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7 tried and tested ways to build stronger, happier, more vibrant teams, by Facebook’s Jennifer Hunt

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Since joining Facebook in 2016, Solutions Architect Manager, Jennifer Hunt has made it her mission to create a team culture based on collaboration, trust, friendship and happiness.

Here she shares the practices she’s employed to foster a vibrant, successful and influential community.

 
1. There’s no point decorating other people’s houses if your own is on fire!

I heard this from a manager once, and it struck a chord. When teams work in silos, with little daily collaboration or even friendly chat, I find that kind of heart breaking. And when you see people from those teams actively trying to build collaboration elsewhere, it makes no sense. It’s not that fostering great relationships outside your team is wrong; it’s just an adjustment of priorities: strengthen your immediate team first; once you’ve done that successfully, look to spread the love to the rest of the organisation.

 

2. Friends first; colleagues second...

I hold daily team sessions where there’s no shop talk. It’s not a strict ban on work chat per se, and there’s no commitment to join, but it’s there for anyone who wants a friendly catch up over coffee. This routine has been particularly important during the Covid-19 lockdown. Many of us live alone and haven’t had human contact for months, so being able to have that social aspect via technology has kept us emotionally alive. As well as these informal chats, we’ve organised remote gaming nights and virtual escape rooms.

 

3. Explore your past lives

We organised a series of events where willing participants presented their career journeys. It was really insightful, and interesting to see just how many people ended up in this very technical team without ever having studied tech, as well as the many different reasons behind people relocating. What started out as a simple way to get to know one another better, became an exercise in group self-reflection. For example, where we saw someone talking about ‘falling into’ a particular role, that opened up a lot of discussion about choices and having control over our own destinies. In turn, that’s enabled me to have conversations about my team’s ambitions, and to reaffirm that I want to play my role in helping them move along.

 

4. Collectively uncover your strengths and weaknesses

We practise Strengths Finder, an exercise by coach Marcus Buckingham. It uncovers your hard and soft skills, as well as what happens when you use those skills: do they give you energy, or do they drain you? Mine showed that I’m great at spreadsheets, but on the other hand I hate doing them! And while I really love being a mentor, there is more learning I need to do around that. It’s a great exercise for identifying skills gaps in the community. If there’s a project coming up that relies on solid networking skills, yet we know everyone in the team either dislikes or lacks experience in networking, we have to look outside for support. In my experience, it isn’t often that people sit down individually and work all that out for themselves, so this has been a really great thing to do as a team.

 

5. Make your team a home for guests to come visit

Whenever my team member has a big project, I insist they bring in a cross-functional individual — someone who sits outside our area of expertise and will take a completely different view. It always positively impacts outcomes, and it has the added bonus of strengthening relationships between teams. This approach has brought us very close to many teams at Facebook, and we often have joint team socials, and have even (with prior permission from their manager) surprised another team by turning up to their weekly video meeting. It was hugely fun to hang out for a while and find out more about what they’ve been working on in lockdown (we ended up planning a virtual cook-off with them). During lockdown, I encouraged my team to pick someone they normally have water cooler chats with and organise virtual coffee or wine breaks with them. While you can never treat another team as your own, the goal is to work towards a medium and have my team (hopefully by now a pillar of strength and beacon of influence within our organisation) spread the love to their colleagues. 

 

6. Indulge your hobbies at work

At Facebook we have a huge number of hobby groups, where co-workers passionate about anything from football to artisan teas, wine to tennis, can come together in a structured but friendly way, where sometimes the only other alternative would be to join a group of strangers outside work. Most groups transfer well to digital; while a sports group might not be able to play, they can watch games together; the various food and drinks groups can’t share tasting sessions, but they’ve brought in experts for Q&As.

Our ecosystem of hobby groups has grown from the bottom up; employees launch new ones using Workplace, and then apply for funding. If you’re looking to do something similar in an organisation from scratch, I’d suggest taking a top down approach: pitch to someone in leadership, sharing all the data you can find about how this kind of activity brings cultural growth and all the related happiness and productivity benefits. I’d also talk about the leadership potential this activity can draw out: how it can highlight those special people who feel passionate enough to commit to bringing people together, who can ensure that group stays active, attract new members, mediate any issues, manage a budget, maybe even take risks and devise a new strategy.

 

7. A buddy system for new starters is a win-win

In my team, we like to give every new joiner a massive on-boarding welcome. As well as receiving mentorship from someone in their function, we give them a ‘cultural mentor’ — someone who can guide them on office life, communities, tooling, and take them to cross-functional meetings and debrief them afterwards. The benefit is mutual — in my experience, mentoring someone is a great way to alleviate imposter syndrome. It enables confidence by validating your experience and existing skills, as well as developing new ones, and all in a way that helps someone else, which is very rewarding.

 

Facebook in partnership with everywoman

everywoman and Facebook are partnering on a series of programmes, events and initiatives to engage more women in technology, especially those from under-represented groups. Over the course of the partnership, the two organisations will work closely together to support Facebook’s commitment to broadening gender diversity across their business and across the tech industry overall. This will be supported by showcasing a range of diverse, inspirational role models sharing their career stories.

To learn more about Facebook’s culture, values and people click here