Track: Building & Scaling High-Performing Teams

Location: Seacliff ABC

Day of week:

To build and maintain a high-performing team, one of the key ingredients is for everybody on the team to act like an owner. What does this mean? It does not mean that everybody has to vie for the top position, although owners typically act like leaders. It means that everybody will continuously ask themselves the question: if I were running a startup and this project was my business, how would I act?   In this track, we will explore ideas around ownership and the organizational underpinnings that support it: the role of organizational health and psychological safety, what owner means, how it manifests, what happens when it breaks down, and how ownership can yield high-functioning teams even in the environment of large and/or highly regulated companies.

Track Host: Katharina Probst

Senior Engineering Leader, Kubernetes & SaaS @Google

Katharina Probst is a Senior Engineering Leader, Kubernetes & SaaS at Google. Before this, she was leading engineering teams at Netflix, being responsible for the Netflix API, which helps bring Netflix streaming to millions of people around the world. Prior to joining Netflix, she was in the cloud computing team at Google, where she saw cloud computing from the provider side. Her interests include scalable, distributed systems, APIs, cloud computing, and building effective and successful teams. She also holds a PhD in Computer Science from Carnegie Mellon University.

Track Host: Karen Casella

Director of Engineering @Netflix, previously leading architecture teams @eBay & @Sun

Karen is currently an engineering director @ Netflix, where she is responsible for the teams that build the server-side infrastructure to enable a secure viewing experience for our members. Karen had previously led engineering and architecture teams @EBay & @Sun, before taking a ten year detour to start-up land. Karen is passionate about diversity and inclusion in technology organizations and how to encourage young people from under-represented groups to start their journey towards our incredible world of ever-changing technology.

10:35am - 11:25am

Passion, Grace, & Fire - The Elements of High Performance

Within each of us, there is potential. Our potential is expressed in specific and unique ways depending on our desires, aspirations, and affinities, which then drive the development of specific skills, experience, and work style. Under the right circumstances, with the right tools and support, potential is converted into impact - the ability to take an idea or a goal and bring it into existence. At its best we see individuals and teams on fire, relentlessly rising to the occasion, doing what seems to be impossible.

As leaders, our job is to identify and promote human potential to bring out the best in our team members. We must first understand how potential manifests within ourselves so that we can ignite in others and bring it into alignment with business strategies and goals. If we are successful we inspire a sense of ownership, which is critically necessary to overcome the most significant challenges. We must also seek to orchestrate that potential and sense of ownership at every level of our organization, sometimes even seeking to influence the broader industry at large. If we do our job well our people, teams, and business will thrive. Our impact and contributions will be significant and meaningful. 

In this talk, we’ll delve into the elements of high performance - passion, grace, and fire. To illustrate the power of this elemental approach we’ll focus on a pivotal period at Netflix when the demands on engineering to quickly deliver multiple, parallel, large-scale technical transformations was the norm. The transformations ultimately enabled a global, scalable, reliable, and successful streaming platform. By the end of the session, attendees will have a deep understanding of what really matters when trying to build, shape, and guide teams to high performance. Whether attendees are leaders or individual contributors they will walk away with a set of methods and tools for applying that understanding in their own work to great effect. 

Josh Evans, Advisor & Investor, former technical leader @Netflix & @GitHub

11:50am - 12:40pm

Mistakes and Discoveries While Cultivating Ownership

At Netflix, we pair a strong sense of responsibility for outcomes with the freedom to choose how those outcomes are met to let people do their best and most-impactful work. My path to cultivating a culture of Ownership on our team was twisted and full of missteps. To help us talk about it and increase it routinely,  our team created a model of the five levels of Ownership: 

  • 0. Demonstration - Watch me do it. Ask good questions.
  • 1. Oversight - Run it by me. Expect a lot of revisions.
  • 2. Observation -  I’ll watch you do it with occasional high-level guidance.
  • 3. Execution - You do it independently, with random check-ins for me to stay aware.
  • 4. Vision - Tell me what we should do.

We also discovered necessary precursors - purpose, freedom, trust and safety. In this talk, I’ll share my well-intentioned mistakes and what we’ve learned so far.

Aaron Blohowiak, Engineering Manager @Netflix in Cloud Infrastructure

1:40pm - 2:30pm

Building Teams Open Space

Session details to follow.

2:55pm - 3:45pm

The Focusing Illusion of Developer Productivity

Motivated, productive, happy employees that have a sense of ownership in their work are crucial for organizational success. Traditional theories on creating motivation and incentive structures assume that performance is assessable. What do you do when both performance and ownership are ambiguous, as is often true with software engineering work? Software engineers are increasingly dependent on the work of cross-functional teams and the creation of business value by the exchange and combination of the collective social knowledge. Ownership is often shared which can make it difficult to achieve autonomy and be involved with the work from start to finish.

There have been scads of posts, tweets, and research done into an engineering team's productivity and psychological safety. The findings? It’s really hard. This talk dives into some of the historical precedents (and disasters) of incentive structures; looking not just at software but various industries that require incredibly complex and creative efforts between diverse teams. What kind of levers can we use to legitimately create ownership that allows teams and the businesses they support to collectively thrive?

Courtney Hemphill, Partner & Tech Lead @CarbonFive

4:10pm - 5:00pm

Building a Successful Remote Culture at Scale With Strong Ownership

When over 55% percent of personal communication is non-verbal, according to a famous psychology professor, how can companies build successful remote teams and foster honest communication? Should we build remote-first or remote-friendly culture as we scale? How does emotional intelligence play a part in managing remote teams effectively? In this talk, I will talk about instilling ownership through delegation and goal setting and differentiating between accountability and ownership. I will share strategies and my experience tackling these problems at Apartment List and previous companies I have worked at. The talk will cover how at Apartment List, we built a career ladder rubric to encourage ownership. How we created room for creativity called A-Time that helped build trust across teams which translated to more ownership of the product and many more examples of lessons learnt.

Sushma Nallapeta, VP of Engineering @ApartmentList

5:25pm - 6:15pm

High Performing Teams Act Like Owners

Managers often ask engineers to “act like owners” or “show great ownership.” What does this even mean? How can you act on something that isn’t well defined? You’re an engineer, after all. Maybe it’s just code for your manager wanting you to work nights and weekends.    

In this talk, we will explore what it means to act like an owner. All of us know those certain folks that get the diciest or most pressing tasks because we know that we can rely on them getting the task done. We will talk about what situations look like from a manager’s or teammate’s perspective when somebody shows ownership -- and what it looks like when they don’t. We will draw analogies to software design that will help illustrate these concepts. Finally, we will talk about why teams need ownership to be high-performing. When team members, regardless of whether they have a formal leadership role or not, act like owners, magical things can happen.    

By the end of this talk, you will walk away with ideas that you can apply to your own work, regardless of your job title. You will get some ideas about how to recognize when you don’t live up to your own expectations of acting like an owner, and how to handle situations when others don’t.

Katharina Probst, Senior Engineering Leader, Kubernetes & SaaS @Google

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