The Power of RAsync: A romantic take on a job market trend

 đźŚŤ Get onboard, look beyond the trend and change the world with it.

Remote jobs are increasingly popular, certainly in the digital world. This was already true before the pandemic, but while most companies could do without it then, now some are forced to accept it, and a few even proudly embrace it and advertise it. It’s mostly sold as a benefit for employees and a way to access more and better talent, in essence, to be more competitive.

Some of the associated benefits of remote work are obvious. Employees save money, time and hassle not having to commute, they can work in the comfort of their couch with their kitchen and bathroom nearby, share more time with kids and pets and run some quick errands in the middle of the day without disrupting the working day much. For the more restless people, it provides a way to explore and change scenarios or even countries without spending precious vacation days.

Now, as Remote work takes off, Asynchronous work makes an appearance as a better way to accommodate the new remote work lifestyle. As personal and work life overlap more and more, a new way to plan your day and organise your focus time is required. Asynchronous work doesn’t require you to be available all the time (or during specific business hours) so it is much easier to find the right balance. In fact, a Remote job without an async communication policy to support it may create more damage than good, definitely misses the point and wastes its power massively.

Many employers will offer remote jobs to be competitive and have access to more candidates. It’s also a way to easily expand and have representation in new markets, offer support in different time zones or even save some costs by hiring in countries with lower wages.

Many employees will accept remote jobs for the convenience of it, plus it offers them a bigger choice of opportunities, not limited by where they live.

That’s all good and there’s nothing wrong with it, however, the benefits of a well-understood RAsync policy go beyond business and contribute to a much bigger cause, changing the paradigm of employment and having a broader positive impact on society.

Inclusion. A true commitment to actually considering every person in the world for a job will necessarily lead you to review and adapt the way you talk about your company in the media, share job opportunities, interview and hire, readjust your views on what to look for and how you reach out to people from different cultures and backgrounds at all levels of society and including those with disabilities and other underrepresented groups. Taking this seriously will have a deep impact on the company, the leadership and everyone else as you transform into a more human and inclusive employer.

True Diversity. Diversity is often simplified by gender or nationality. True diversity is about different lives. A team with 20 nationalities living in London is somehow diverse, but they all share the same weather, local environment, shops, and laws and need to comply with a similar code of conduct as part of the same society. When you really hire worldwide, your people will get up at different times, will buy different things, use a different health system or transportation, will follow different laws and principles and will be at different seasons being your company the only thing in common with the rest.

Distribution of Power. You will be giving opportunities to less favoured people. Those living far from big universities or cities, in underdeveloped countries, or without role models in their society. You can level the playing field a bit and have a unique opportunity to turn someone’s life around and impact their lives and environment. You will be contributing to distributing knowledge and wealth in the world and inspiring others to do the same, promoting education, self-development and giving hope worldwide.

Information Consistency. Just the single fact of working in different time zones immediately brings the async policy to the table as you cannot expect to have everyone available at the same time. Embracing async communication lays down the foundation for a few more fundamental cultural changes. Communicating when recipients aren’t on the other side, necessarily forces you to record that information, mostly but not limited to, in writing. This, consequently, makes you document and register everything that is being said, discussed and decided.
Having everyone consuming the information from the same place brings consistency and alignment and anything worth reviewing can easily be referenced back, by anyone, at any time.

Better Communication. This inevitably pushes everyone to communicate better. Words and messages are recorded demanding an extra effort to properly structure, research and explain the content, growing as communicators in the process and improving the experience for everyone.

Better Participation. Consuming, processing and reacting to the information at everybody’s convenience gives equal opportunity to everyone to contribute. This is extremely powerful and provides unique opportunities. It allows for all sorts of personalities to approach their contribution as it better fits them. Some will impulsively speak their minds, and others will research before contributing. Whatever the case, it will no longer be a matter of dominating a non-native language or having a powerful voice or strong personality to make your point across the table, everyone will have equal opportunities to contribute.

Trust. Remote (or working from home) policies give the sensation of trust, but trust is not real if people can’t control their time. Adding the async element, literally means that people are free to find their most productive time. That automatically generates a great feeling of trust as this new responsibility is put on the employees.

