Hello, my name is Vicenç García and on my LinkedIn it says that I am the VP of Engineering at Voxel Group. It says this because it is something more recognisable to everyone, but to be accurate we should say that I am the lead link of the Voxel Group Development Circle.
Voxel is a sociocratic company. This means that the governance of the company tries to be as decentralised as possible, giving maximum power and autonomy to the teams or circles. What is the role of the leader in this environment?
My experience as a manager was very limited until recently. I was a sort of Tech Lead or Team Lead when I was a junior at Indra. It didn’t work out well. In the other organisations I’ve been in, I’ve tried to be a person with initiative, with a desire to do things, to contribute, to help my colleagues. I have certainly been a de facto Tech Lead at some point, but never officially. I had never done a one-on-one or managed an entire department. Until now.
From Technical Coach to VP of Engineering
I started at Voxel as a Technical Coach in the Internal Tools team. There I started to see a lot of things that the team could improve, but it’s very difficult to stay just on the technical stuff. Teams are complex systems that if you want them to improve you have to touch many keys. Are we delivering value in too big intervals? This may be because our code needs a lot of improvement, our deployment pipeline is a mess, our stories are too big, or the value we deliver is unclear. To be left alone in the technical part of a team is to be left alone in one part, which is very important, but has a relative and limited impact.
When, 9 months after joining Voxel, Adrián and Xavi offered me the position of Lead Link of Development, I had a thousand doubts. I had never been an official manager and suddenly I had the responsibility of being in charge of more than 50 people. I would stop doing what I love most in the world, which is programming, and start helping other people on a daily basis. I would no longer be in a product team but in a management team. And all this without any experience in the area. The first thing I did was to ask for advice from people I admire and who had a similar role. A thousand thanks to Keyvan, Álvaro, Félix and Edu for your advice and encouragement. And in the end I made up my mind.
A different way of organising
It’s been an incredible journey that is taking me out of my comfort zone in three hundred thousand different ways. But what I like about sociocracy is that I feel accompanied at all times. My role is not to be a boss who dictates what to do, but someone who seeks consensus in his circle to do what we all feel is most important to do. As a circle leader I move between the higher governance circle and my own circle, and in both we try to grow the company from common strength. There are no decisions that someone makes because he or she is the boss, but there are decisions or policies that are made from a joint analysis of all those involved in the decision.
Something I really like about sociocracy is how we make decisions. It’s not about looking for an optimal solution, it’s about looking for a solution to which there is no clear objection. If I propose something and nobody has an objection or, as we often say, this proposal is “good enough for now, safe enough to try”, it goes ahead. This means that superfluous discussions about a decision are greatly minimised and meetings are really effective.
As a leader, this gives me a lot of peace of mind. It took some getting used to, but giving a lot of freedom to teams and people is liberating. There are so many decisions that in a more traditional company would probably go through someone under me, that I don’t even know about. And this can even include team reshuffles. My role is to try to help people and teams as much as I can and to define policies and frameworks that allow them to make decisions for themselves.
It’s really great to see people looking out for the good of the company and the teams, much more than for some personal ego to become X. The result is much stronger and more resilient. The result is much more robust and resilient.
I won’t kid you that it’s been an easy road. To the intrinsic difficulty has been added the coronavirus, which has altered our dynamics and made us rethink how we work. But it’s been a fascinating adventure that I want to squeeze as much as I can out of it. We have a lot of things to do and a spectacular road ahead of us.