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Adopting a self-service and self-learning mentality


As an all-remote organisation, SEF thrive through documentation. Importantly, this necessitates that every team member be equally invested in documenting, thereby creating a virtuous cycle of self-searching, self-service, and self-learning.

Assume your question is already answered

It's not what you know. It's knowing where to look. This is true at SEF and other organizations that are intentional about documenting processes, and it is entirely counter to how typical work environments are structured.

From the very first day at SEF, it is imperative that new team members operate with the assumption that their questions are already answered. This is a profound process shift that may feel unnatural and inefficient.

For many — particularly team members joining from a colocated environment — this requires a retraining of sorts. You must force yourself to not default to tapping on the virtual shoulder of someone as soon as an inquiry comes to mind. Rather, team members should redirect that effort to searching.

Proactive approach to answering questions

The Core team attempts to proactively answer any question you may have before you have to ask it. If a new hire still has a question about process that wasn't answered, the natural next step is to work with a subject matter expert at SEF to answer, then document.

Whenever a new contributor brings up a valid process point that leads to a previously undocumented answer, the default mindset should be to answer and document right away. This requires a mindset of self-service, self-searching, and self-learning. It also requires diligence and empathy.

Paying it forward

The ideal response to learning a new answer at SEF is to document said answer in an act of paying it forward, such that every new hire that comes after will be able to find this information more quickly. Plus, it removes the companywide burden of having to develop this answer from scratch again. This mentality encompasses many sub-values.

  1. Write things down
  2. Be respectful of others' time
  3. Responsibility over rigidity
  4. Move fast by shipping the minimal viable change
  5. Ambitious
  6. Ownership
  7. Sense of urgency
  8. Bias for action

Why is self-searching and self-learning uncomfortable at first?

For many companies, the frenetic pace of business creates a false sense of justification for bypassing documentation. Once this happens, the only way to consistently learn is to ask another person, over and over. At scale, this is an extraordinarily wasteful process that leads to exhaustion, watered-down instructions, and huge knowledge gaps as team members cycle in and out.

However, most employees are not empowered to shift an entire company culture to one that favors documentation. Thus, one typically builds a skillset of how and when to ask other humans in order to extract information vital to achieving their goals. They know it's a suboptimal approach, but may feel that they have no reasonable alternative. When you aren't given a handbook that is regularly updated and reliably actionable, it feels odd to seek answers first in documentation.

Humans tend to trust other humans more than words written in an online repository, which is why it's so vital to humanize a handbook by empowering all members of a company to contribute.

Public over private

A commonly-rooted habit that requires breaking at SEF is this: oftentimes, people assume that by asking someone a question privately, they are doing everyone else a favor by bothering the fewest number of people.

At SEF, we flip that notion on its head. We prefer SEF Hive over private, as this enables deeper collaboration. We encourage team members to consider making private issues public wherever possible so that we can all learn from the experience, rather than requiring a small group to spend effort translating those learnings in the future.

While making conversations public may feel inefficient in the moment, it is much more efficient long-term. It leads to significantly fewer interruptions. Team members should search for their own answers, and, if an answer is not readily found or the answer is not clear, ask in public as we all should have a low level of shame. Write down any new information discovered and pay it forward so that those coming after will have better efficiency built on top of practicing collaboration, inclusion, and documenting the results.

Minimizing interruptions creates a less chaotic workplace for all, and leads to something that is increasingly precious: long, uninterrupted periods of time where you can get into a state of flow.

By answering with a link, you're doing the following:

  1. Making your day more efficient, enabling you to disengage with work earlier and enjoy your surroundings, family, and community.
  2. Allowing the recipient to ingest the answer on their own time.
  3. Removing bias from the answer, which empowers the recipient to iterate further on what is documented by starting a merge request.
  4. Leading by example, showing new team members that they too should strive to answer via documentation.