Environmental Friendly. Not having to commute or fly over for business meetings drastically reduces carbon emissions and it also helps with traffic. All parents having to drop kids at school surely appreciate it and I’ll go as far as saying that it reduces the stress and the bad mood derived from driving during rush hours. Work accidents are reduced and public resources are saved as a result too.

Conclusion. It’s only when people are in full control of both their space and their time that they can truly unlock their full potential, manage themselves and optimise their focus and productivity. A well-rounded RAsync approach (Remote + Async) provides exactly that.
Time is the most valuable thing we all have and making the most of it will dramatically change our existence. Asynchronous communication goes a long way to achieve that and provides people with a whole new level of autonomy and opportunities to break ceilings that will truly unlock the full potential of the remote workforce while contributing to society.

Creating Teams: Xmas Trees Experiment

There will be always the time when you’ll need to make changes in your teams. This may be due to change in workload, people joining or leaving the group, change of methodology, etc.

We also had this situation in our office. In our case we were beginning to move towards a more agile model plus we were moving to a new office space. As we wanted to have more cross-functional autonomous teams, we thought this could be a great opportunity to take our next step. But how to do it?

It was very early stage in our transformation of culture so we needed to be careful but at the same time we wanted to use this opportunity to send out a message in the right direction.

The traditional approach would have been easy. We could have told a couple of people to change teams and desks and that would have been it. But how was this solution aligned to our new philosophy based on feedback and self-management? Nothing.

Instead we went down to the bazar where we often go for inspiration. They’ve got so many things there that the probability of finding a solution for your problem is high.

It was Xmas time, so the bazar was full of Xmas motives. The usual, Xmas trees, tinsel, balls, stars and all sorts of glittery stuff. We looked around for a while and then it stroke us.

This is what we did:

-We bought as many Xmas trees as teams we wanted to create

-We bought a Star for every PO we had

-We bought a tinsel for every QA we had

-We bought as many balls as developers we had

We were about to transform the office and we were aware that the impact could be significant. We did it by surprise on a Monday morning. We brought up the Xmas trees and put them in front of everyone and explained that we needed to reshape the teams to accommodate recent changes and also to prepare for what’s coming ahead.

We cleared everyone schedules for the day and decided to invest the day in going through this exercise in the best manner we could think of. We named the trees as Team A, Team B and Team C.

We asked the POs to take a star, Devs to take a ball and QAs to take a piece of tinsel. The instructions were simple, they needed to decorate the trees in a way that they all had all elements.

Sure this implied that each team will get one of the POs, each team will get one of the QAs and the a few developers each; but we believe that this way it would be more engaging than imposing some new teams made by management.

We went several times, let the teams repeat the exercise with different configurations and took pictures of it. Then we showed the pictures and they all voted for the best combination of team members and skills and the new teams were born. Scrum masters were assigned by draw.

Next step would be to create team identities. We encouraged the teams to spend sometimes thinking about their new name, their logo, their values and prepare a short presentation to introduce the new team to everyone.

This was a very positive exercise, new team mates started working together in a fun project. Even couple of teams decided to look for complementary names as they were going to work on the same product.

Once the teams had their identity, they needed to decide how to distribute the desks. You can imagine a huge mess of people fighting for the window or the best desk by some personal criteria. In fact, none of this happened. We gave them a floor map of the office and made paper balls with different colours. Each colour represented a team and asked the teams to work together around the map to place the paper balls in a way that everybody is happy. They did in under 20 minutes with no major issue.

The rest of the day was spent getting settled in the new desks, discussing on sprint format with Scrum Master and for POs to rearrange backlogs for each team. By Tuesday morning, all teams were planning the sprint and getting on it.

Was everybody happy? of course not, we crashed their teams, their previous identity, they lost their loved desk and nobody likes changes. But it needed to be done and this is the least disruptive and fun way we could think of.

Expectations Exercise

We talk so much about feedback, its importance and how all teams should incorporate it from the very beginning and practice it often. But is it possible to provide feedback on day 1 of a team or an activity? probably not. It’s often required that a reasonable amount of time passes before you can evaluate team members or come up with process improvement ideas.

While this is true, it is also true that the sooner we start with feedback the better. This exercise is perfect to set the stage and start working together to create this culture early on. Since we do not have facts, past events or behaviours to work with, we will work with the expected future.

