Letter to my collaborators

Dear all,

A message for all with whom I have worked this year, those whom I recruited and more general. Most of you were new to Edgeryders or engaged for the first time with the organisation. Congratulations for making it all the way here :slight_smile:

Here’s what I learned and some ways we can improve, roughly speaking. All lessons and points of failure are a two way street, so don’t take anything personal. I write this with all sincerity and willingness to learn.

In 2019 I worked with you in Wellbeing in Europe/Poprebel, The Reef, Deep Dive projects, for contracts between 1 month and 1 year, or as external collaborators (not formal Edgeryders contracts). Most of you are here and completing the work nowadays: @TamaraVuk @BaobabUrbain @natalia_skoczylas @jasen_lakic @manuelpueyo @thomas_goorden @ilaria @ralu, and others.

I spent circa 40-50% of my time in recruiting and training community managers, coordinating local connectors, outreach leaders and other services, and a little bit of mentoring. But I am neither a human resource professional, nor a manager, so thank you for being understanding throughout our collaboration, for flagging issues and helping improve how we work in Edgeryders. Trust that all is being processed in my head and finds a way to the Edgeryders board for future planning.

I see some patterns and points of failure and I will generalize a bit. I believe overcoming these will help us go a long way.

  • A tendency to not read contracts carefully and work as if the targets and timeline can wait. This is solved by simply making sure you understand the work you are taking on, and budget some buffer space for learning the ‘edgeryders’ online collaboration tools. Delivery methods might not be fully specified, because they need a team to agree, which is what might create some uncertainty - but a good starting point remains to make sure you understand what’s written in your contract.
  • People underestimate the work or the time and attention it needs - if there is an underestimation on the Edgeryders side, I would very much like that to be pointed out at the contract negotiation side. If completing the work is more challenging or takes longer for the collaborator, this is not a responsibility I can take. If flagged ahead of time after the initial strategies have been tried and failed, I’m confident that together we can mitigate it.
  • The risk of dropping the ball, also known as flakiness. One of the reasons Edgeryders exists in the first place is because it provides a space of freedom to choose your work and be autonomous in the delivery. We all struggle to move in freedom, it can be empowering but also paralyzing.
    You being responsive and reachable is crucial for the way I do my work (I don’t know about other Edgeryders people doing management). A good window for response is 24-48hrs. Three or four days without notice is too much. Know that whenever you don’t respond, there is an added cost for other people whose work depends on yours.
  • When you are responsible for something, it works best when you take initiative to stay on top, detect problems along the way and come up with solutions to solve them. Having me as a manager doesn’t mean that I will knock at your door to point out the problems, it is your responsibility to see them. This also means you protect your delivery space because you are both accountable and take credit for the results. It also goes to say that you are an autonomous worker, not a subordinate, even though I am accountable for your work and I was probably defining the terms of your work.
  • Stay structured in your communication and delivery plan. Edgeryders exists because there are enough of us ready to make the effort to read, write and collaborate using online formats. It’s not easy for everyone. Pinging chaotically here and there does not work for me (again, not sure about other Edgeryders managers). We are all navigating massive amounts of text on edgeryders.eu already!
    Best test I found is: you need to be able to point to a document that explains the overall process of your work, or justification for your choices, and hopefully that is one place, not ten; it is a written record (can be a platform thread or a strategy document etc; it can be revisited and other people can make sense of your work. The reports/ blogs I asked most of you to provide when you invoice are also a testimony and summary of how you work(ed).
    *** Having mental clarity and structure in what your put out there when you work with others is a prerequisite if you wish to grow professionally towards leadership & coordination roles, bigger responsibility and higher salaries, all in all a level of seniority within Edgeryders, but also in any workplace!
  • Personal dynamics can make or break a collaboration. Yes, there was conflict. Sometimes there is no way to talk things through and deliver in an optimal way, not when we work against short timelines, inherent complexity (like in Edgeryders) or when we, as humans, take it personally. Best I can personally do in that case is to keep it professional, put feelings aside, finish the collaboration by giving and picking up some slack in the process, and finally assess later if to work together again. This is just a personal preference, though sometimes it’s probably better to fire/ quit altogether.

What worked or would work really well for me with some of you are in fact, I realise now, old age recipes for good collaboration (duh!):

  • Channels for day-to-day team communication: Riot is the edgeryders open source alternative to Slack and makes it easier to stay in touch. If your contract is 3 months or longer, it is totally worth onboarding you there. Private group messaging on edgeryders.eu - we used it with Tamara and Jasen, and community managers in Poprebel, and it worked as a charm, almost like real time chat.
  • Check-ins in a regular meeting time and room (on Zoom), and showing up i.e. with community managers in Poprebel. Even when nothing much was happening during spring/summer, I felt it helped us build a team in the process. Special kudos to @Jirka_Kocian and @Richard who were not even Edgeryders formal contractors and made it there!
  • Designing the process and plan together: with Isabelle we build the whole Reef community building strategy from the beginning, together, and we managed to stick to it.
  • Seeing each other face to face, using the Edgeryders office. It worked great with Manuel, Jasen, Ilaria and others who were around Brussels or could spend some time visiting.
  • Telling me ‘this is not going to work, we need to change strategy, here’s how’. This I hear seldom and I would like to hear more, it would help me learn and maybe it would empower you to try new things :slight_smile:

I appreciate that some of you shared your experience: Ilaria here, Tamara here, Jasen here.

