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Letters from Bar Camp…

I had a GREAT TIME at the 2008 Phoenix BarCamp today! I was a little… OK maybe more like VERY nervous about having to stand up in front of people and tell them about things that I might have some expertise in. But once I saw that everyone else was just as informal, I got into the grove of things. All the discussions were very informative, some of them so much so they were over my head, but thats ok!

I’ll just go over some of the great points some of the speakers had regarding their topics and discussions. Anyone that was there, feel free to pipe in regarding what you thought was interesting, points I missed, etc.


Pam Slim author of Escape Cubical Nation started off the day speaking about how growing start up companies can avoid becoming the cubical corporate environments that the entrepreneurs came from to begin with. There was a fairly voiced concern from the business owners in the room regarding how to avoid becoming that which they didn’t want to employed by to begin with.

Pam offered a simple common sense approach to really keeping the soul to your company, meet and get to know your employees. That a business owner should know what his/her employees really want to get out of their time with the company, and to realize there really isn’t any binding contract for these employees to be invested in your company if you don’t return their investment by investing in your employees. She mentions that open, honest communication is key to this relationship between employee and employer.

To really spend the time to know what each of your employees is interested in and their personal investment and interest in your company. She says to build on what your employees want to learn and do, this will enforce trust in you and foster a real value of your company to your employees instead of merely being a “job”. This will help take the pulse of your company’s true interests and values from the ground up.

Understand that perhaps some of your current employees final goals in their career may mean starting their own business, or moving away from your company in some other way. Foster this growth in your employees, perhaps once they have broke out on their own they’ll send business back your way, or other potential employees that will be a great fit for your company. Make sure you aren’t buying into the mafia mentality of you’re either with us or against us, and if you leave you’re against us for sure.

Open, honest communication allows for huge growth potential in your company when your employees are allowed to honestly express their ideas and true feelings on company projects and directions. Instead of wasting six months on a dumb idea, Fred over in development, will simply be able to express… “you know that’s not the brightest idea, but I’ve been toying around with this other thing and I think it might work…”. Don’t make yourself or your employees “check their soul in at the door”, make sure everyone is in agreement that all your companies practices align with your company’s overall goals and values.


Derek Neighbors from Integrum Technologies spoke regarding rapid business growth and how your company can live through culture changes from creative culture to command culture and back again.

Derek started out with a recap of Integrum’s rapid growth due to new projects and contracts that they were taking on at a very rapid pace at the very beginning, and that when you loose sight of your company’s core values things can get messy VERY fast.  They had become a beast of command and control with sour employees.

So, once they finally realized that they had become the beast that they tried to run away from, they revisited their core company goals and values. Then they took the pulse of their employees, finding out what really motivated them every day to get out of bed and drive to work, and how those motivators aligned with the company’s goals and values. Aligning your employees goals and the company goals will make each teammate personally responsible for their part within the company, allowing for self-motivation and interest in the company as a whole. Making you less responsible to your immediate manager and more responsible to the company as a whole. Derek says, “Sometimes people have a hard time figuring out who’s the boss when they visit the office.”

Derek sighted that these key communication between employee and employer was an extremely important part of really getting back to their creative, coordinated company that they had originally envisioned. Today, Integrum is a team of eleven VERY talented, VERY driven close-nit people that get things done and done right. But, without that reassessment of their goals and how their employees fit within those goals was key to that success.

I asked Derek, as part of a fast-growing company, what can I do as an employee to help foster that feeling of a creative culture instead of a command culture. Derek’s advice was to share my opinions and ideas candidly, build team activities that bring us closer together as a whole, and become entrepreneurial within my own company (build activities to promote and foster teams and the company within itself).


Lots to Do This Week

I just wanted to make sure you were invited to all the awesome web and design happenings this week in Phoenix!

Tues, Dec 4th – Refresh Phoenix

Refresh Phoenix meets every first Tuesday of the month to discuss current internet issues and trends. The topics range from becoming your own boss to css frameworks to make your work more efficient. This month the topic is results from the 2007 Web Design Survey that was put out by A List Apart. This should be a very interesting conversation since there really has never been a survey of the internet industry.

When: Tuesday, December 4th 6:30 – 9:30 pm (come early to get some networking in)

Inza Coffee
8658 East Shea Blvd, Scottsdale

Fri, Dec 7th – 16th Annual AIGA Art Auction

AIGA Arizona is holding it’s annual Art Auction event in Downtown Phoenix at MonOrchid Studios during December First Friday! AIGA Arizona is pleased to present over 100 original works of art (paintings, mixed media, photography, digital art, sculpture, jewelry, and more) displayed on sale in live and silent auction formats. Plus bid on a selection of special packages that include dining, entertainment and recreation. This year’s art auction will also feature the Mohawk Show.

When: Friday, December 7th 6-10 pm

MonOrchid Studios
214 E. Roosevelt Street, Phoenix

Sat, Dec 8th – BarCamp Phoenix

BarCamp is an ad-hoc un-conference born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment. It is an intense event with discussions, demos and interaction from attendees. All attendees must give a demo, a session, or help with one. This is great because you can both speak and be an audience member.