During this exercise we will share each other’s expectations to the group. This is a nice way of influencing each other’s behaviour before the fact in a way that the team forms a perception of what’s desired and what is not within the group.

This is how it works

Prepare a template on a sheet of paper for each one of the participants. The paper will be divided in 3 sections. Give each team member a piece of paper. The lower half is blank. The top half is divided into two sections:

  • What my team mates can expect from me
  • What I expect from my team mates

For your convenience, I have uploaded a template ready to print 🙂

Ask each member to write their name at the top of the page.

Give some time and ask each participant to fill out the top half for themselves (what my team mates can expect from me and what I expect from my team mates). When everyone is finished, they pass their paper to the left and start reviewing the sheet that was passed to them. In the lower half they write what they personally expect from that person, sign it and pass it on. Don’t forget to add your name so the owner of the sheet knows who wrote each expectation.

When the papers made it around the room, take some time to review and share observations. Explore any surprises or mismatches and discuss about them. This exercise is very safe and, in general, can be used with groups of any level of maturity, it is actually good to use it with newly formed teams, it will help the team start off on a good foot, opening up to the rest of the team and improving their understanding towards others.

On the “What my team mates can expect from me” section, reserve a small space for an optional “What can you NOT expect from me” section (included in the downloadable template) and encourage the participants to share the one thing that is a no-go or just won’t come natural for them. This will set things clear from the start and will also be a way for the team members to spark some conversations about it and get to know each other better.

As usual, it is helpful to use a large space, where everyone feels comfortable and has their own little space where they can think and write their thoughts.

Most conflicts arise when two sides have different sets of expectation so let’s bang those right on the head before is too late!

Speed Dating Feedback Experiment

We Love Feedback, I think that’s clear by now. And it isn’t just because feedback makes us stronger but also because it is indispensable in a self-managed environment. It is in fact the main way, if not the only way, in which we can regulate everybody’s behaviour.

Because feedback can be awkward and hard to do if not practiced often, you need to incorporate feedback exercises into the habit of the teams. Self-managed teams need to be able to solve their differences on their own, and only when they feel comfortable to tell each other about the good and the bad, the big and the small, can they succeed at difficult times.

The Speed Dating or Speed Feedback is another exercise that you can consider to practice feedback with your team. This format is very interesting because it allows everyone to open up a bit and practice face-to-face feedback without making them feel too exposed. There is something about the countdown, the movement around the chairs and the noise around you that somehow takes some of the pressure off.

How it works

The execution is very simple, we make two rows of chairs in a way that half of the team is sitting in front of the other half, so everyone has someone in front of them. Then the fun begins, we setup a timer, it could go from 1 to 4 minutes. I advise to start with 2 minutes. When the clock starts counting, people sitting on one side will provide positive feedback to the person in front of them. These are of course all those things that one appreciates about the other. When the time is up, is turn for the other row to provide the positive feedback for 2 minutes. Once positive feedback is complete, we go back to the row that started and ask them now to provide feedback about those things that aren’t as welcome or need to be reviewed. Again we do 2 minutes, switch and 2 more minutes. Is important to note that the receiving person should just listen.

Typical Speed Feedback setup

After we complete the cycle of both positive and not so positive feedback from both sides, is time to change pairs. For that, the most efficient method is to follow a typical round-robin algorithm which consists in just making one person fixed to their position and making everyone else move one position left or right. This way we ensure that everyone will pair up with everyone else just once. When working with odd numbers, just add an empty chair and make that one fixed. Follow the same rotation and the person sitting in front of the empty chair will just rest and observe for that one round. Sometimes people will observe interesting dynamics when resting which they can share with the group after each round.

It is completely normal to have a group of mixed backgrounds or seniority in the team. Maybe some members just joined a week ago and for them it will be very hard to provide meaningful feedback. In those cases, invite them to share their perception of what they’ve seen so far or also express what are things that they would like to see in the other person and the things they wouldn’t like to see going forward. This is also a good way to set expectations and establish some links in the relationship.

If you have a coach or facilitator, let them conduct the exercise the first few times. Once the team masters the exercise, the coach can also join the exercise, especially when having odd numbers in the team.

