Ted Lasso’s Playbook: 5 Strategies for Building a Successful DevOps Team and Culture

What AppleTV+’s hit show can teach us about cultivating positive transformation

Chalkboard with soccer field exhibiting a possible play and a soccer ball in corner

Practicing DevOps isn’t simply a method or way of structuring your planning, deployment, and operations processes. It also requires a cultural shift in the way teams approach each other and their work, which manifests in a shared responsibility amongst developers and operators for the software they build and the operations needed to deploy and maintain it.

AppleTV+’s hit show Ted Lasso follows the journey of an incredibly kind and optimistic American college football coach who is surprisingly recruited to manage (coach) an English Premiership football (soccer) team. The humorous show is filled with as many leadership strategies as your typical playbook for both kinds of football — providing ample insight into building a culture that supports operational maturity.

Don’t worry, this post is light on spoilers, in case you haven’t had the chance to see the show for yourself.

Play 1: “Be curious, not judgmental”#

Ted shares this Walt Whitman quote along with a story about how those who lack curiosity assume they have things all figured out and instead rush to judgment.

Managing cloud infrastructure is complex. DevOps leaders need to provide space and opportunity for out-of-the-box thinking and problem solving by making it a part of their processes. Don’t merely accept what you think you know. Instead, ask questions, hypothesize, test, and proactively seek out areas of weakness through methods like chaos engineering. Build in solutions to combat common sources of problems, such as load balancing across multiple containers to prevent a 503 server outage. Let curiosity reign supreme.

Play 2: There is no ‘i’ in ‘team’ — everyone can provide value#

Successful teams are not defined by their “star players”, but by collective trust, cooperation, and transparency. In the show, Jamie Tartt is a young and talented player, but his quest for personal renown and penchant for showmanship is often detrimental to the team as a whole. If your team has relied upon senior members consistently in order to get answers about a system or move a process forward, then your team is likely falling prey to knowledge silos. Instead, it is important to find ways to democratize knowledge and include team members of all skill levels in the tasks at hand.

Limit institutional knowledge and promote a culture of transparency by documenting processes and creating opportunities for junior team members to work with and learn directly from senior ones. Consider activating no-code solutions in addition to a developer platform to enable less technical operators to automate processes. This will not only increase your team’s productivity but will also facilitate innovation and creative problem-solving across the board.

Play 3: Sometimes, it’s best to be a goldfish.#

According to Ted, the happiest animal on earth is a goldfish, due to its 10-second memory. When it comes to engineering and operations tasks, errors are par for the course — mistakes happen, incidents occur, and 100% uptime isn’t reality. It is important to be able to move forward and not let those mistakes cripple us while in the throes of working toward a solution. Instead, team members will be well-served to channel their inner goldfish.

Play 4: Enjoy the journey and take responsibility#

“For me, success is not about the wins and losses. It’s about helping  these young fellas be the best  versions of themselves on and off  the field.”​

If the focus is solely on the end goal, then you are missing opportunities to learn and grow along the way. Recognize that the path to a “win,” even when cumbersome, makes each success more meaningful, and also prepares you for the next challenge. Continuous improvement requires an environment that is devoid of blame but filled with trust, transparency, growth, and accountability. This means that hierarchy and ego must be checked at the door and that the journey toward resolution is viewed as a valuable tool for growth. It is essential teams view retrospectives and debriefs as a welcome and integral step in that process, rather than with annoyance or fear.

Play 5: Choose optimism and embrace change#

Change is inevitable, and in this era of increased cloud adoption and digital transformation, it isn’t going to slow down. Too often, technical operators’ relationships to the situations and tasks they undertake — many of which are associated with change — are met with pessimism. DevOps teams must be able to view changes as opportunities, not as a burden or hassle, or worse, something to worry about. With the right process in place, change can be readily managed, no matter how quickly it occurs. Ted Lasso has multiple moments that convey optimism — even in the face of change, difficulty, or defeat — is a powerful force. It turns out that shifting your perspective can make dreaded tasks or new situations not only bearable, but even enjoyable.

Here’s one way to jumpstart this within your own team: identify common words, phrases, or actions taken by your team that have a negative connotation and replace them with more positive ones. For example, begin to view finding permanent solutions to workarounds created in response to an incident as opportunities to be more innovative and creative. You’ll be surprised at how these small modifications to your perspective can leave ripple effects on attitudes towards impending changes and the tasks at hand.

Where transformation begins and ends#

If you take one more play from Ted Lasso’s playbook, it is the overarching principle of prioritizing people. At Transposit, we believe that the human operator is an inextricable element of a working system. Therefore, the culture built within your team and organization will have a sizable impact on how quickly or effectively you meet your goals. Keeping humans top of mind as you take on the challenges of today’s digital landscape will be key to your success. To learn more about how we are reimagining how operations teams get work done while keeping humans in the loop, request a demo.

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