News & Updates

Aptible AOS & AEQ [part 1]: How We Create and Manage Lean, High-Performing Teams at Aptible

Yujie Z.
Yujie Z.
Operations

Like any modern organization, Aptible has a goal of developing and sustaining a high-performing team. Because we’ve always operated as a very lean organization (over $1m ARR/FTE), our people are our most valuable resource, and the quality of our team is especially critical for our success. But building high-performing teams is much harder than it looks.

In July 2023, the Aptible team traveled together for a meetup in Toronto. This was one of our many bi-annual team offsites, and our purpose this time was to come together for a 3-day session workshopping two main facets of our organization - the Aptible Operating System (AOS), and the Aptible Emotional Quotient (AEQ).

Project Aristotle

A few years ago, Google took one of the first serious stabs at figuring out what contributed to high-performing teams with its Project Aristotle. The Google research team looked at 182 teams, broke down how they performed, and identified all the different structural and demographic makeups that contributed to success or failure.

Surprisingly, Google found that how a team was put together was far more important than who was on it. Specifically, they found five key characteristics of high-performing teams:

Psychological Safety: Everyone feels safe in taking risks around their team members, and that they won’t be embarrassed or punished for doing so.

Dependability: Everyone completes quality work on time.

Structure and Clarity: Everyone knows what their specific expectations are. These expectations must be challenging yet attainable.

Meaning: Everyone has a sense of purpose in their work (i.e., financial security, supporting family, helping the team succeed, etc.).

Impact: Everyone sees that the result of their work actually contributes to the organization’s overall goals.

This was a surprising finding, especially when coupled with the realization that there was absolutely no correlation between factors like seniority, tenure, team size, demographics, location (remote vs. on-site), workload, individual performance, or even using principles like consensus-driven decision making. It’s worth repeating that achieving the five characteristics in Project Aristotle seem more relevant than individual performance alone in building a high-performing team.

Why we are using Project Aristotle

Aptible aims to fundamentally transform how software developers interact with the cloud and to help developers do more with less infrastructure. To do so, we require great people and a culture that empowers and propels us to do great work. As of today, we’re a small but mighty team of 23. But we know that it will take a significant amount of investment into culture if we want to generate the same level of growth as a high-performing team of 100 or more. Project Aristotle showed the ‘how’ in how high-performing teams are assembled. And we’ve taken a hard look at ourselves as an organization and gone through multiple offsites and evaluations to understand our current strengths and weaknesses.

Compared to the five characteristics from Project Aristotle, Psychological Safety is a core strength at Aptible. Here are some of the things Aptible team members said unprompted in an anonymous survey:

  • "We believe in team over self."
  • "We’re open to feedback and change, and are self-aware."
  • "Lots of knowledge sharing and feedback."
  • "Every voice is heard."
  • "We’re not afraid to fail and try new ideas."

But what about the rest? We are now building two pieces of a framework that will take us through the next phase of creating a high-performing team. The first is the “Aptible Emotional Quotient” (AEQ) and the second is the “Aptible Operating System” (AOS). Specifically, the AOS and AEQ are intended to define ‘how’ Aptible works together, culturally and in terms of process and operations.

What is AEQ?

The Aptible Emotional Quotient (AEQ) is all about how we connect with one another. It covers communication, connection, accountability, disclosure, feedback, and expectations, with the goal of building trust so that the team is free to take risks. AEQ is an effort to formalize and build upon Aptible’s foundation of psychological safety, which is especially important for allowing new team members to adapt to and fit into teams successfully.

The goal is to build a culture of trust and accountability. Aptible team members work to improve parts of their AEQ every day. By being effective at setting clear expectations, disclosing information and issues, and providing and receiving clear and rapid feedback, the team understands what everyone else is doing better. This creates dependability, the second characteristic under Project Aristotle, and results in an environment where risk-taking, innovation, creativity, and healthy conflict are encouraged and can thrive.!

What is AOS?

If the AEQ is about how we connect with one another, the Aptible Operating System (AOS) focuses on how we operate as a team. It’s about the structure of the team and all the pieces that make the machinery of an Aptible team work efficiently.

The AOS is built on a foundation of Aptible’s mission and values. Imagining our AOS as a house, the shared practices, processes and operations that make up the rest of the AOS are like the structural supports that hold our organization together.

These processes include:

  • Our objectives and how we measure progress towards them (aka Goals and Metrics)
  • How we define responsibility for our goals, projects and work (aka Roles and Responsibilities)
  • How we hold ourselves accountable to achieving our goals (aka Accountability Measures)
  • How we best communicate with one another, such as the way we utilize Slack (aka Communication Practices)
  • How we work day-to-day, timing for strategic priorities and goals, and at what points we review and plan for these (aka our Operating Cadence)

By having a shared set of practices and processes, we create an environment where team members have a clear understanding of what they can expect from one another, how to fulfill those expectations, and get things done.

Where Next?

The Aptible Emotional Quotient and Operating System play a significant role in improving the way we operate. It defines the way we build connections and improves our ability to use disclosure, feedback and expectations, and gives us a framework for improving how we work together.

These are the foundational elements of how Aptible is taking the lessons of Project Aristotle and applying them within our team to achieve the five characteristics of a high-performing team.

If you are excited by the rigorous and thoughtful approach that Aptible is taking and by the work that Aptible is doing, then please visit our career page to see if there are any opportunities for you to get involved!