Always make sure you get the group share their impressions after the full exercise is complete. Was it useful? Have they learned anything? What are they planning to do with all that information?

Tip: Consider running this exercise away from the usual working space, even outdoors. A more relaxed and friendly environment will make everyone feel better, improving participation and bonding.

Feel free to use this exercise with groups of any maturity. Just explain it first so they know what to expect and play with the time. Even though this exercise has some advance elements such as face-to-face and constructive feedback, the physical dynamics of it will help cope with the emotions without too much trouble.

The format of this exercise will be better suited for some people than for others. That’s why is essential that you always combine feedback exercises. Use different formats and levels of intensity to make sure that the truth comes out one way or another. In the end is all about transparency and trust. Only then, the team will be a real team.

Fill The Gap Feedback Experiment

This is a rather advanced feedback exercise. It can become very awkward for inexperienced teams and get dangerous if not controlled properly. Sometimes the line between a genuinely positive transformation and a complete morale destruction is very thin. However, it is very powerful. All teams, even those which seem in perfect harmony at first sight, have their little bugs. Those little bugs may not seem worth addressing. Sometimes, it even feels like an overkill to discuss them as they can generate what it may be perceived as unnecessary unrest for a perfectly functioning team. I beg to differ. In my experience, those little things will become bigger and become unmanageable if not addressed early.

Here’s what you need:

Private Space

As any other feedback exercise, it is always good to provide the group with a private space where they can feel protected and relaxed. Ideally with no tables but with comfortable seats. Consider doing it outside the office, such as in a park, the beach or the terrace of their favourite coffee shop but keep in mind that it will work best when they don’t feel exposed to external people. For this exercise we will organise the group in a semicircle shape with one member in the middle, taking turns. Make sure the space allows for it. It is important to state that everything shared during the session will be kept private within the group.

2 Sentences

The drivers of this format are 2 sentences, one to express positive feelings and another describing negative emotions. It is very important that the sentences clearly state the subjects me and you. This will make it personal and will help the individuals to address each other while sharing the feedback.

Positive sentence:
It (helps/motivates/delights/pleases) me when youbecause

Negative sentence:
It (bothers/frustrates/demotivates/harms) me when youbecause

Make sure the clause because is always present and included in the feedback. The reasons behind the feedback are indispensable to drive true positive change. The recipient needs to understand the impact of their behaviour.

If somebody just says “It bothers me when you are late in the morning” without explaining why that behaviour is worth changing, it will be hard for the recipient to understand the problem and make the personal investment that takes to make true change. Why is arriving late a problem at all? Is it because we depend on that person to perform our job and we need to sync? Is it because it breaks the team’s agreement and we really care about rules? Is it because we make an effort to turn up on time and we expect the same from others? or is it because we love that person so much that makes us sad when they aren’t around?

As you can see, words and format are very important and it is important to be somewhat strict. You can cut some slack to those that struggle to find the appropriate feeling in the list but apart from that try to respect the existing sentence, otherwise it could lose strength and not be as effective. The point of this exercise it to force participants to share things that aren’t easy to share in a normal conversation. It is a good idea to acknowledge beforehand that the exercise is somehow rigid and that we shouldn’t take the resulting sentences literally.

Pen and paper

Prepare pen and paper for everyone and encourage them to take notes while they receive the feedback. Is usually interesting to focus on those things that are surprising or unexpected. In the end, gaining new information about how you come across is of most value.

Bonus: Tissues

It can help to place a box of tissues in the middle of the semicircle to show that it is totally ok to get emotional. You can also explicitly mention it during the introduction of the exercise.

How it works

Form a semicircle with all team members. Find a volunteer who wants to go first and that person will sit in the middle of the semicircle becoming the recipient for the first round of feedback. Whenever someone is ready to share feedback, it will do so by stating the 2 sentences and filling the gaps with their own words.

Depending on the group, it may help if you demonstrate the exercise by providing feedback yourself to the team or to a particular person. Show yourself vulnerable and admit how difficult this is for you too.

The goal of this exercise is for the participants to give honest feedback face-to-face. It is important that they give feedback which refers to the actions and behaviour of the recipient. Do not mix the individual feedback and the team feedback and stop discussions around changing behaviour that respond to a team agreement in place. That feedback should be handled at the team level.

