I run the tech teams for FreeTime / FreeTime Unlimited, Amazon’s kids digital subscription product. I sent this email to my team yesterday, and with a few very small tweaks, I decided I’d just post it. Mostly because I enjoy writing, and the last post I wrote (about interviewing at Amazon) was literally posted over a year ago.

For a tiny bit of context on my “mechanisms” and “good intentions” phrasing below, there’s a fantastic internal video of Jeff B talking about why good intentions don’t work, mechanisms work. It’s very convincing, and I wish I could share the link with all of you. In summary however, it beats into your head that we all want the right thing done, so our implementation of the right thing is what we need to work on. Saying “We’re going to try really hard this time” is not a way to solve a problem. Saying “We’re going to try something different” is how you solve a problem.

If you are thinking about a team or co-worker or group as ‘them’ inside of FreeTime instead of ‘us’, that’s a negative pattern. We need to work together to stop it. We are all intelligent people. We all have great intentions.

The QA team wants to launch things fast. The dev team wants to build a high quality product. The PM team wants to give well defined stories. Managers want to give really clear feedback. Designers want to provide clear designs so they can be implemented. We all have expectations of what we want others to do, and when they don’t meet our expectations, it can cause problems.

  • If it is your trusted friend who differs from your expectations, you’d say “Hey there, I really needed that thing today.. what’s up?” and you’d work it out. Because you know they meant well and are trying their hardest.
  • If it’s ‘them’ who dropped the ball, you go and complain to your co-workers, or your manager, or your skip manager, or your peers, or you snipe at them in a meeting, or you throw them under a bus in an email, or perhaps you just bottle it up inside and like them a little less.
  • If your trusted friend asks why you didn’t finish your work, you would say “Oh, shoot, I really meant to, sorry, it was just more complex than I thought, I’ll get it out by tomorrow, is that ok?”
  • If ‘them’ asks why you didn’t finish your work, you would say “Because you made it harder. I would have totally done it if it wasn’t for what you did earlier”

We all need to actively work to eliminate ‘them’ from communications in our group. We cast blame more often on ‘them’. We act more defensively with ‘them’. With trusted friends, we act like we’re on the same team, and we’re all trying to get the same things done. Life/Work is much more fun with trusted friends.

Without simply tossing best intentions out there, I propose a simple mechanism.

Mechanism: If you begin to feel the glimmer of ‘them’ in relation to another leader/team, please schedule a morale event with ‘them’. Take that other person out to drinks after work. Head to Cinerama and watch a movie. Take your team out with the other team for bowling. Every dollar spent in connecting people/teams from ‘them’ into ‘us’ is money well spent. Amazon will be thrilled to spend money to connect people together so that problems are worked out more smoothly, and we can all be more honest & transparent regarding our schedule/complexity/blockers/etc.