When: Friday, December 8th 9 am – 5 pm

University of Advancing Technology (UAT)
2625 W. Baseline Road, Tempe


Making the "A" Team

Communication and team work really have a huge impact on bottom line, completion dates and overall employee moral.

When I say that, it seems like such a “duh” statement, but in day to day activities sometimes this simple statement can be so overlooked. I’ve worked in some very different team environments, and I feel that I’ve taken away with some decent experience as to what really makes a team successful in projects. I’m sure we’ve all had our parts in bad teams and in super ones. Each time we assess the team and wonder, “why was that so difficult/easy, compared to last time??”

So what are some ways good teamwork can be created? Wait… it can be created?! Yes. I believe anyone can become a great teammate, and a good team can be formed anywhere, any time, as long as a few guidelines are upheld.

  1. Be HONEST about your abilities, weaknesses, mistakes and concerns.
    • You need to know what the team has to work with, if you set out to accomplish a goal that your team isn’t prepared for, you’re doomed. Don’t take on a movie deal if you’re a couple of guys and a camcorder. Find out what everyone’s strengths and weaknesses are.
    • Alert the team on any serious blockers as soon as they’re made known, hiding these serious road blocks and trying to find an answer yourself may be harder on team moral than just owning up to mistakes or changes and working out the kinks as a team instead of placing all the blame on one team mate for trying to cover it up until it was too late to repair. Everyone is human, we all make mistakes, own up to them and find a way to work around it instead of placing the blame on someone else.
    • If you have concerns or questions about what a project includes or what is required, talk to someone and be honest. If you think something won’t work, don’t be afraid to let someone know, it’s better the team knows about a possible roadblock before it becomes an issue. At least you can all start brainstorming ways to fix it now, instead of later when someone is freaking out because you didn’t tell them before.
  2. RESPECT your team mates as experts.
    • No one is ever any better than anyone else. Why? Because without everyone in the team you can’t complete your goal. Everyone is just as important as anyone else at getting the job done.
    • Just because you think their job is easy, doesn’t mean it is. Sometimes people are so good at what they do, they just make it look easy.
    • There’s nothing wrong with brainstorming ideas on the best practices on how to do something, but when your team mate is clearly more versed in what you’re trying to accomplish, take the time to actually listen to what they have to say.
    • If a suggested solution clearly isn’t a suitable answer, be prepared to back it up with fact and reason instead of “because I want to do it that way”.
  3. COMMUNICATE about the project and every person’s needs to get their part completed.
    • Don’t ever leap before you look. Always let all the team members know why they’re working on a project to begin with. Tell them what the goals are, tell them what the outlook is going to look like.
    • Don’t skimp on defining the needs or desires of the project, these guidelines will be important when you want to make quick decisions. Communication is so important when you want to work quickly, giving all team members all the information means that they can make informed decisions without having to interrupt someone else or having to wait until the team leader is available for questions. This can also save you time on rework when people make uninformed snap decisions that have to be later readdressed.
    • Sometimes additional needs and considerations aren’t thought of fully until the entire team is fully informed in the needs of the projects.
  4. Be OPEN to others opinions and questions.
    • Just because you’re an expert in a particular area, doesn’t mean someone else on the team doesn’t have a good idea on how to approach a difficult problem in a creative way.
    • When additional items, issues, concerns or changes are dug up, be open to accepting that one person can not always think of all the things that can go wrong or need to be addressed.
    • If a team member feels they need additional information to complete their tasks, take the time to listen and to at least try to address their concerns or questions. These questions can be vital to dredging up pot holes that could have derailed the project further down the line.
  5. LEARN as much as you can.
    • Learn about project, the proposed process and your team mates. Find out everyones goals, roles and bits and pieces. Figure out how you fit into the process and who is intimately relying on you to do your job and do it well.
    • Constantly expand your current knowledge base, the more you know about your field, the more of an expert you are. The more confident you will be of your decisions that effect the project and the less mistakes you’ll make (usually).
    • Knowing about how your piece fits in with everything else will help you in planning what you need to get out when or how to deliver it, because you’ll know more about how and when the next team mate will need it. This makes their job that much easier.

So that’s it! Honesty, Respect, Communication, Being Open, and Learning. That’s all it takes to become a great team mate and a great team in total. Sometimes in the heat of trying to get something done, you can forget these very simple guidelines, but just take a deep breath and remember that everyone you’re working with to get this done want the same thing. And that is, to get the project done, right, on time and under budget. You’re all on the same team, with the same overall goal. No one is against you, no one is trying to make your life harder for no real reason. Head up, smile, and remember Honesty, Respect, Communication, Being Open, and Learning.

What is this?

This little blog happens to be the personal ramblings of one April Holle - I'm female, outspoken, webbie, a community evangelist, and Principal of Made Better Studio. Check out the about section for more info.

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