Continue going around the semicircle until all participants share their 2 sentences with the recipient. Allow for the recipient to take notes and ask clarifying questions, nothing else. It is not the time to respond to the feedback provided. Encourage them to discuss the feedback received with the different individuals at a separate time.

Once everybody shared their feedback, the recipient will take a few minutes to review their notes and share their thoughts with the group.

Repeat this process for every team member.


Appreciate everyone’s participation, acknowledging how hard it is to open up and share personal opinions face-to-face. Encourage everyone to discuss topics at their own convenience and remind that all content should be kept private.

The Poker Chips Feedback Experiment

The Poker Chips experiment gave us a whole new level of transparency, communication, trust and performance. So much that I strongly recommend every team to try it and sustain it, but before I go into details, I must set the right context so you understand where we were coming from.

After we ditched the hierarchy and moved to a self-managed environment, we had to experiment with a lot of innovative practices to cope with the gaps that the lack of structure left us. Our teams are used to come up with many democratic approaches to make decisions and implement processes. The methods that we’re going to describe in this post need to be put in this context and must be carefully used in groups with little experience with transparency and honest feedback. For us, after 3 years playing with democratic approaches, the Poker Chips feedback was just one more thing we were trying.

One of the things that nobody was controlling in our structureless model was to make sure that everybody was doing what they were expected to do and that nobody was taking advantage of the system or derailing from the values and work required for the company to sustain its culture and achieve its business goals.

We experimented with lots of performance review exercises. To get a better context read Experiment 1, Experiment 2, Experiment 3, Experiment 4 and Candies Feedback Experiment.

If you haven’t read our previous experiments, this is a brief summary to help you get in context. We tried different ways of giving promotions by selecting the best employees democratically. We played with surveys, voted by categories and even delegated the promotions budget to the group for them to distribute but it was the Candies Exercise the one that took us to this new Poker Chips experiment. The Candies feedback, in short, is an exercise in which every team (as a whole) provides feedback to every other team (as a whole) and, additionally to the written feedback, a number of real candies is also given as a sweet rating of their performance. Typically the teams would collect those candies and all team members would share them and enjoy them together. It is important to say that the candies exercise wasn’t linked to money or promotions in any way but rather open and transparent feedback for the teams to understand how they were perceived and how they could do better.

One of the risks when creating self-managed teams is that having all members the same hierarchy can be confused with not having the right to demand accountability from others. To some degree, there is this feeling of “we are all the same and nobody can tell me what to do” or just not feeling comfortable with confronting anyone without having any real authority over that person. The way we see it, in a self-managed model, everybody has the authority to demand accountability to others, but of course, not the easiest thing to understand or do.

With this method, we make sure that everyone is aware of how they are perceived and what they need to do to improve that perception. Coming from the Candies Exercise, when the candies were collected, we raised the question to the teams “do all members of the team deserve an equal amount of candies?” or “have all contributed equally to this team?”.


We had some poker chips laying around from other workshop exercises so we decided to use those. We directly converted the number of candies received by the team into the number of 1$ coins they could use, and that would be the currency we would use for this feedback exercise.

If you wanna run this exercise from scratch you can decide the number of coins following a formula like this:

c = m * n + e

  • c is the number of 1$ coins per person for the exercise.
  • m is the number of team members.
  • n is a variable to control the magnitude of variation. The bigger it is, the bigger gap will create between the best rated and the worst rated members.
  • e is there to avoid an equal distribution by forcing every member to decide who gets extra coins. e must be between 1 and m, the closest to 1 you would foster recognition of performance above average, the closer e is to m, you would be fostering punishment for lower than average performance.


We applied the following format to mature teams, with lots of experience in providing feedback. This is how it would work for a team of 5 members:

  • m = 5, n = 2 to avoid big differences in rating and e = 1 to foster positive recognition. c = 11.
  • Get all team members together in a friendly environment. It can be a playroom, the park or the bar. Whatever works for you.
  • Each member will get 11 coins of 1$ each.
  • In turns, each member will distribute their coins to all the teammates, giving to each one, a number of coins and the justification for it. This happens face-to-face and in front of everyone.
  • Once everybody distributed their coins, we compute the totals and write down the results on a board or a screen for everyone to see.
  • Give some time to reflect on the results and encourage everyone to share their thoughts by asking questions such as “are you surprised by these results?”. Also, encourage team members to ask the group “how can I improve to get a better result next time?”
  • Repeat this exercise often, every 6 to 12 weeks, identify trends and ask the team to define a plan that helps all team members help each other improve. It is ok and normal to have people outstanding but watch out for big differences of results or team members with recurrent low results.