Finally, I wanted to thank all of you you every day for the work you did and your effort in critical moments, but I’m afraid I have had no time. So a big big thank you, I’ve learned so much from each of you!! Any other ideas, or feedback you have for me personally, please post it below. I don’t mind having it in a public space and will not take offense!

I wish you happy end of 2019 and much love, I am humbled <3

P.S. If you want my personal feedback to you, just email me.

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Hello Noemi,

First of all, thank you for your feedback. There are a lot of valid points in there.

From my point of view, these would be the most relevant points:

  • Contracts are not laws of physics. What I mean by that is that putting things in contracts does not make them magically possible. Looking back, it seems like I simply should have said “no” to the proposed contract, as there was simply no way to guarantee all of the deliverables. (E.g. it is impossible to be accountable for 3rd part onboarding as you can’t force external parties to go somewhere.) However, I truly wonder if rejecting the contract would have helped the project more than simply ignoring those aspects. The whole thing reminds me of a line in one of my poems: “You never should have said yes. And I never should have asked you.”
  • As was evident after Alberto’s talk, there was truly a misunderstanding regarding the use of this communication platform. A good lesson of everyone.
  • More personally, and perhaps this deserves a face to face conversation, I often didn’t feel like I was working in a team, but rather being directed in a very hierarchical way. Considering the external image of Edgeryders, this feels like an enormous mismatch. It also triggers all sorts of anti-authoritarian reflexes in me. I’m wondering if this is something you’ve run into before, as you probably attract quite a few people with my style of neurodiversity :wink:

All that being said, I truly loved this conference and really believe it will have a massively positive effect on the climate effort. Thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of that.

Hugs for all,
Thomas

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Appreciate the honesty and glad that despite some friction we can acknowledge our own faults and at the end have a great experience at the event we both contributed.
This has a very simple explanation. It’s a function of having a short term project with specific asks from you. There are not many team processes in this project (DeepDive event) and so the default is professional interaction and time saving in a way that prioritizes efficiency (not to mention problem management) . That being said, more responsiveness from your end would have helped me go a long way in providing a different interaction. Offer, and you will receive. Or however the say goes :slight_smile:

Thankssss

I agree. Some more points that could perhaps help in the future:

  • It’s often good to know the why of things. Aside from the platform, I’m thinking for example about the fact that the blog posts were meant for onboarding people.

  • As became clear during the conference and here again, the whole timing was simply too short. I think there was an attempt to compensate for this by having very short deadlines in the contract, but that’s just “kicking the can down the road”.

  • We lost the most crucial period all the way in the beginning, when I was first asked to help. It simply wasn’t clear if it was a professional question, a volunteer thing, what the budget was, etc. This really gave us an unnecessary false start with some crucial weeks lost. Again, I think it has a lot to do with the tight initial setup, so we can share the blame around on that one :wink:

Thank you for your honest and direct message.
I loved working with you so far. I hope we can go even further. I am proud of working with you.
I would love to have a better understanding of the whole community building strategy and “user journey” for The Reef but I agree with you we don’t have the time to really delve into it. it’s a pity.

Some critique i want to tell you from my side:

  • if you assign a task, please give me give me a bit more time to plan for it. for example: if i am going to facilitate a group discussion in a workshop, I only know about this the same day of the workshop.

  • some miscommunication : you call me to come to the reef to shoot a video and then i am not in the video. so i wonder why i am there

  • is there a tool i can use to track the time i am working in the projects? that could be useful

I would like to get a personal feedback from you if you have time. Thank you

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Dear @noemi, first of all I want to thank you for your letter: I appreciate your capacity to share your feelings about work and work relationships in a clear and open way.

Concerning the projects in which we collaborate(d), Deep Dive and The Reef, I also want to thank you for being patient and helpful during my first collaboration with Edgeryders, even with tight schedules and other projects you were working on to.

Going to some of your feedbacks:

and

This is something so important to point out: I agree with you that a structure (who does what, when and especially why) is necessary and that the communications among team members is crucial. My perception is that this has been partially done: the lack of a clear internal structure has been a chaotic factor that made things more complicated than necessary, sometimes I got lost following the places in which information were and I sometimes felt that a lot of our processes are taken for granted by the long term ER’s members, so that newcomers like me or other people to involve fought to understand what you mean by saying a determinate thing (I’ve heard this feedback over and over in just 5 months here).

