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Two Person Teams

Wed May 31 2023
team structurecommunicationautonomytrustshort-term planningdecision-makingredundancycontinuity


The episode explores Basecamp's unique team structure of small teams of two people, which allows for better decision-making and faster progress. The use of web development tools and direct collaboration between designers and programmers further enhances productivity. Autonomy and trust are key aspects of Basecamp's approach, with minimal managerial interventions and checkups. Short-term planning and decision-making, as well as the importance of redundancy for continuity, are also discussed.


Small teams of two people

Basecamp's use of small teams of two people enables better decision-making, faster progress, and direct collaboration between designers and programmers.

Autonomy and trust

Basecamp provides autonomy to its teams, allowing them to work without constant follow-ups from managers. Trusting employees leads to high productivity.

Short-term planning

Basecamp focuses on short-term planning every six weeks, making decisions as projects progress. This approach results in smaller and more manageable tasks.

Redundancy for continuity

Established companies should have redundancy in critical functions to ensure continuity. Relying on a single person in a role can lead to burnout and lack of long-term success.


  1. Team Structure and Communication
  2. Autonomy and Trust
  3. Short-Term Planning and Decision-Making
  4. Redundancy and Continuity

Team Structure and Communication

00:00 - 13:03

  • 37 Signals uses small teams of two people for various departments, including programmer and designer teams, people team, finance, and QA.
  • The smaller team size allows for better decision-making and faster progress due to direct communication between the two members.
  • The use of web development tools enables quick iteration and avoids delays caused by approvals from platforms like Apple or Google.
  • Designers at 37 Signals work directly with HTML, JavaScript, and Ruby in the same codebase as programmers, eliminating translation layers.
  • Basecamp, which has been driving the company's success for 20 years, is built by three teams of two people.
  • Despite sharing their tools and processes openly, few companies have adopted similar team structures to achieve high productivity.
  • Teams of two at Basecamp are able to slot right into the system and be productive quickly.
  • Programmer-designer duos are not always the same, but some duos stick together over multiple cycles.
  • The decision to stick together or change partners is flexible and depends on the project's needs.

Autonomy and Trust

06:17 - 27:34

  • Basecamp's two-person team structure does not require long-term partnerships or soul mate dynamics.
  • There is a reporting structure in place, with one primary product manager, but it operates in an organic and non-intrusive way.
  • Check-ins and oversight happen as needed, without daily standups or regular check-ins.
  • Basecamp uses automated questions to manage processes rather than relying on constant follow-ups from managers.
  • The cycle clock frequency provides opportunities for evaluation and guidance throughout the six-week feature development cycle.
  • Joining Basecamp may initially feel confusing due to the autonomy provided, but most people rise to the challenge and live up to the trust placed in them.

Short-Term Planning and Decision-Making

12:39 - 27:34

  • Removing managerial interventions and checkups can be a turbocharger for productivity.
  • Product managers can be effective in small doses, like food coloring in a glass of water.
  • Companies often go wrong with large-scale planning and making promises far into the future.
  • Basecamp focuses on short-term planning, thinking about things every six weeks.
  • Decisions are made as projects progress, resulting in smaller and more manageable tasks.
  • Building their own tools allows Basecamp to work efficiently with small teams.
  • Complexity is reduced by using tools suitable for small teams rather than large corporations.
  • Short cycles and sprints often produce artificial results instead of final products.
  • In two-week sprints, nothing is finished and there is a proliferation of half-done work.
  • Focusing on one thing at a time allows for undivided attention and getting it off the plate.
  • Basecamp makes real improvements despite seemingly slow progress.
  • Making promises about future work is regrettable and unnecessary.

Redundancy and Continuity

25:26 - 27:34

  • Having redundancy in critical functions is important for established companies.
  • Redundancy helps ensure that bills are paid and funds are managed.
  • Starting out with a single bus factor is acceptable, but as the company grows, redundancy becomes necessary.
  • Once redundancy is in place, it needs to be monitored and managed to prevent unchecked growth.
  • Being the only person responsible for a certain role has an expiration date and can lead to burnout.
  • Long-term success requires sharing responsibilities and having others who understand the work.
  • Considerations for building redundancy and avoiding reliance on one person in a role.