Variation: of course you can sweeten it up a bit and use chocolates or any other yummy feedback unit so the team can have a feast at the end of the exercise!

Bonus: you can consider linking this to your appraisal process. In our experience, when you add money to the mix, you compromise the feedback but it sure can be a great way of running performance reviews for mature teams.

Proceed carefully! This is exercise can raise sensitive conversations and can be very awkward for an inexperienced team, potentially damaging the team moral and personal relationships. Add variations to the above format to reduce the impact if necessary. You can play with different degrees of anonymity. Start safe and send out an anonymous online survey first, where members can give each other feedback privately. Collect all the feedback given and have it discussed by the group without disclosing authors. After some sessions like that, when the team is ready, introduce the coins and just ask team members to put the coins in a box or behind the teammates’ back while seating in a circle on the floor. Eventually, with more experience, gradually open it up until you reach full transparency and one-to-one communication. Do not link this exercise to money or promotions if the team hasn’t practiced it before and feels comfortable with it.


In conclusion, this exercise is extremely powerful. It keeps everybody aware of how they are perceived in the team, allowing them to continuously improve upon feedback and making sure that all team members are meeting the team’s expectations. Running this exercise we had cases where low performers who would have been terminated overtime, had the chance to react and become valuable members of the team. We also had cases were low performers were never able to match the team’s expectation and had to eventually leave the team. Equally, we had cases of people constantly getting the highest scores in the team and that’s usually a great indicator for the team to consider proposing that member for promotions or salary increases. We consider that mastering this exercise is essential for the success of our teams.

Merit Increase in a self-managed group. Experiment 4: Star Awards

At this point, we have experimented quite a bit with different methods and, more importantly, we have grown in terms of trust, transparency and self-management. Check out our previous experiments if you haven’t done so yet (Experiment 1, Experiment 2, Experiment 3).

This time we wanted to tackle one of the flaws that all of our previous methods had, and that is to provide recognition right after the fact and have a process that runs throughout the year rather than just once every 6/12 months. We still had to stick to the corporate annual budget cycle so this is what we did:

8 Stars

There are a couple of things that made us create a “currency” for appreciation. After we ran Experiment 3, participants, in general, expressed that they didn’t particularly enjoy to use direct cash because it made the exercise too much about the money and deviated the attention from the recognition itself.

In addition to this, we don’t always know the available budget, when will be approved, how much it will be or even whether we’ll have one. It’s easier to have an artificial currency that you can exchange for real cash once your organisation has the money ready for it. So receiving a star will be seen as recognition and even though it will be converted to money at some point, it is nice to be recognised right away and enjoy that bit without thinking about money.

Why 8? That’s a great question. We used our gut feeling and previous experience on this. In Experiment 1 you could mention 3 names, in Experiment 2 you could mention up to 15 names and in Experiment 3 there was no limit in regards to how many people you could include in your distribution. With all that in mind, after studying how people behaved in these experiments and also considering how much budget we would typically get for increases, we decided that 8 was a good number both for having a reasonable monetary value when we convert it but also to convey that a star is valuable. Having only 8 for the whole year would make everyone carefully think about who deserves one, rather than just give them away easily for any little thing. We wanted a star to be meaningful.

As few rules as possible

After the 3 previous experiments, the group is now mature and hence we didn’t feel like we needed to set so many rules. We wanted to give people as much freedom as possible to use their stars as they considered appropriate. Stars could be given at any time, to anybody and even several stars to the same person, as long as you didn’t give them to yourself. We only set the limit of the stars (8) and made clear that all the stars will be published, who gave it, to whom and why. Also, because humans tend to procrastinate we said that 4 stars would expire in 6 months just to avoid people forgetting or keeping all the stars for the end of the year which would defeat the purpose of moving to a spontaneous method.

