I learnt about …

Openness, discussions and success

I work very closely with two colleagues - and have done so for a number of years. Together we have experienced some serious ups and downs in the company we work for and also personally. We have each reached a point where we were close to leaving; we have each had something happen in our lives where the others have supported us.

We used to do this via a WhatsApp group called “Accountabilabuddies” where we would not be afraid to commit to things and call each other out. There have been some very blunt chat messages and subsequent conversations triggered by this group. We still do this however we also have a regular, mostly weekly, check in where the three of us make a point to catch up.

To drive this we use a simple spreadsheet which has a number of sections that cover our work and the company we work for as well as how we are interacting and how we are each feeling. We call it “measuring success”.

Within each section are a series of columns with statements that we then score between 0 and 5.

The company sections currently include:

  • “North star” (the company direction and execution)
  • “Route to market” (we’re a start up, so how we get to revenue)
  • “Sensible sales” (how well our pipeline is working)
  • “Management team” (the composition and interactions)
  • “People” (the right people and how are they)
  • “Communications” (the effectiveness, audience and frequency)

These are very geared to the structure of the company, how we work and where we are in our journey.

Our personal section includes:

  • “The Company and Us” (our interactions with the company)
  • “Our interactions” (the interactions between the three of us)
  • “Overall” (how we feel about our role, the company and our work)

This is the most useful section and we have regularly called each other out over something having been triggered by these discussions.

We will probably review all these sections and questions again soon and come up with new and more relevant topics as our journey and roles have progressed.

There are a few things that we have learned from doing this over the past year.

Three is the magic number

We are all working remotely and there are certain limitations due to the logistics of conference calls. With three people we can have a pretty natural conversation where everyone takes part and there is not a lot of talking over people. As the number of people grows on calls it becomes more difficult and also some people tend to take a step back and become less involved. Having been in hundreds of conference calls, three seems to be close to the optimum number.

Additionally, as the number of people increases the amount of time taken to review the answers increases. We have found that we can get through reviewing all the answers in about half an hour. We focus on any values that have changed and ask the person who filled it in to explain why it has changed. Sometimes we will add comments on values that haven’t changed yet to raise points we think are worth discussing.

Three people also has the advantage that you don’t end up with taking sides and stalemate. It may be that it ends up two “against” one in a discussion - and we tend to use that as meaning someone needs to take something on board - however you don’t end up with a split with two lots of two people with opposing views. We are always able to reach a consensus.

Openness

I don’t think this process would work well unless there is a certain amount of openness and the trust between those involved to say what needs to be said. We each know that what we say is in confidence but also is meant with the right heart - there is no maliciousness and it is always meant as positive feedback.

We may try this soon with some of the engineers who work at the company and it will be interesting to see how well it works and if they have the same success and the same openness. It may take a while for them to benefit and I am not sure every single person will buy in but it will be interesting to find out. We would also certainly come up with a different set of questions and sections.

Recently my scores for my enjoyment of my role had dipped. This was due to a number of factors - some down to me and others down to external company factors. The other two were able to see this trend, highlight it and we discussed it. My role was tweaked a little and my enjoyment improved. As my role had changed over time I hadn’t seen how it had impacted my enjoyment as I was too close to it and the change was gradual. I am thankful that they picked up on this and we were able to address it.

There are lots of “company surveys” out there but I am not sure how successful they are. They tend to be aimed at larger groups and don’t always lead to discussions. We could role something like that out for the whole company or the whole team however as mentioned above, there needs to be a level of discussion and openness. The people taking part need to feel their answers will be taken seriously and that they can answer how they want - they don’t have to worry about how they might be interpreted or how it will reflect on them.

I am currently thinking how we could use a form of this with the team and this might consist of breaking them up into groups of three. There will probably need to be some serious thought around the questions and also how we can build the trust and openness. If we can pull it off then I think the benefits could be huge however it is certainly not a given. The team we have are very open to trying things and if they work then great and if they don’t we either tweak it or throw it away. This could be one of those scenarios.

Could you find two people to do this exercise with?

Could you identify key areas in your life that you could measure?

Maybe you could measure (and build) success too - whatever form that takes.