Case Study: Xero

May 24, 2016  ·  Sandy Mamoli

Inspired by our squadification experiences at Trade Me and other large companies, Xero set out to try self-selection for themselves. People were asked to figure out who should be in which team and choose who they wanted to work with. Read our interview with Jordan Morris, a software engineer and Agile coach, who helped to make it happen!

Which company were you working with when you ran your self-selection event?

Xero. It was run by our Product Manager after a suggestion from our Development Lead.

Can you tell us about your own background, what role you had at the company and how long you had been there?

I'm part of the SubXero team, which develops the internal system which powers Xero. We're based in Auckland, New Zealand, with a few Wellington staff.

Before you did it

Why did you choose to use self-selection?

The attraction was largely the efficiency of the process, and the empowerment it gave to 
individuals in the team.

What was the state of play with your teams and people at the time?

Over the preceding months, we had grown the team from enough for one
Pod (Squad), to enough for 4-5. Until now, all team positions had
been allocated by management.

What did you think would happen? Did you have any specific fears or

Management were concerned that the 'fun' work might not be spread
evenly amongst all the pods, and that it might lead to unevenly
 distributed people. They were also concerned that a pod who needed
 domain experience might end up without a suitably experienced team

What would you have done if it didn’t work? What was your worst
case scenario?

I can't really comment, except that I know management were aware of the recommendations in 
chapter 4 of Creating Great Teams. Getting new hires and loaning capacity of Pod
 members are always options.

During Self-Selection

How many people and teams were involved?

There were 20-25 people involved.

Were the teams pre-selected?

A few people's pod choices were effectively predetermined, because it
 was just obvious where they should be, but not against their will.

What constraints did you place on the people involved?

Do what is right for Xero, then what is right for you.

What did you notice about the level of buy into the process
 when people arrived and when they were taking part?

The team was quiet and contemplative for some time, but as the time approached, there was a 
bit more buzz with people talking about potential choices.

Was there anything left over at the end of the self selection event
 which required follow up?

One person was a bit of an exceptional case, because they were leaving in
 a month. They had some specific domain knowledge required by a 
particular Pod, yet didn't really want to choose that Pod. That 
person's fate was left hanging for further discussion at a later time,
 but other than that the teams were very well formed.

What surprised you most about the process or the outcome?

I was surprised how smooth the process was. I've been impressed by this 
before, with my experiences doing self-selection at Trade Me, so I
 probably shouldn't have been so surprised.

After you did it

What did you learn?

It's good to be prepared, but it also doesn't have to be a big deal, and
 much of the contingency planning may not need to be employed.

Was it a success?


What would you say to someone who is debating whether to use
 elements of self-selection?

Dig into your fears, consider your worst-case scenarios, and you will
 probably find they are survivable. The process has huge benefits, so 
it's worth the risk. The one thing I would suggest is that success with
 ventures like self-selection start with the hiring process. If you have 
not hired carefully to get great personalities in your team, problems 
may be revealed (note, not caused) in an event like self-selection.

Categories: Self-Selection, Case studies.

Tags: Organisations, self-selection, squadification, Team, teams.