a thriving business with an incredible team and a devoted following. He builds up the people around him, and they in turn support him and his business.

One really important effect that transparency has is helping to level the playing field for less privileged groups. There’s no guesswork about whether someone is getting paid more or less for the same work or what organizations the company is supporting. This builds trust in leadership and trust in each other.

Another important benefit to transparency is accountability. The whole team helps keep each other accountable. This helps the team develop a sense of ownership and responsibility for the business, because they start to understand how their individual decisions affect the sustainability of the whole team.

Autonomy

This aspect of motivation is heavily impacted by how much influence individual team members have on the direction of the company and their own personal development. It can have a lot to do with how much involvement team members have in the planning and technical design process, and how much input they have in which projects they take on next.

Many companies have praised strategies like Google’s 20% time, where engineers get a day a week to work on internal or open source projects of their choosing. Other companies, like Valve, take this even further and make all employee time self-directed. For Ecliptic, I’m going with a 20% approach but making it completely flexible. We can use that time for open source contributions, attending meetups, long weekends with the family, or whatever. It’s entirely optional, but my hope is that the team will be inspired to use that time for things that enrich themselves and their families. This will naturally make the company much stronger long term as we become better engineers and better people.

Flexibility

The ability to choose when and how you work can have a huge impact on your productivity and performance. For many people the typical 8 to 5 Monday through Friday shift works just fine. For others, however, that can be very restrictive. In my family life, I help care for my two children diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Our life can be very chaotic and unpredictable, and we sometimes have to respond to emergency situations. For example, this afternoon I got a call from my son’s school and had to rush out immediately to assist. Others face equally challenging family or health situations.

Not only that, but I’m one of many people who like to take advantage of non-traditional work hours to improve the quality of my output. Programming is a deeply creative pursuit for me, and I will often have bursts of inspiration at random times that lead to very productive focused coding sessions. Having a flexible work environment allows your team to make their own decisions about when and where they work best. Obviously this freedom has limits, though. You need to be able to effectively communicate with teammates and clients when it’s convenient for them. Good judgement is key.

Another great way to offer flexibility is to allow for unlimited time off, provided the team member is able to keep up with their responsibilities. Companies like Netflix pioneered this perk, but there has also been a lot of criticism because of work environments with a culture of over-work. Take care to encourage your team often to take regular time off, and keep team members accountable if they’ve gone a while without a break. I’ve seen this benefit work very well at companies like Craftsy, where the team’s natural tendency to go all-in and push hard is balanced by a healthy respect for time off and family life.

Apprenticeship

The traditional higher education system has done a lot of good for a lot of people, but there are certainly many left behind. Our current societal model encourages candidates to pay for their own education and training, and it encourages employers to look for those who already have experience. I’m really inspired by the concept of apprenticeship and investing in education for candidates with a lot of promise. It won’t always work out, but when it does it’s wonderfully beneficial for everyone involved.

My concept of apprenticeship looks very similar to internship, but with a focus on building up long-term relationships with team members that are presumed to be permanent from the beginning. This can be risky, and not every apprentice will work out. One way to mitigate this risk is to take an active role in the beginner community and get to know talented amateurs as you’re helping them learn and grow their skills. There are a lot of great ways to do this. Hosting a meetup group, holding public office hours to answer questions, sponsoring conferences, and mentorship programs are all great ways to connect with the community.

Another way to mitigate this is to take on someone you already know and trust as an apprentice. This is the path I chose when I decided to hire my brother, Gabriel, as my first apprentice. He’s an extremely talented creative professional with an intuitive understanding of business and marketing and a dynamic ability to evaluate a situation and solve problems effectively. I’ve worked with him in the past on projects and been delighted by how quickly he picks up technical complexity, and I’m confident that he will be an outstanding engineer.

Diversity

This may seem an odd value for the founder of a business composed of two white males, but diversity is very important to me and I’m committed to working towards intersectional social justice for all people. I’m openly acknowledging that Ecliptic is launching at a deficit in diversity, and I’m going to make sure we’re doing everything we can to help offset that imbalance. I’ll be posting more about this in the days ahead, but we’ll be supporting a variety of efforts to help make a real impact for underprivileged groups.

Onward!

This is just the beginning, and I’m sure we’ll identify more values and refine them as we evolve. We’ll keep talking here on Medium, and we’d love to hear about your experiences!

By the way — if your team needs help building the next great application or you want to enhance your application with new features or optimized performance, check out Ecliptic and let me know how we can help! I can’t close our very first post without a friendly call to action, right? 😁 Thanks for reading!

I’m a Software Architect with more than 15 years of experience creating high performance server and front-end applications targeting web and mobile platforms, & today I lead a team at Formidable Labs.

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