Experience Log 1: Why I run all my micro-teams as startups

Top of the morning folks! At a time of crisis upon crisis hitting this tear-shaped (see what I did there?) island nation, and when memes about our politicians have reached feverish hilarity, I am glad you stumbled upon my humble weekly rant. So without further ado, let’s dive right in.

I thought I’d break the monotony and write an experience log every once in a while for my column to reflect on things I have learnt and practised over the last 10+ years in the digital industry in Sri Lanka.

Most people know me as the GM of IdeaHell and Pulse, but these are roles I have taken on rather recently.

For the last 10 years, I have been the GM Digital of Derana Macroentertainment Pvt. Ltd. which is the digital media arm of Power House Pvt. Ltd., the owning company behind the Derana Media Conglomerate.

My humble Derana Macroentertainment team has grown from two staff members, including myself, in 2009 to 60+ at present. This team operates over 15 websites, corresponding apps, social media presence, YouTube channels, etc.; then there is Pulse which started off as a website, and now has extended into magazine, newspaper, and TV, with many more things to come. And of course, I have my small band of hell-bent creatives who run IdeaHell.

So today, I thought I will briefly go into a question I get asked often; how on earth do you manage so many different brands, platforms, channels, and teams?

1. Build autonomous micro-teams
Specialisation is a must when handling multiple digital products. While there are synergies between certain verticals, it is, in my experience, always best have guardians for every child, so to speak.

Every property needs to be somebody’s baby. While collaboration is greatly promoted, it is crucial to have teams that have their own clear KPIs and brand value to propagate.

2. Lean and agile
I have always had software in my blood, as a kid dabbled with Qbasic, C+, etc. This led me to always learn from the software industry, and lean and agile are concepts I actively try to practise with all my micro-teams.

“Agile” generally refers to the iterative approach to software delivery where software is delivered as quickly as possible, rather than in large batches. This, applied to my teams, has been a great success as the feedback loop is short and teams do not go down an unsuitable path for too long before redirected. With “lean”, I aim to do away with anything that isn’t adding value and only work on what we absolutely need to be doing at this moment in time. As a simple example; working on the CMS backend of a website while it is still in the layout stage is fruitless, especially in the fast-paced digital realm, building something we think we might need in future without focusing on what we know we need now is, for me, chasing fool’s gold. Because in the fickle digital world, it might end up that we do not eventually need “what we thought we might need in future”, or that the circumstances have changed requiring us to re-work it.

3. Never micromanage
Funnily, in my line of work, I can’t micromanage even if I wanted to because of the sheer diversity of products we handle. However, I would be lying if I said I haven’t felt the urge to micromanage when I see my team heading towards a train wreck like the one across the Diyawanna. But in the grand scheme of things, I have come to realise that while direction from a leader is necessary, there is a clear distinction between direction and micromanagement.

It kills employee motivation, stomps on creativity and diversity within a team, and worst off in my field, it is not scalable at all.

Those who micromanage, I’ve learnt, will always run “meh-companies”, doing “meh-work”, happy with the status quo similar to a government office.

In my view, only leaders insecure in their own capacity tend to micromanage as they are afraid an employee will outshine them.

My philosophy is, hire the right person for the job and let them da*n well do it.

4. Meritocracy
Michael Young defined this best in his book, “The Rise of the Meritocracy”. Go read it if you want an in-depth understanding. Since my word count is so strict due to the Features Editor being a prison guard in her previous life, I shall concisely put forth what type of meritocracy I practise with my teams.

In short, the best people and the best ideas always win. These are always held in more regard than one’s past achievements, accolades, degrees, etc.

No idea from anyone is mocked or ridiculed, in fact, new ideas, even those that seem far-fetched at the outset, are celebrated in a meritocracy. That crazy idea could be a diamond in the rough and with more input from the team, it could be the next great brand. This, I have found, lets employees become trailblazers within the company, forging their own path to leadership and greater opportunities.

In a meritocracy, this can be achieved not just by working smart and hard, but also by being creative and coming up with new ideas that change how the team and the company sees its future.

I have interns who have become managers and typists who have become team leads; this, I feel, is the best case study any good company culture can showcase.

Jay out!


By Janeeth Rodrigo
Janeeth Rodrigo is the General Manager, Digital, of the Derana Media network. He is also the General Manager of IdeaHell, the first and only YouTube MCN and Creator Space in Sri Lanka.