The unexpected way I learned about leading a distributed team

January 25, 2022
2 min read

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

I have been leading distributed teams for Automattic since 2011

Not my first rodeo.

In 2004 I started a side hustle.

Every evening, I led a team, also distributed internationally.

Like we do at Automattic:

  • We would interact mostly online and meet in person a few times a year.
  • We tackled complex challenges by leveraging our cross-functional skills.
  • We often executed tasks separately but regularly handled mid-size projects in small teams of five and occasionally larger ones in groups of 10 to 25.

Like at Automattic, we had multiple communication channels.

  • A website for asynchronous communication.
  • Text-based chat for real-time communication.
  • Audio if the situation warranted an increased bandwidth.

We had a lot to do.

You may have heard of some of our achievements:

  • Clean up the trash in Gruul's Lair to sell better.
  • Move Illidan to a nursing home, and transform the Black Temple into a timeshare.
  • Convince Kael'thas to give up the penthouse.
  • Get rid of the Lich King, and convert the Icecrown Citadel into a 5-star resort.

If you are not familiar with these names, these are a few of the 10 or 25 men raids that my World of Warcraft guild and I beat over the few years I was a guild officer and raid leader.

It was my closest experience leading a distributed team before joining Automattic.

I learned that the most direct path to a result often isn't the shortest.

Specifically, people are much more efficient when they do something they enjoy. In a game such as WoW, this is crucial as people play to enjoy the game, and nothing is stopping them from leaving if they don't. The need to pay rent changes the equation in a professional setup.

The reality, though, is that money is a weak incentive.

Curiosity, learning, agency, recognition, and ownership are essential to building strong and lasting teams and successful guilds and raids.


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The WEELO Factory OG
Paolo Belcastro
Phone: +43 1 9467169
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The WEELO Factory OG
Paolo Belcastro
Phone: +43 1 9467169
Powered by WordPress