As part of our deep dive into how to build a healthy team, we caught up with Rowan Savage, the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer at Runn. Rowan shared his thoughts on team building, work-life balance, and always having the humility to ask for help.
Thanks for talking to us today, Rowan. Runn has a reputation as a people-centric workplace. One that’s deeply committed to nurturing employees and delivering great work-life balance - two key indicators of a healthy work environment.
You co-founded Runn and also lead the software engineering team, so have obviously played a key role in shaping that culture. My first question is an obvious one. In your opinion and experience, what is a healthy team?
For me, a healthy team is a happy team. Are people feeling engaged? Are they feeling satisfied when they come to work? Are they supported and can they do the things that they want? What I want to see is people who are talkative and excited about upcoming work. Sometimes willing to and wanting to give a bit extra because they know that we will give a bit extra back to them. While we're not asking them to do extra things, they're doing it on their own accord because they care about what they're contributing to us.
And what if you spot signs that someone isn’t feeling happy and engaged at work?
When it comes to identifying team members who may be struggling, one key indicator is their level of engagement with the rest of the company. At Runn, we pay close attention to factors such as:
If a team member is actively engaged, it's a good sign that they have a positive attitude towards working with us and are feeling excited about their role. However, if their level of engagement decreases, or if they're pulled off from their normal level of engagement, it may be a sign that they're struggling with something and in need of support. That's why, at Runn, we make a point to check in and offer help whenever we notice a change in someone's level of engagement. By doing so, we strive to create a supportive and inclusive work environment for all.
It’s great that you’re personally proactive about keeping people engaged and seeing how you can support them if they’re ever struggling. How does Runn - as a business - prioritize healthy teams?
We build a culture - and offer benefits - that try to allow people to live their best life and their happiest life. We operate an asynchronous work culture, which allows people to work when it suits them, so they fit their work around their lifestyle. Not the other way around.
That can be picking up kids from school, going out mountain biking with friends, sleeping in, traveling. It can also just be when you are not in the right mood to work. Sometimes you just can't get into the rhythm.
If you work in a nine-to-five job in the office, you have no choice. You just sit there being unproductive? We encourage people ‘No, go take the time off. Go do something else. You don't have to be here. You can be here when you are ready.'
That sounds great for individuals and for business - in terms of productivity and bringing your most creative self to work. In terms of team dynamics, how do you nurture those when people are working asynchronously?
We encourage the team to be supportive. I can only really speak for engineering but we've always said that our number one priority is helping.
So when you see someone asking for assistance and wanting to jump on a call because they need someone to have a look at someone else’s work, we prioritize that as the highest priority. That becomes more of a priority than any feature you could possibly be working on.
Because you are unblocking. You’re helping someone else to achieve their best, and you are just putting a slow pause on what you are doing. So that's something that we practice and embed into the culture.
It doesn't always necessarily work like that. People obviously have their own things going on. But by having that mindset - that the best thing you can do to support the company is help other people - it’s important.
It builds in this relationship and dynamic where you see that supporting people is more important than pushing out a feature or getting something done in the quickest possible time.
When we asked our experts about the foundations of a healthy team for our guide on the topic, they all said communication was key. How do you manage communication in an async environment - where you’re working at different times, on your own schedules? Does it make things difficult?
We allow people to work on their own schedules, anywhere in the world, in any time zone. And that means you can't jump on calls as easily.
It means we do a lot of async communication. When someone asks a question, people can take a day to respond. And while there are negative sides to that - such as it takes longer to make decisions - the bright side is that people who normally don't get to speak up, can contribute more.
Maybe they're shy, maybe they get overtalked, or maybe they don't have enough authority to put their opinion forward… At Runn, everyone has the chance to take their time and actually respond and share their opinions. Suddenly, you get a lot more voices rather than just the loudest ones.
The other thing it does, is it lets people stop and think about what they actually want to say. Do I even have something important to say or am I just responding because I felt like I have to?
I think there are really strong benefits of slow, asynchronous communication style over the standard immediate answer right now.
So you’re creating a communication culture that supports diverse personality types and levels the playing field somewhat. Introverts, extroverts, thinkers, doers… it’s important to recognize everyone can make a different contribution in a team. How do you adapt to different types of personalities at Runn?
For engineering, we are trying to build a team that is greater than the sum of its parts. What we're looking for when we're hiring is people who have a different skill set, a different way of thinking, a different background, a different attribute they can bring.
We think in terms of culture add. So do we want someone who's really technical on the team? Do we want someone who really cares about customers? Do we want someone who spends a lot of time on the design side?
There's a whole bunch of different personalities, types of different technical abilities and we really focus on bringing in things that we are missing or want to bolster.
Thinking in terms of Runn as a platform now - how can using resource planning software help people if their objective is to build a healthy team?
We use Runn at Runn, and there are a few things that we think it helps us with. For one, we let people know the upcoming work. We engage them, saying ‘Hey, this is the work that’s planned. Who wants to work on it?’
Additionally, you can see the project coming up and when it's starting. Is this a topic that you are interested in? Is it a skill set you want to improve? Does it work around your planned holidays and leave?
We really try to be transparent in the upcoming work so that people can choose their engagements and kind of work on what's gonna suit them best.
We also have a really strong culture of not doing overtime. In Runn, there isn't a way to give people overtime that doesn't set off a red flag. There isn't the possibility that you can be ‘We want this person to work 50 hours this week and no one knows about it.' If they're scheduled for 40 hours and they do 50 hours, that's a red flag.
If someone works on the weekend - to fix something urgent - we give them twice that time off later. And that's recorded and planned in Runn. That punishes the company for making the person come in on the weekend and makes us work harder to make sure it doesn't happen again.
We think that through good planning, you can avoid having people do overtime. And one of the things we are really proud of in the engineering team is that we've been going for four years and we have never had a single hour of overtime from our staff. Incidentally, we’ve also never had an engineering leave – coincidence?
Some of the topics we’ve explored on the Runn blog are the issue of excessive unpaid overtime in the game development industry and long hours in the consulting sector. It seems like Runn really walks-the-talk when it comes to keeping workloads reasonable. In our new guide for team leaders - Healthy Teams - we talk about how important it is to lead by example and model positive behaviors for your team. Can you give us an example of how you do that?
Leading by example for me is a lot about showing humility and asking for help. One thing I've always noticed - at Runn and in other work environments - is that especially our junior staff can struggle to ask for help because they feel like ‘Oh, I should know this already. I should already understand this. What am I doing wrong?’
So I am always out there asking for people to help me with anything that I'm stuck on. I go out and openly ask ‘Hey, can someone help me? I'm stuck here. I need assistance.’
And that's part of showing, no matter who you are, getting help from your teammates, getting people around to support you, gives you the best possible outcomes. Not only are you learning, other people are learning as well.
I want them to see that everyone does this. No matter who you are in the company, who you are in the team, it’s really important to ask for help when you need it.
I think that’s a great point to end on, Rowan. Have the humility to ask for help and the generosity to give it. Treat your team well, engage them in tasks they enjoy, and make sure they have a work-life balance that lets them bring their best selves to their job. Great tips for any team leader looking to create a healthy team and workplace culture.
If you’d like to read more about how to build a healthy team - from Rowan and other industry experts - download our 50-page guide now.
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