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Being a cleaner fish to facilitate the team’s work

01 Apr, 2021 Methodologies
Being a cleaner fish to facilitate the team’s work

In professional terms I am being identified as a COO: in reality I could describe myself as a cleaner fish in an aquarium, that team member who makes the work easier for his colleagues.

Let me explain how. And I'll also tell you where this animal metaphor comes from. 

Who is the COO

At the beginning of 20tab it was just Gabriele and I, there was no need to assign special roles and tasks. But as the team started to grow, especially in recent years, we had to build a clear and precise organization chart.

Therefore we started using all those weird acronyms and I became a COO, a Chief Operating Officer.

What is its task by definition?

Well, there is no single answer: the COO has a set of transversal skills that make him suitable for the supervision of processes, as well as for budget management and company performance. But he may also be able to intervene personally in some of the operational steps.

Beyond the "customizations" that each company gives to its COO, there are two central tasks, from which all the others descend: 

  1. The COO aims at ensuring that the strategy, shared with colleagues, is effectively followed and implemented.
  2. The COO is a partner to the CEO, shares with him ideas, verifies that they are feasible and becomes one side of the same coin. 

The COO in 20tab

In our company we have always thought that a clear distinction of tasks was necessary, that we should have specific skills and that the work environment should be healthy and to be preserved at any cost.

For this reason, in 20tab, we have figures like Product Owners and our Scrum Master to act as a link between CEO and operatives, and then there is me: I am able to see the big picture and I am a developer myself, I actively participate in the process, lightening the team’s workloads

Specifically, I help out where it is needed. Here’s an example.

A few months ago there was a backend emergency on a project: our developers were overworked, focused on another much more demanding project with a short-term delivery.

The project on which we had an emergency was also a pretty boring one, let's face it. So I took care of it - I continue to be a passionate developer - and I solved the issue without disturbing the rest of the team.

In this way we have obtained several benefits: 

Happy customers, happy team: the ultimate goal is to keep the company in good health, inside and out.

To do this, to have a functioning team, however, something must be sacrificed. As the cleaner fish does.

The cleaner fish

Some time ago I attended a very interesting workshop with Andrea Provaglio and it was him who defined me like this, after I told him an episode similar to the one I just reported here.

In the aquarium, to ensure that this is a healthy and liveable environment, there must be a cleaner fish, who deals with everything that undermines its habitat. He takes on a job that is not always pleasant, makes wastes and debris disappear, silently works for the collective good.

Being the cleaner fish means taking charge of what others do not want to do, or rather, what others would prefer not to do, being focused on more stimulating, more compelling, more complex projects. 

As Scrum Masters teach us, it is necessary for the team to feel gratified and launched towards ambitious goals: only in this way we will have proactive people, who support each other and improve their skills. And this is an advantage for the company itself.

Being the cleaner fish in 20tab means being a multipotentialite, as Emilie Wapnick would define it: a T-shaped person, with its own specialization, of course, but able to understand and look into various fields, in order to confront the operatives on their level and support them in their daily choices and tasks. 

I am not a saint nor the protector of 20tab. However, I am the person designated to ensure the gears move perfectly, the one responsible to oil any blocked mechanism, able to observe and understand how to push my colleagues to give their best and to do it (almost) always with a smile.

I am the person who looks out the window and checks that the clients are satisfied and that they feel they are being heard, but I also look around the house and, if necessary, I help out in the kitchen.

I am the cleaner fish.

Raffaele Colace

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