Oh yes, there was one more rule, if you wanted to cash out the stars you received at the end of the year, you had to participate in this exercise, meaning that you had to give out at least 1 of your stars.

Counting Stars

When the year was over, we would look at how much budget there was for this purpose and make a direct conversion dividing the total budget by the number of stars given. Each employee would get that value for every star received. Simple.

If somebody received so many stars producing their increase to go beyond their salary range, they would get a promotion. We actually loved this because promotions are a consequence of a salary increase earned by everyone’s recognition and not the other way around.

Things we considered

There were a few things we considered that we didn’t end up implementing. You may want to try them out though, so here they are:

  • Combine the stars with another method. You could dedicate a percentage of your budget to the Star Awards exercise and distribute the rest with a different method like splitting it equally among all employees to ensure a minimum raise for everyone or delegate some of it to the teams or apply a different method to that bit. Your imagination is the limit.
  • Allow giving a star to an entire team and split its value among its members.
  • Set limits. For example, an employee can only give out up to 4 stars to their team members but the other 4 need to be given to colleagues from other teams.

starsWhat worked well

  • We didn’t have a single employee who didn’t receive at least 1 star. Most people received several during the year for specific contributions, sent by a colleague together with a nice piece of positive feedback. This really motivated people and helped us keep doing our best through the year.
  • Everybody was happy for people receiving a lot of stars, they’re just great employees and teammates and if they received 20 stars it was because they really deserved them.
  • The fact that the stars were public could influence people on their decision. Maybe someone was thinking of one person to give them one star but then changed their mind when they saw that they had already received a lot of them. While we were concerned about things like that happening, and they probably happened, we still think that the positive impact of sharing recognitions frequently with everyone created way more good than bad.

Not so well

  • Again we didn’t have feedback about things to improve. Most feedback was to recognise something great about someone so additional methods needed to be used to fill that gap.
  • With this method, we still have cases of employees that interact with many people and their exposure made them more likely to be considered by more people versus those who spend more time out of the office, with clients or more isolated who are inevitably considered by fewer people as a candidate for a star award.

In Conclusion, this method was an extraordinary exercise. The feeling of giving a star, receiving it and even seeing how others were recognised was a boost and having 8 stars per employee, we had plenty of happy days throughout the year. Still, we think we can do better and that is why we’re working on the next Experiment, one that we think will fill most of the missing pieces. Stay tuned.



Adding HR Skills to the Mix

For years, we have lived with no official HR person. This is pretty unusual for an office of over 70 employees, but hey, we aren’t a usual company; after all, who else is investing in a team of 3 full-time employees fully dedicated to transforming our culture? We thought this profile could help us and we decided to include it in our Kaizen team, and for that, we found the ideal person, her name is A.


The main responsibilities of A are still the typical ones that an HR is expected to do but on top of that, she is part of the Kaizen team.

In the Kaizen team, we do our best so that everyone in this company feels empowered and informed enough to be the best at their jobs. No matter how many processes we put in place or how many tools we can use, at the end of the day, there are always people behind it. Our focus is on people and finding ways for everyone to be safe and free to make good judgment calls and to improve their work continuously.

To that end, working with people is essential, from building teams to their development and growth. This is why we do our best to find frameworks that enable this philosophy, and these include management models, appraisal processes, training and hiring among others. HR brings expertise in all these fields. A doesn’t only help us to stay within the law but also advises when designing and implementing a lot of these ideas to make sure people are considered carefully and respected. We use her experience to anticipate possible outcomes and ensure a positive effect in the long term. At the same time, she can represent Barcelona office in the Global HR organisation to make sure our culture and model are considered in their approach as well as keeping an eye on the competition and the talent market, to make sure we stay competitive.

Since our teams are self-managed, she doesn’t need to get involved in vacation approvals, team assignments or any of those things where she would just be a bottleneck, adding seldom value. That gives her more time to focus on the really important stuff such as making sure all of the above is possible and defining global strategies for motivation, engagement, recruiting and retention.

It took a while for everyone to understand this configuration? always. Are we convinced this was the right configuration? Completely. And when is not, we’ll change it.

Merit Increase in a self-managed group. Experiment 2: Most Complete Employee

If you read our Experiment 1 for the merit increase, you would know that the system, even though it brought a lot of good things to the group, it had some room for improvement.

