5 powerful tactics we use to achieve great teamwork

Sara Himeles and Joey Dello Russo

Earlier this year, our co-founder Justin gave a talk about Asana’s values and practices as part of Stanford’s “Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders” series. Following the positive feedback on our recent video post on the Asana way, we wanted to share a few excerpts from Justin’s talk more broadly.

These videos highlight the values and cultural practices that have led to great teamwork at Asana. We hope a few of the ideas resonate and you can adapt them for your own team. If you enjoy the videos below, you can check out the complete talk.

All-hands TGIF
Every other Friday, we take some time after lunch for the entire Asana team to get together in a circle. Each person says one thing about the company that they’re excited about and one opportunity for improvement. By the end, we are typically on a high together. This practice inspires us to continue our hard work.

Finding the Middle Way
Almost every time you are faced with a decision, there are typically two different solutions that fall at the extremes. Leaders are usually tempted to just pick one, or to look for a compromise that gives you half of the benefits of one and half of the other. But often, you can apply ingenuity to find a Middle Way that transcends the extremes and yields full benefits beyond both extremes.

Five Whys
When something doesn’t go according to plan, we do an exercise called “Five Whys.” For instance, the site crashes, so we ask, “Why did the site go down? We ran out of memory. Why did we run out of memory? We didn’t have monitoring code. Why didn’t we have monitoring code?” By the time you get to your fifth “why,” you find the root of the problem. That’s when you look for proportionate responses.

Roadmap Week
Every episode we set aside a week for Roadmap Week when the whole company largely stops doing “normal work” and instead everyone participates in several planning committees, one for each major part of the company. It’s up to the committee to put forth goals and a plan for the next “episode.” We trust committees to collaboratively make good decisions.

DRI (Directly Responsible Individual) & Company Calendar
For any task, large or small, there is exactly one person — not zero, not two — one person who is the “DRI,” a term we borrowed from Apple. Even though this individual is not usually working alone, having a DRI ensures there is always someone accountable for driving each task forward.

We’d love to hear more about the practices that your team values in the comments.

  1. avatarKartik Ayyar

    At a past job, we did a Friday weekly all hands and I agree it’s great for morale and getting people together on the same page.
    The variation that we did also involved some time devoted to someone demoing a new feature each week, and that worked pretty well in multiple dimensions.

    First, it made people get to know and respect the the abilities of people on a large team.
    Secondly, it inculcated the atmosphere of people caring about each others work.
    Thirdly, it allowed freeform feedback between disciplines at an early stage.

    At the end of the day, pride in work can be a huge motivator for folks, and demoing actual product improvements was a good way to accomplish this.

  2. avatarScott

    Does anyone have suggestions for how to combine both the DRI and the (for lack of a better word) “hot potato”?

    My team originally treated the Assignee as the DRI, and it remained largely static throughout the lifespan of a task. Then we started using the hot-potato approach, where we transfer responsibility back and forth according to who has the next action for the task.

    But it would still be nice to retain an explicit DRI for each task. One could imagine a scenario where a manager might want to see all the tasks for which she is DRI and, for each task, who is responsible for the next action.

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