I think a lot about organizational behavior and coordination. I think this is one of the most challenging human problems: a significant amount of thinking has gone into this for our species, yet we still stumble a lot. With even a team of 50, the room for things to go awry is massive; I’m incredibly impressed with organizations like Amazon that have about 1.5M employees. Pure insanity.
I’ve written yearly letters to the Helicarrier (YC S18) team every January since 2018. I share the last excerpt of the 2022 Happy New Year letter I wrote to the team. I hope someone finds it valuable.
For me, ensuring that we continue to have the best team positioned for this is absolutely critical. That’s how we win. We have to ensure that not only are we hiring the best individuals for this; we have a team where every individual is collaborating with other individuals with a lot of beautiful and efficient Chemistry. As we grow as a team, there are a bunch of things that are a lot more critical for us to consider in order to maintain and improve quality and excellence:
Holding everyone accountable: we have to hold each other accountable. Ensuring everyone is bringing their A-game and taking their responsibilities seriously is important. Sometimes we even pity our co-workers. While we should have empathy for those we work with, we need to ensure our empathy is constructive and long-term-oriented. For instance, parents devalue sleep-empathy when you don’t want to wake up at 7 am in JSS 1; instead they prioritize hunger-empathy and are concerned that you might not acquire the skills that might give you a shot at feeding yourself in the future. Constructive empathy doesn’t hold back feedback. Constructive empathy figures out the best way to give feedback for someone to process but strongly recognizes that what comes first is that feedback IS communicated.
- Give feedback politely > Give feedback impolitely > Don’t give feedback (politely).
- A lot of times, our intuition is to be non-confrontational; but we have to remember that letting inefficiency and low standards exist is not only unfair to our users but also unfair to the entire team.
Ownership and autonomy: as the complexity of the things we do increases, the less the people who work as managers/supervisors are able to be effective decision makers. They just don’t have the level of knowledge and granular context to make the best decisions. When you have a responsibility, you have to consider that the task is for you to become the most brilliant and most knowledgeable person on the team/company in that problem space. As such, the goal and pursuit should be full ownership; you want to understand the problem space to the extent that you are truly the best decision maker. This is the way we can move fast, avoid bureaucracy, experiment like crazy and find excellence.
Communication: as the team gets larger, the number of unique human relationships exponentially increases. With just 3 founders, there are 3 unique relationships but with 50 people there are about 1225 unique relationships. It means the opportunities for friction, miscommunication and all sorts of negative dynamics significantly increases. As such, we have to err on the side of over-communication, giving benefit of doubt and straightforwardness. This is how we avoid friction. The default isn’t that people can infer our thoughts and contexts but rather that we put in the effort to ensure they are constantly on this same page with us — there is no such thing as superfluous communication in the context of team work. We should also avoid assuming ill intent. If people are bad actors, it won’t happen just once; there will be a lot of repeated situations in the future. We shouldn’t by default assume malevolence when interacting with coworkers.
- You would think exponential growth means the opportunities for positive dynamics increase too, but not exactly. The default in the universe is entropy (i.e. disorderliness and chaos); we thank the second law of thermodynamics for this. We have to be very intentional about creating order (think of the amount of work it takes to arrange the bricks to set up jenga vs the obviously trivial amount of work/cost that leads to losing the game).
Like you’ve heard Timi and Ire say, we’re incredibly proud of the team that has decided to take this risk with us. We don’t take the trust and responsibility for granted. We promise to continue to challenge ourselves to be even better stewards. And we ask that you continue to challenge yourselves to be even more exceptional executors. This journey is challenging and we all need to bring our A-game.