With a little bit more time we decided to work on an improved version of the “Best Employee” and we created the “Most Complete Employee”.

Very similar format to the previous voting but this time we made a few changed to cover some of the feedback shared by the employees:


With the help of everyone, we defined 5 different categories: Teamwork, Stakeholder Accountability, Knowledge Spreading, Passion and Expertise in Relevant Field.


With this, we intend to provide clear guidelines for the behaviour we want to reward, as well as shaping our culture at the same time.

Up to 15 different people

Although you could leave blanks and vote for the same person in different categories, having the possibility to vote for 15 different people would allow to include more profiles and recognise different aspects, like those teammates that aren’t rockstar programmers but great team players.


Votes wouldn’t be anonymous. Everybody would see who voted for whom. Employees could still vote for themselves but everyone would see it. This would increase transparency and trust in the system and end results.

Online Survey

Instead of ballots and a box, we would use an online survey, this way we would avoid bad handwriting, human errors when counting and made easier to draw all sorts of statistics. The fact that all entries were 100% public made any tampering with this system very difficult.

Regatta System

Final results were based on the “regatta system”. This system rewards those who rather than scoring very high on a single category, scored nicely in several or all categories, showing that this employee was embracing the company values.

How it works:

  • As in the previous system, 3 names are entered for each category, the 1st name gets 3 votes, the 2nd gets 2 votes and the 3rd gets 1.
  • After the count, each category is sorted by highest number of votes, leaving everyone with a ranking position in each category. The one with more votes gets position 1, the second most gets position 2, etc.
  • Once you have all 5 categories ranked, you convert the ranking position into points. The 1st position would give you 1 point, second 2, third 3, etc. For example, if somebody is ranked 1st in Expertise, 9th in Knowledge Sharing, 22nd in Teamwork, 38th in Stakeholder accountability and 3rd in Passion, the total score for that person would be 1+9+22+38+3 = 73 points.
  • Finally, you put everyone in a single ranking and sort from least to most points. Those who got good positions on every category would be at the top of the ranking.

To illustrate it better, here a more complete example:


Those 3 tables represent 3 different categories, sorted by the number of votes received by each employee. Then based on their position in the rank, they get that number of points from each category. Once you add up the points from each category you end up with a consolidated final score that we sort from lowest to highest.


In the final ranking, you can see how Goku ended up first, even though he has fewer votes than Spiderman. The regatta system rewards Goku for scoring high in several categories. Even though Spiderman is the best in category 1, is not as good in categories 2 and 3.

Again, we ran a retrospective after this exercise and these are some things that came up:

What worked

  • People liked the categories, they represent the values of the office and they allowed to recognise different skills and profiles as well as a more homogeneous criterion.
  • Transparency was appreciated and even some voting was commented or challenged which helped shape a common understanding of the behaviour and aspects that we want to reward in our office.
  • It was great to have the opportunity to recognise a lot of different people.
  • People were mostly happy with the results and recognised that in such system people who deserve recognition make it to the top and vice-versa.

What didn’t work so well

  • People working with many different departments, such as a Product Owner, are more exposed and in a better position to be known and be evaluated by others, on the other hand, people working in teams like sales or finance are less likely to be recognised by others, since they work more isolated and often out of the office.
  • Same as in the previous method, all feedback is positive, employees don’t get feedback on what to improve and have to use alternative methods for this. This is especially rough for the only person that didn’t get any vote.
  • Again, this system is somehow time-consuming, involving everyone in the office which makes it heavy and not spontaneous. As shared before is less than ideal to run this only once or twice a year. Recognition is always better right after the fact and is hard to think of events that happened several months ago. We tend to unconsciously focus on more recent interactions with other people.


In conclusion, this method was much better than Experiment 1, we covered some of the gaps and improved significantly. Having to stick to the annual performance review, this is way much better and it allows you to progressively introduce more drastic practices while learning and shaping your culture in the process. For us, the results were no worse, if not better, than the traditional system and on top of that, we engaged everyone in one of the most sensitive decisions, showing trust and continuing in our journey towards more autonomy and self-management.

For the next iteration, we decided to spice things up a bit. Check out the Merit Increase in a self-managed group. Experiment 3: Salary Distribution.