5. The Double-Team
A big risk of teamwork is redundancy. It’s often helpful for teams to have similar goals and priorities—many hands make light work—but when ownership and direction are ambiguous it’s all too easy to overlap and create unnecessary inefficiency.
Recently, two people on closely associated teams were separately asked by their respective leads to create decks debriefing an Artsy event. Each did so, dedicating a day’s worth of effort and resources toward the project, and each coming up with a well-executed result. When the project could have been independently completed by one member of one team, it was separately spearheaded by two teams, meaning that twice the hours necessary were spent on one project.
While it’s possible that the two individuals could have collaborated, there was no reason they should have had to, given that the project required only one person. Each was taking what they saw as the most efficient path in acting directly on a deliverable.
There are both long- and short-term solutions to this kind of problem. Long-term, it helps to build out processes so that follow-up tasks of this kind are automatically—and systematically—delegated. Secondly, it is always the responsibility of the team leads to actively create and maintain this kind of clarity for their team members by checking in with one another. Not only is this helpful for the overall efficiency of each team, but also it’s actually necessary for team members to see the impact of their individual contributions.
6. The Grand Slam
One big challenge we’ve faced as we grow and scale is putting communication pathways in place between teams that don’t necessarily interact on a day-to-day basis. As our team expands, we continually approach new frontiers: Where communication channels didn’t exist between teams, we’ve trailblazed.
The Gallery Relations team does an immense amount of hands-on account management—every month, each liaison creates an in-depth breakdown of their galleries’ activity on Artsy. Up until a few weeks ago, this process was entirely manual—liaisons pulled data, which was only aggregated in one place, to share with our partners. Though obviously a necessary exercise, it proved to be unsustainably labor-intensive.
The frustration came to light one day in a casual exchange between a liaison and an engineer. Before long, the Analytics and Engineering teams implemented a new data pipeline that could roll up the data and put it in a new, highly efficient dashboard that cut down the amount of work from 3 hours to 15 minutes per report. Altogether, this now saves the Gallery Relations team a combined 275 hours of work per month.
The main issue here is that communication channels to discover this kind of inefficiency had simply not been created: There were very few outlets for the Gallery Relations team to communicate directly with engineers, and vice versa. Now that we’re aware of this as a potential phenomenon, we can do more to directly create pathways—both casual and structural—for questions and feedback between teams that don’t always interact.
7. The Mass Tackle
Every team at Artsy will at some point edit documents, playbooks, or communications together using Google Docs, affording every member of the team a chance to weigh in with comments, edits, and suggestions. There can clearly be immense value in gathering input from a broad variety of sources: It supports a democratic vision, provides space for discourse and constructive disagreement, and, overall, increases the likelihood of the end product having team-wide buy-in.
There is also danger in having no definitive stakeholders: Decision by committee is not always best. When 10 people “own” a document or communication, it is difficult to determine how to accept and integrate everyone’s feedback, and to determine when the windows of opportunity for discussion open and close. Commentary offered by team members often has no boundaries, both in terms of content and timing, and editing can be like opening Pandora’s box: One suggestion leads to multiple, often ending in further disagreement.
Be definite about the scope and timing of the feedback expected. E.g., at the beginning, large, course-altering questions may be asked, but after a certain point, grammatical edits only. Carefully define people in this way as well—it’s often more useful to open the document to certain groups at certain times, rather than to create “open season.” On top of that, living up to the expectation that deadlines are deadlines is never a bad thing.
It is absolutely possible to achieve a balance between achieving group buy-in and establishing boundaries. The key is to make sure that process, stakeholders, scope, and deadlines are defined ahead of time, and understood by every contributor.
We describe these instances as failures because that’s exactly what they were—times when we didn’t live up to the communications standards we strive for across the board. Excitingly, each time we fall short, we circle back. We set the bar higher and higher, we apply more experience and insight, not getting tripped up by failures but taking them into account. In communication, individual changes really matter, and feedback is immediate: We are constantly evolving, innovating where we’ve fallen short, and iterating on processes that work.
Susannah Shipton is Executive Assistant to the COO at Artsy. She helps to implement and maintain efficient and effective operational structures. She graduated from Princeton in 2014, where she majored in History and French and was a varsity rower. Prior to joining Artsy, Susannah spent a year on a teaching fellowship in Laos.