The most transformative technologies today do two things: simplify life and reduce inefficiencies. In recent years, we’ve seen tech companies accomplish these objectives in creative and subtle ways, often changing the world around us without fanfare. For instance, it’s hard to imagine a time before we paid our bills, shopped or conducted monthly transactions online. Services like Paypal and mobile banking digitized consumer platforms in a manner that seemed more natural than groundbreaking.
Another unifying trait of transformative technology is change. Innovation is transient by nature, and always subject to iteration for the sake of functionality. The iPod took discmans off supermarket shelves, revolutionizing how we store and listen to music in public. But not too far down the road, it was married to the iPhone for the sake of pocket-space and simplification. So the cycle of technological innovation goes: simplicity meeting efficiency, giving rise to new innovation and change.
As a business, how do you create an environment that allows your team to think creatively about the code they’re writing and the platforms they’re building? You can’t lock your developers in a dark room with cases of Red Bull and some Skrillex remixes, and simply expect them to churn out life-altering products. What you can do is assemble the best team possible, in an encouraging environment with the tools and parameters needed to generate Eureka moments.
Here are five ways we structure our development team at UE to drive creativity, engagement, and overall satisfaction.
1. Hire a multi-skilled team of individuals. Your teammates won’t succeed if they’re all creatives, introverted geniuses or managers; you need a variety of personalities to inform development from all angles. If you consider the range of people interacting online — using different software and programs for different reasons — a diverse team makes sense. As long as your developers work well together and there’s a good team dynamic, you’ll benefit from a wider range of opinions, perspectives and personalities.
This is also an area where a solid manager can make the world of difference. By having project managers offset entry-level issues that inhibit momentum, developers can dive deep into technical possibilities, while leaders can steer the ship in the right direction. Having someone ring the bell to signify play or work time adds structure to chaos as well.
2. Foster a collaborative playground. Sometimes, the best ideas are the result of ongoing conversations and inside jokes that take on a life of their own. To facilitate those conversations, create an office environment where collaboration is encouraged, not forced. Give your developers, designers and QA staff the fluidity to work together if and when desired. By maintaining a healthy social environment, co-workers can become friends, making idea-sharing more organic and likely.
But just as a global open-door environment is necessary for fostering collaboration and ideas, blocking time for people to focus is important. Accomplishing this may mean creating a “do not disturb” policy or blocking off calendar time, especially if you’re serious about making the next tip work.
3. Drive efficiency. According to one study, a 2.8-second distraction can cause a 100 percent increase in errors. Between emails, social media, Youtube and messenger apps, the Internet is a potential minefield of distractions. Encourage your team to close unnecessary applications, take email breaks and mute unimportant notifications.
For focused power-hours of work, encourage teammates to try the Pomodoro Technique, which allows employees to divide tasks into intervals, followed by short breaks for emails, basic admin and the odd cat video. When your teammates are focused on the task at hand, they’re more apt to make progress. At the same time, remove office chaos (people milling around asking questions and disrupting progress) during code sprints.
4. Invest in your team. Your team needs to constantly update its knowledge base to keep up with the latest trends, iterations, and news in the tech world. Send your employees to conferences and trade shows to learn new skills and interact with teams outside the office — and get inspired by what other people are doing. It takes time and money to help your team thrive and produce transformational technology.
5. Prevent burnout. Your team should work hard, but it’s important to strike a healthy balance to keep the idea-candle burning. Nobody can stay fully focused throughout the day without taking a breather to laugh and stretch their legs. Encourage recreational activities and midday workouts to counter mental pushes with physical activity.
Great ideas are the byproduct of an engaged team of individuals that enjoy what they’re doing and spending time with the people they’re working with. At UE, we put a premium on our environment. We want our team to be as creatively engaged as possible, so that those Eureka moments happen on a regular basis.