Mark's Avatar in a flat cap

ReadME

TL;DR

I borrowed this idea from a Medium post - I thought it was a great idea!

A README for me, Mark Smith.

So, I wrote down a few rules for myself, which I (aim to) follow when working with my teams. The process of putting it on paper helped me organise, prioritise, and clarify a couple of things, and I’m happy I did that. Not sure if you will find it helpful, but I felt it is worth sharing my experience.

// If you are reading this and are currently a part of my team, please use it as a guide and let’s talk about it next time we have a chance! I would love to hear your feedback and see how we can make it better.

My goals

  • Do it properly1.
  • Act with integrity.
  • Work for my team and help them.
  • Provide the right work/life balance (more about this later).
  • Stay out of the team’s way to let them do amazing things.
  • Lead by example.
  • Do my job the best that I can.
  • Bring the right amount of process vs. creative freedom.
  • Ultimately render myself redundant.

What do I expect from my team?

  • Be bold.
  • Act reliably.
  • Act with integrity.
  • Don't seek to please me. Do what is best for the company.
  • Be part of the #oneteam. Be one team.
  • Always do the right thing.
  • Take full ownership, extreme ownership.
  • Aim to assist, especially when providing feedback.
  • If you believe something is wrong, speak up.
  • Ask for help when you need it.

A little bit more on expectations...

The team makes decisions.

We are not running an adult crèche, and I believe that people and teams are capable of making hard decisions for the company's good. Ask yourself if your choice helps the business and doesn't screw up the team. I don't want to be a bottleneck that has to approve decisions made by people closer to the problem. Just keep me in the loop so I know where to help.

Good judgement is a solution for almost any ambiguous problem.

We should always aim to remove uncertainty from our lives and projects, but it is often impossible. Good judgment is the key, and it comes from our past experiences and talking to your colleagues. Use all the available options to choose the right path.

Extreme ownership

If you don’t have enough information — ask.
If something goes wrong — speak up.
If you strongly disagree with the direction — provide feedback.
Own the tasks and make sure you do them the best you can. Your responsibility doesn’t end when you re-assign the task to someone else. Make sure things get done.

#oneteam

Behave as #oneteam, and you look after yourself and people within your team. That doesn’t mean you have to hand-hold them… Just be open, cooperative and offer help when you feel it will add value. Aim to assist even if you are not an expert or something is not officially part of your job.

Lead up and down

It’s all about communication, and anybody can be a leader, no official title is needed. Communicate well with people you are responsible for, make sure they’ve got everything they need to get the job done. Lead up, filter information, and adjust your communication style. Provide enough details, explain intentions and decisions, and seek help if the team needs it.

Don't be afraid to look stupid

Ask questions if you don’t understand the task, context, direction, or decisions. If you don’t understand it, it means someone failed to communicate it well. It is likely others around you feel the same but are afraid to ask (to look stupid).

Celebrate failure

If you take risks, you will fail, and that’s important for innovation and growth. When it happens, it is crucial to review what went wrong and share it with a broader audience to learn from our mistakes. Be open about your failures and celebrate them.

When you see I did something wrong, tell me!

When I’m not following my own rules, call me out! I won’t get upset, and if I do, that’s my problem and something I will need to work on.

All meetings are optional by default

  • If the meeting doesn’t bring you any value — don’t attend.
  • If you can’t bring any value to the meeting — don’t attend.
  • If the meeting has no agenda — do not attend. (Just make sure the organiser knows)
  • Meetings need an objective - preferably singular.
  • 'AOB' is waffle. If it's important make it an objective beforehand.

1:1 Meeting?

Don’t waste it to talk about projects, you will have plenty of time to do so throughout the week. It’s your time and you decided how it is going to be used. Ask questions, raise concerns, ask for help if you need it and offer help if you feel like. This is your opportunity to talk about anything you want, especially if it can make your life at work a bit easier.

A bit more on work/life balance...

