Want to make your teams more successful? Change their names.

Posted on April 12, 2015.


Lots of companies these days echo the “fail fast, fail often” mantra. Yet, when push comes to shove (and by push, I mean getting code out to production) very few teams are wiling to absorb any real kind of failure. The risk of not shipping *something*, anything, is too great so inevitably something goes live.

Ultimately this boils up to your organization’s incentive structure. If teams are incentivized to ship features, that’s what they’ll optimize their workflow to do. Failures and learnings and experiments and MVP’s are all well and good but if their paycheck, bonus, promotion or employment rides on getting bits to customers, that’s what they’ll do.

While there are many ways to adjust an organization’s incentive structure, I’d like to cover one subtle one that rarely gets mentioned — the teams’ names.

Consider this: if you call a team “The iPhone App Team”, guess what that team is going to spend ALL of their time doing? Yep, building and shipping an iPhone app. How can you be a successful “iPhone App” team if you’re not shipping an app? No amount of learning or customer insight will sway the team from this task. It’s in their name.

Now, change that team’s name to “The Mobile Commerce Team.” What’s their goal now? It certainly COULD be to ship an iPhone app. It could also be to ship an Android app, or to build a great mobile web checkout process or to develop geotargeted coupon alerts or a million other things. To determine which one makes the most sense for improving mobile commerce, they’ll have to experiment. They’ll have to learn and ultimately they’ll have to fail a little bit. The decision-making criteria will be simple. Is it helping improve mobile commerce? If yes, let’s ship it! If not, let’s move on to something else (aka fail).

Naming conventions are powerful motivators. If your organization is struggling to adopt a culture of learning, consider changing the teams’ names. It just might help change the conversation.


P.S. — Josh Seiden and I are exploring these and other organization-level ideas in our new book. Get on our email list to learn more.