Life Hacks, Startup

What do great team members do?

#lego voltron
photo by

“Don’t worry about, I’ll take care of it,” said my amazing team member on Friday night (props to @tcoffee). Just like that, a major roadblock to an upcoming project was gone and I didn’t have to do a thing. Great team members take on responsibilities like this all the time and radiate confidence that the job is going to get done. They also make sure that the job goes over the finish line. I felt great when he said this and I also wondered what other traits signify a truly valuable team member.

It starts with excellence.

What makes a really great team member? Great team members start by doing things that are simply table stakes on the imaginary list of “Great Team Qualities.” You might pronounce some of these items “they do a great job,” and “they are fun to have around,” and “they just get stuff done no matter what happens.” Yet we often ignore the smaller, less quantifiable things that great team members do and that don’t always get noticed.

When I think of the qualities that mark a great team member, I compile the following list. It’s not stack ranked purposefully, but since this is an ordered list, maybe it is stack ranked after all.

The Things Great Team Members Do.

Great team members:

  1. display grace under pressure – if they are cracking, you don’t see it, and they fail gracefully.
  2. are willing to do small, unpleasant jobs – sometimes the “get it done” jobs are not very pretty, and still need to get done.
  3. show respect for the waiter and secretary – if you see them give respect when they don’t have to do so, that’s a sign of a great team member.
  4. is almost always excellent at what they do – they say “that wasn’t that hard,” and then go ahead and do amazing things.
  5. has the easy ability to say “I screwed up”, raise their hand, and ask for help – when it actually is hard, they involve the team at the right time (early enough to fix the problem.)
  6. can fix it after they screwed up – a great team member will use a solution to make it so.
  7. maintains love of food, life, and fun – that team member has a life beyond the office.
  8. by nature, is the Most Interesting Person in The World – and always surprise you by sharing great information and things they learned today.

How do you know when you’ve got a great team member?

There are a few constants here: service, excellence, ability to learn, and fun. If your team member provides great internal and external service, is consistently great at what they do, learns new things and has fun sharing and doing those new things, chances are good that person is a great team member.

Customer Experience Report

The Customer Experience Report for Dec 15th, 2012

Hello! This is a new experiment to share insights about customer experience. Please let me know what you like, don’t like, and if you’d like to subscribe, you can get an email in your inbox here.

The Customer Experience Report

December 15, 2012 – An Occasional Newsletter (Vol. 1, No. 1)
Legos: A Great Metaphor for Customer Experience

Lego bricks are simple, colorful, and atomic. They are necessary to build models of more complex systems, and are not sufficient by themselves (usually) to make a complete experience. You use Lego bricks together to create larger tools and models.

Building Blocks (photo by

A good model for Customer Experience?
The tools and methods of customer experience don’t work very well in a vacuum. Only by understanding what you’re doing (the end goal), the tools you need to get there (the pieces of the set) and the methods you employ to get to where you’re going with the tools you have (the recipe for putting the pieces together) can you build a coherent customer experience strategy that makes sense and that works for your organization.

Wait, are Legos really a good model for this? Yes, because it’s easier to get people to update the smallest big thing they can find and use that action as a catalyst to improve an entire system. Too often people in an organization get overwhelmed by the scope of change required to move (small) mounains.

“Up and Stumbling” as a first step
Using a metaphor like a lego brick or a lego set encourages your team members to fight for the things they already know how to change and to minimize the likelihood that they will try to “boil the ocean” or take on more of a project than they know how to do at the moment.

Really, how can I get started?
To learn more about using Legos for organizational change, you might check out this article by the Learning Institute at Lego; and also read this account of organizational change at Lego (a little meta, but awesome to see them using their own methods.) Finally, you can see how Organizational Change consultants position Lego as a means for change.

tl;dr: To succeed in big changes, make the smallest big change you can.

Great stories from this week

Why more features doesn’t mean success (from the KissMetrics Blog)

Designing Sequences not stills (from DesTraynor of Buffer)

Startups, please write better emails (from @mhj)

You can also find up-to-date customer experience tidbits here

Customer Development, Productivity

Tiny Habits Build into Great Behaviors

I signed up this week for the TinyHabits program from BJ Fogg at Stanford. The program – a way of training yourself to take small steps that will build into specific behaviors – intrigues me because it mirrors a few practices I’ve done over the past two years that have made a huge difference in my life. Keeping a daily and weekly log, trying to answer all of my email promptly, and always asking people how I can help them are three small habits I’ve followed that have delivered big benefits.

What did I do? (Keeping a daily log)

I can’t take too much credit for this one – it’s T.A. McCann who introduced me to it – but simply keeping a list of the major things that you do each day and who you did it for can give you great insight into how you’re spending your time. I don’t get much value from logging every tiny thing that I do – but I try to capture any activity that takes more than 30 minutes of time. Keeping this log (in Evernote) gives me access to what I’m doing today, what I did last week, and keeps that list with me wherever I go. It’s also a great place to plan – just ask yourself 3 things: “what did I do?”, “what am I doing next?”, and  “where do I need help?”

How can I answer all of my email as fastly and efficiently as I can?

There are plenty of ways to manage email and to be productive, and I don’t claim to have reinvented the wheel on dealing with email. The key thing is to spend less time finding the emails that need action, and then to act on them with deliberate speed. I use a modified GTD approach to manage my email load, identifying each piece of mail to file, forget/delete, or to act upon it immediately. And if there is a quick item that I can send as the action and it will take less than a minute or two, I do it now. Added to this is a quick sweep in the morning and evening of any emails that are lingering in my inbox (yes, I know this is ferboten for some, but I use my inbox (and Gmail’s priority inbox) to let me know how I’m doing.) I never make it inbox zero, but on most good days I’ve maintained the email equilibrium and don’t have more than I had at the beginning of the day. Also, consider using the excellent email filtering tool Sanebox to make it easier to go through all of the bacn that would otherwise clog your inbox.

How can I help you?

This habit has produced the most divergent and interesting answers and opportunities. Simply asking “how can I help you” yields nothing … and everything. It’s really cool to just ask people a question and to see how they respond – it opens up opportunities to really help people. So just make a habit of the question that works for you, ask it to the people in your life, and see how it changes things. Good luck!