Of course, I know very well that the projects within EarthOS were experimental from both our and the client’s side, so it’s ok that not everything has been smooth. Also, I learned so much from this first experience on how I can contribute and improve on these aspects and in the future I’ll definitely be more assertive and proactive.

That said, it has been great to work with you, Noemi. Ad maiora :slight_smile:

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Thank you! Very much noted, indeed some of the things I asked were late and because I was pretty relaxed about them I assumed it will be easier than it probably was.
The email feedback will be incoming next year once I return from my holiday. Happy to think about it !

I use Clockify for time tracking (web based), but you dont get very detailed analytics on the freeplan.
@matthias used something better most likely…

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Noted dear, will pay more attention to this, it really is a hard one! Perhaps tracking specifically (not sure how, perhaps with a work journal/log) or time tracking how much is being spent on understanding ER processes will help, in the future. Thanks a lot Ilaria <3

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Thanks for this overview Noemi. I can say our collaboration was a smooth ride mostly…the only thing I didn’t like was when you told me I should open the workshop with talk about Edgeryders instead of you and you said it the moment we were starting :smile:. Didn’t help I was crazy tired and never saw the slides :stuck_out_tongue:.

Well we had this discussion before signing the contract because I anticipated much more work, and it was the case. Also, I have done extra things which were never talked about or put in contract and I don’t mind…I never was the type to say “these are my tasks/objectives and that’s all I will do”. Glad to see you guys are as flexible as I am so, it is turning out well…so far very positive and learning experience for me.

I know you also feel like I haven’t documented/explained the process I followed after the workshops :slight_smile:, you said it’s only in my head. I am creating a very clear schematic of the process and most importantly the why of it. It will be shared with everyone here once it’s done (few days). I am doing it for the community as well.

One thing I think we really need to improve on is the platform UI. I have easily 70% of people having complaints about it. Some things are really easy to fix like:
Have the +New Topic in a different color or place it somewhere on the right…many people don’t even see it and the eye is pulled towards the blue colored category/subcategory and “latest”.
Maybe the animation I am working on will improve on that part but again, we should have it somewhere so every newcomer can see it.

Another thing would be, the double weekly call we had. One with you mostly and one with @MariaEuler felt like there was redundancy. We would clear up everything in one meeting anyways so maybe we could streamline that process in some way. Also, while I appreciate Maria always being there for us and asking how can she help-it was hard for her to help us in Serbia, for obvious reasons of not really being there in Serbia.

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Ok, but remember that “it’s not clear” is not a falsifiable statement. Even if I point out to a super-structured, well-maintained resource that explains a hell of a lot (like this), anyone saying “it is not clear” is by definition right, because it is not clear to him or her (maybe they did not think to use the search bar, and looked instead for a top-level menu). But the retort “well, I find it perfectly clear” is equally non falsifiable, for the same reason. “Clear” is subjective, and depends on culture, attitude, expectations, motivation. So, we need to find another way to disambiguate our misunderstandings, or I fear we will not get very far.

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It’s about the same thing as when people complain about a “bad user interface”:

The complaints are probably valid because it was bad for them. But given my own context of using and creating websites, I can’t guess what exactly. What usually helps is that I let people spell this out as bug reports, one by one. And then we can address them, one by one.

We could try the same thing for our organizational development, with our new collaborators as the beta testers (or :guinea: pigs as @ilaria likes to say).

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I did give few ideas for easy fixes, both here and in feedback about the new registration way. Gave the new topic suggestion because the majority of complaints were “i cant find where how to open a new topic” or “the website looks chaotic”.
I thought the first complaint made sense and is easy to fix. Second one I attributed to them being new to the platform and not taking time to figure out how things work.

I design things all the time as well, after the initial design is done it’s all about the testers. They speak and I try to figure out why do they say the things they say or why do they feel in certain way…so it’s up to me to figure out how to change that feeling. Mostly professional testers really give me the proper structured and clear feedback…others have to be figured out but are equally valuable in bigger numbers.

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Umh, sorry … I wasn’t clear.

I didn’t mean to say that you failed to give us more specific issue reports – indeed you listed some right below the part I quoted. Rather I was reminded by the language (“70% of people having complaints about it”) of situations where basically people complained in very unspecific ways that “the website is hard to use”.

Like you said, these testers “have to be figured out but are equally valuable in bigger numbers”. That’s the same thing I propose to do for our organizational design: distilling fuzzy feedback into issue reports.

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Yeah I get it. I tried to make sense of the complaints and gave a solution for one part, second one I wasn’t sure needed fix :slight_smile:.

A thing that will happen very soon: as more stories come for POPREBEL project, should we try to use 4-5 different tags? So that users can find them easier. I anticipate it will become hard to navigate and very few people will browse through all those stories to find something interesting for them.

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Of course, it’s not the truth, it’s my personal experience submitted to my perception. But the point of this discussion and feedbacks is to prograssively adjust things that might have worked better for the future, isn’t it? So, I bring my point of view, open ears and a strong committment to improve our work together, 'cause I see the value and good will from all sides :slight_smile: