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Can we empower and encourage new team members to take ownership?

The Growth Partnership Program at PixelEdge

Annie Lasek: I wanted to build a program that helps new team members get the answers and mentoring they need without feeling like they are being evaluated.




Problem

PixelEdge is an enterprise-level, multinational software development firm, and team members span the globe, genders, ages, and life situations. It is critical to keep communication channels open across teams made up of a variety of people who have different backgrounds and personalities. 


PixelEdge founder Ali Usman was intrigued by the ideas in How a CEO Can Create Psychological Safety in the Room, which talks about changing power dynamics so that every voice is heard and respected. At PixelEdge, we embrace a flat power structure, encouraging team members to take ownership of their work. This value drives our success in building high-impact products. When a perceived “more powerful” person is in the room, however, it’s natural for the others to agree with that person and to stop asking questions. 


To encourage ownership as PixelEdge grows, Ali was aware that successful employees need:

  • Mentoring: Guidance from a more senior member to improve skill development and knowledge transfer for new team members. 

  • Psychological safety: A sense that you can speak freely without punishment, a term that gained interest after the New York Times article What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team


Google learned that psychological safety mattered more than education, meeting styles, or personality to create a team that’s greater than the sum of its parts. How could we ensure that new team members could freely ask questions and build connections at PixelEdge?


PixelEdge Solution

In the early years at PixelEdge, Annie Lasek wasn’t sure what her place in the company would be. Being a startup, many tasks needed to be done and her role was not yet defined. Then she worked with Ali, and he showed her the PixelEdge approach before she joined a product team. He guided her to take ownership and to prioritize impact to build trust with clients and their users. This early guidance helped her to ask questions, try things out, and look for feedback on whether her solutions were successful. Drawing on this experience, she was able to define her current role as a product owner.


Annie and Micah Rotich, PixelEdge cofounder in technology, had ideas on how they could further this idea of psychological safety for new team members as PixelEdge grew from a startup to an enterprise software development company. After some discussion, Annie developed the Growth Partnership Program at PixelEdge, which replicated her early interactions with Ali. 


New and less experienced team members are individually assigned a growth partner who is a more senior team member working in the same location. The growth partner is always in a different division to discourage them from judging work. Instead, this channel allows the new team member to freely ask questions and learn about the local team culture and PixelEdge values. 


The idea is simple but powerful. New team members don’t feel lost, because they are encouraged to ask anything to their growth partner. Where’s the nearest restaurant? Who should I talk to about this product? The mentor helps with awkward questions faced by all new employees at enterprise-level organizations.


Team Member Stories

When Zunaira Taj started at PixelEdge as part of the marketing team, she was partnered with a growth partner from the finance team, Muhammad Farhan. Partners are generally chosen informally–does anyone have some free time and interest in being a partner? Because Farhan was on a different team, Zunaira didn’t worry about being judged on her work as part of the team. 


It turned out to be a valuable connection. Zunaira was chosen to lead a project, moving her away from marketing. Farhan was able to coach her through this process, giving her insight on how to use her marketing skills in her new role, but also to learn management, analysis, product-market fit, and time management skills that helped her succeed.


And the program benefits the growth partners too.


Kelvin Ayonga was one of the early hires at PixelEdge, and he recalls being mentored by Micah when he first started. Now, as a veteran in technology, he has been assigned new team members to mentor. These mentoring opportunities continue to improve his leadership skills at PixelEdge. 


He can help new team members settle into the PixelEdge culture and connect them to other team members, strengthening ties throughout the company. He has also learned more about planning ahead and prioritizing, and it’s improved his listening skills and patience. 


Result

Annie built the Growth Partnership Program to create a structured but flexible way to immerse new hires into the company culture. People need to know where they fit in the company. From the feedback from both new and seasoned team members, it seems to be working.


Team member Aisha Farouq, who manages large projects at PixelEdge, says she loves working at PixelEdge because, “There is open communication between people—if you’re stuck, there’s a comfort level to say `I don’t know how to answer this problem’.” Instead of competition between team members, they can focus on and collaborate on client issues. 


The Growth Partnership Program builds respect for coworkers, and it also aids in developing their sense of ownership over a product. By focusing on strong mentorship structured for psychological safety, teams communicate well. The company has developed respect across boundaries, helping to create impactful solutions for clients.


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