  • We are humans first. Always.
  • I don't have Slack, Teams, or company email apps installed on my personal devices. Neither should you2.
  • I do take holidays and I never take my company laptop or devices with me. Neither should you2.
  • I don't work in the evening or at weekends. Neither should you.
    • Of course, it can and does happen, but it should only happen in light of an emergency or to make back time for a personal appointment or flexitime. If I ask you to work evenings or weekends, it means I had no other choice. You should claim back your time the week after.
  • If you need time off, say it! I don't need a lengthy explanation why.
    • Life happens.
  • We are not paid by the # of slacks, messages or emails sent. These are very often disruptors, and I want you to maintain your focus time. I encourage you to turn off these apps during the periods you need to remain focussed.
  • Block out your calendar for lunch, evenings and define as a team “no meeting” zones to give you maximum time for focus.
    • The calendar reminders for lunch and non-working time (NWT) are especially important when working from home - build the structure into your calendar to ensure you switch off and maintain the work/life balance.
  • Block out chunks of time in your calendar to do stuff
    • In my calendar, those blocks are set as 'tentative' so you can still book my time in those slots - If I really need to focus and do that thing, I'll set it to 'busy' (and my IM to DND).
  • Make calendar appointments in 25-minute chunks, not half-hour.
    • When you're working from home, you're often (sometimes physically) tied to your laptop via your headset. That's not natural. By booking 25-minute chunks (or multiples thereof), you give yourself a 10-minute break every hour to stretch your legs, grab a drink/snack, and have a comfort break.
  • I will always encourage walking/park calls - If you don't need to see a screen, and the security aspects of the call allow (be vigilant!), walk while you are on your call or go and sit in a park. Take a notebook if you want. It's about getting outside and getting up from your desk.
  • Turn off your smart speakers when you're on sensitive or classified calls2. While I don't believe that they are listening to every word you say, I don't know for sure. They certainly are listening for the wake words, so it's best just to turn them off or mute the microphone.

Quirks about me worth noting...

AKA "Known Issues"

I will say "No" - That doesn't mean that I don't care.

“No” is an invitation to negotiation and means “I don’t have enough information”, “You need to explain it”, “WHY is missing”. I must juggle many priorities, and in times of stress and overload, you might hear “no” instead of me asking questions to clarify the things you should explain in the first place.

I will change my mind and/or tack when presented with new data.

I am opinionated but I try not to hold onto beliefs longer than they are valid. I think facts have a half-life. I think 'truth' can have different viewpoints. When presented with new or different data, I may change my mind and my approach to something based on those new data.

If I’m quiet, something is wrong.

It likely means that I have too much to say, and I would rather to stay quiet. Occasionally, it might also mean I’m still learning, and I have nothing valuable to add. Once it’s sorted out in my head, I will come back to you and explain what’s on my mind.

Sometimes I will talk too much.

Please, stop me! When I excited and ideas are bubbling in my head, I will talk fast, a lot, and start repeating essential things. I’m working hard on this, but please kick me if I do that and you feel overwhelmed!

Don’t tell me how to do my job.

When you tell me how I should do my job, I will get upset. It means you don’t trust me. Instead, let me know what results you expect, and I will surely over-deliver on your expectations.

Tell me how to do my job.

I tend to want to try to help and I get involved in the minutiae of every task. I'm working on this but kick me when I’m doing it and tell me to get back in my swimlane and abstract myself up and out of the detail.

I have a ridiculously small bladder.

So much so that a colleague once nicknamed me 'Captain Slackbladder'. I will get up and duck out of meetings/calls with alarming regularity. I can't help it. It's just one of those things (yes, I've spoken to a GP about it - I'm fine).

I am mildly dyslexic.

Days after I've sent them, I sometimes re-read emails I've sent and wonder how I managed to re-read them at the time and think they were grammatically and syntactically correct!
Usually it's missing the 's' off of words, or putting the space in the wrong place (e.g. 'int he'), so please bear with me.

I use comedy as a defence mechanism.

It served me well when I was bullied at school, and it's served me well since. I make jokes. Sometimes it's 'gallows humour' - When I was a firefighter, it was common for us to make dark jokes to help us deal with the (often bleak) situation. If I make a joke and you take umbrage/offence, please have a chat with me after - I don't wish to offend anyone, so I'll learn from it.
If you work for me, please don't laugh at any jokes/quips that I make that you don't actually find funny - nobody likes that person who laughs just because it's their boss is saying it…

Smith's Definition of A Tool:

A tool is a device that allows you to expend fewer calories performing a task - Mark Smith circa 2009.

It may seem pompous of me to quote my own definition, but it works well and I think it's important. As an engineer, this is my raison d'être - to make tasks easier. If your toolset/workflow adds bureaucracy or superfluous process, then it's not a tool. It's not helping you.

More to be added here…

More to come…

This is not a definite and final version of my “README”, and it will evolve.
I would love to hear about a different approach, how you lead teams and how you like to be led. It’s such a broad topic and a great discussion point for long talks.


  1. You will find this written in the top-right corner of the whiteboard in my office, or on the picture behind me in my home office. It's that important.
  2. Especially important if you are working in a secure environment or projects.