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Listening out loud: how Jeff Tillett works on distributed teams

The start of the COVID-19 pandemic served as a forcing function to re-evaluate the way teams worked together. In fact, many companies are re-learning how to collaborate with their teams. As some move towards being a fully distributed workforce, Atlassian included, we are interviewing those who have worked on distributed teams before so that we may learn insights and share them with customers along the way.


In the third interview in the 2020 "Listening Out Loud" series, Jeff Tillett, a manager and team player in agile tool development, discusses his practices while working on distributed teams. A few themes from our chat included:

  • Leadership check-ins: assuming trust as a prerequisite for effective teamwork, Jeff finds that the best 1:1 conversations are less focused on going over to-do lists and more focused on what gives people energy and what is taking away their energy. That's more important to unblock barriers and lift up opportunities that you wouldn't necessarily realize by going over tasks.
  • Pairing change with new practices: just because a company is going through a lot of change, doesn't mean that new ways of working can't be evolved at the same time. In fact, Jeff posits that when change is happening (new products/tools adopted, company goals changed, physical office changes), that's the exact time to re-evaluate team practices. 
  • Feedback cues: level of engagement is a good way to measure whether ways of working are...just that, working. On video conferencing platforms, do you notice staff disengage and stop looking at the same spot in their screen? If there are templates for documentation, are team members commenting or editing them? It's important to not just try new rituals and approaches to communication, but to assess them as you try them out.
  • Culture development builds effectiveness: onboarding new team members and maintaining engagement with long-term employees alike require culture development. Through board games and playful sessions, virtual coffee, or 1-on-1 buddy chats, that grows energy and breaks down the inertia that is working in silos. And if there is room to meet in person, even if infrequent, that time can have a huge impact on culture and connectivity (over things like producing work in a concentrated period of time).
  • Humanity PSA: it is human to wonder about what someone is working on, how people feel, etc when we have gaps of knowledge. But, Jeff believes we need to be intentional about filling that unknown space with other information. Get ahead of people wondering by oversharing (to an appropriate degree) and making less room for wonder and anti-patterns like gossiping and making up stories. We can be deliberate with the energy we put out to each other.

PS - Note that I did not cut out my major blooper at the start of the conversation. Cheers to bringing my full awkward self to work!




Look out for these "Listening Out Loud" share outs every Wednesday on Atlassian Community. If you're interested in sharing your insights with us, comment here or email me at and I'll reach out!


Jeff Tillett
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October 1, 2020

Thank you for inviting me to this chat, it was a ton of fun and seeing this come from it is super rewarding!

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Fabian A. Lopez (Community Leader - Argentina, Florida, California)
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October 1, 2020

@Jeff Tillett Great to see a post about your remote experience and lessons learned. @Christine P. Dela Rosa , thanks for not editing the video. I feel much better now as I have my own bloopers too during my interview. Thanks for keeping it casual and I hope listeners can find value and add their own lessons learned here as well.

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