How A People-First Approach Will Help Your Pod Succeed

Shani Merdler
Shani Merdler
Aug 15, 2019 6 min read

You’ve reached the stage where you want to explore the use of a pod structure or maybe you’ve already started using it. You’ve reviewed the different guides which talk about processes, structure and efficiency, and while everything sounds great, you feel like something is missing. You are right, there is a missing chapter which relates to the human aspect and the effect that moving to pods has on it.

Here at Minute Media, we felt the same and decided to create this lost chapter based on our experience with the desire of helping other teams on this journey.

This post will focus on the human aspect of moving to pods, and the steps which will make it successful.

Square one

"People feel more secure when they know that they have others around them who share their goals and care about their progress." - Psychology Today

Structural Change

As you probably know, a pod is a group of individuals with complementary skills who share a business goal. When changing the org structure from working within professional groups to pods, people start spending less time with their professional group and more time with their pod mates. As a result,their sense of belonging changes.

Seating Arrangements

This sense of belonging increases when the pod mates also sit together, as we have decided to do at Minute Media. If you think that this decision was taken lightly, then you are seriously mistaken. Moving to pods is one thing, but changing seating arrangements is a whole different animal. This was a topic which raised an array of objections all around.

So how did it start? The first pod to make the move was mine. One day I moved to sit with them, it was the first time a product manager had sat with the tech team. At first I only sat with them for part of the time, and since this proved to be very successful, it became the permanent setup.

What made me do it? Besides being asked by the team’s tech leader, I had felt the heavy price I was paying for sitting far away. This was something no amount of extra communication could have solved.

Shared Goal

Seeing that we now all had a shared goal, the level of ownership increased. To some extent, everyone wanted to see the commitment of the other teammates. The fact that I was not around (physically), made others perceive me as less committed to the common goal. Not only that, but it had also damaged my ability to respond to the team’s needs and enable them to move fast.

Even more importantly, it wasn’t merely professional impact. As soon as I sat with my pod on a permanent basis, the social aspect kicked in, enabling more than just instant answers, but also establishing connection and trust.

Creating this requires care and investment in relationship building. Let’s take a closer look.

Glueing it all together

Strengthening the team dynamics will require you to use your intuition. You might find yourself a little insecure throughout this process, but it’s only natural. Firstly, I would recommend that you start sending invites for team lunches more often. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but lunchtime is a great opportunity to connect. How will you know if it works? When the team starts eating together without your involvement.

The next step is for the team leaders to help their teams create a list of shared values. You might get cynical here, but please bear with me… This isn’t about having a nice looking poster to hang on the wall. This is about showing your people that you see them and care about them… leading by example.

The way we did it was to ask each team member to come up with three values that matter to them the most - writing a sentence explaining what each means to them by describing how they would like us to behave. Only by doing this could everyone learn more about what’s important to each other. And as one of my pod mates said “each one of us is a snowflake, same but different.”

Ideally, the team will agree on 5-6 shared values (see our example above). Exposing what matters to your team, including their Do’s and Don’ts, will improve the communication. More than that, people will become more attentive to each other. Can it get any better than this? Now comes the best part…

Ramping up collaboration

After the team has built some level of confidence and trust in each other, it’s time to ramp up. It’s true that each person brings their own area of expertise to the pod. Yet, by leveraging the wider area of contribution a person could have, everyone wins. How can it be done? This can be achieved by shifting to a co-creation mode.Let me explain what it means to me as a product manager.

At the beginning of a project, I don’t share the complete spec, but rather get everyone involved throughout the process. I also enable people to input their feedback and thoughts at an early stage. This has proven to shorten the cycle from ideation to execution. More than that, a co-creation mode makes the statement that no one on the team is smarter than anyone else, and the best decisions are made together.

This has affected the process on another front: the retro meeting. While some retro meetings in the past could have put a scene from Vikings to shame, we have experienced a shift from finger pointing to voluntarily taking responsibility.

What’s more is that we started looking deeper into systematically improving as a team by identifying weaknesses and setting them as goals. Leading the team to provide candid feedback which enables us to grow.

Some last words

What was described in this post is our path, but I recognize that each team consists of different individuals, and therefore, there is no secret recipe for successfully implementing a pod structure. Yet, I’m confident that investing in the human aspect of pod structures will only lead to great results–improving your teammates on both a professional and personal level.

An important note: this post only covers internal team dynamics. However, I do believe that for the pod structure to succeed within the organization, external team dynamics should be taken into consideration. These include the collaboration between the different pods and the dynamics within the profession team - both of which are are such in-depth subjects that they warrant a separate blog post.

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