Atlassian’s Scott Farquhar says the boss is no longer the smartest person in the room

Scott Farquhar speaking in Sydney. Image: Chris Pash
  • Scott Farquhar’s staff at Atlassian remind him he isn’t the smartest person in the room.
  • Today’s teams need an open way of working and a transparent flow of information.
  • Creative conflict can tap into the creative genius of the entire team.

Atlassian, the high tech giant built its collaboration tools to help companies work together, after 15 years of research and talking to hundreds of customers, knows well that leaders don’t have all the answers.

Co-Founder Scott Farquhar has spoken in Australia for the first time about creating open teams.

“The days where the boss is the smartest person in the room are gone,” he told a customer event in Sydney, part of the global Team Tour 2018. “I know this, my team tells me that everyday.”

He says the teams of today are made up of specialists and the best leaders know their job is to ask the right questions.

Teams have to form and build trust quicker than ever before as change hits faster and harder, with the world becoming more amazing and crazy each day.

Many management practices, built in a time when the world was slow to change and the days rolled on with one much the same as any other, are of little help.

“How do we make this change? We at Atlassian have a very distinctive view on this,” says Farquhar.

“A view that has been defined by our work with teams over the past 15 years. We believe that the best way to adapt, the way to get the most from teamwork today, is to work open.”

Work open

Farquhar says teams build trust faster, create stronger connections and operate at higher speeds when they are open.

“When information flows freely, it provides everyone in the organisation with the right context to unlock their creative ideas,” he says.

Being open requires an open way of working, and a transparent flow of information.

“The speed an organisation can operate is determined by the speed by which information travels from one part to another,” Farquhar says.

“Too often it’s is held in silos; hoarded; hidden from the people who really need it.”

And teams need to embrace an open way of thinking.

“Do you remember the last time you had a good idea?” Farquhar says. “A really good idea? Or at least you thought you did … until you brainstormed it with your team and realised that together you could come up with something far better.

“This is what happens when we pursue an open way of thinking. When we invite alternative view points and encourage people to challenge directly.

“When we create safe environments, when we lean into creative conflict — ideas can come from anywhere, and we tap into the creative genius of the entire team.”

Scott Farquhar used the following slide to illustrate the move from the old, on the left, to the new, on the right:

Image: Supplied

Being open isn’t new for Atlassian, now a company of 2,500 people in eight offices. Among the signs hanging in its offices: “Open Company No Bullshit”

“We need to move away from centralised decision making and instead empower teams – which means we all need to get better at decision making,” he says.

“And speed matters. It’s not about perfect decisions, it’s about quick feedback and learning cycles.

“We’ve been indoctrinated to think variability is a bad thing. It’s not. We should embrace the unknown and foster experimentation and learning from failure.

“Do you remember the last time you bit your tongue and didn’t speak up because you didn’t want to rock the boat? Rather than avoiding conflict, we should actively seek it.

“We need to harness the positives that come from creative friction and bring together diverse perspectives and thoughts.”