Case Study: Self-Selection at 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 worries?
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 member.
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.
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.
Tags: Organisations, self-selection, squadification, Team, teams.