From the beginning, our all team weekly meetings have been important spaces for practicing our values, building our culture, and operationalizing new policies, processes, and experiments. This was true when we were a team of 3 between Thailand and Germany, and continues to be true now as a team of 17 distributed across 6 countries and 3 continents.
At first glance, you might not see our weekly agenda as anything particularly special, but when you get into the details of how we spend our time on each agenda item, you'll see that at least 50% of our time together is focused on ensuring that we have a chance to connect as people, and not just as colleagues.
As a distributed organization with team members spread across time and place, we’ve come to value the directness needed in most, if not all, of our operational and cultural practices. This means giving time to conversations about team dynamics that might be offered more tacitly in organizations that meet even somewhat regularly in person. Those things include recognizing gratitude, surfacing positive and negative team behaviors, and time for checking in however you need.
Similarly to how a start-up centers on engineering as a technical skill, InsightPact is an organization built around the technical skill of facilitation. The development of core facilitation skills, such as active listening, hosting space for others and oneself, asking powerful questions, and being present are recommended for everyone on the team. Simply by participating in our weeklies, we enable everyone on the team to engage their voices, bodies, and minds in an operational and cultural professional practice together that develops these skills. Each week, each person can simply partake as a team member, or in a facilitative role as facilitator, time keeper, note aggregator, or action harvester.
From an operational perspective, our weeklies are an important supplement to our asynchronous communications over email and Slack because it allows for more complex discussions about new policies, processes, and experiments, where having a team hold space is important for supporting a variety of perspectives to be vocalized.
It gets even more interesting when we see our weeklies as a process of organizational culture; where culture at an organization is defined as the bottom-up expression of its values. With this definition in place, then our weekly meeting can be seen as a calibration process that helps our team develop a common understanding of our culture.
From both the operational and cultural perspective, our weeklies form a crucial touchpoint in our distributed organization. Below, I’ll share the details of our practice through each agenda item.
So, what does the weekly agenda actually look like?
Our agenda has 4 core pieces:
Each person on the team checks into the meeting verbally to report anything that they’d like to share with the team, personally or professionally. While this agenda item may seem routine, we have learnt that allowing each person to claim space and share whatever is on their heart helps cultivate warmth amongst the team that manifests itself in how we work.
To be more explicit, our check-in portion of the weekly helps build trust. And teams that trust each other, work closer together and ask for assistance without fear.
Borrowing from Agile methodology, during the retrospective section of our meetings, team members are asked to reflect upon the behaviors present or lacking in our collaboration in the previous week or longer. Each team member can then ask to minimize or amplify these behaviors in a direct ask to the team using one of five categories:
From these discussion points, we have seen numerous adjustments coming from all corners of our organization that have improved the way in which we work. And since these behaviors and suggestions are given equal weight regardless of seniority, we have developed a buy-in and level of ownership that allows us to work more efficiently and also slow down when needed.
One point on the retrospective, if you decide to try this out for your own team, it took us a few weeks to get comfortable with voicing these opportunities regularly, and to get in the habit of recognizing potential change opportunities in our day to day. Long story short, try it out for a few weeks to see if it works for your team. You’ll also see this adoption curve in new team members that join.
Team members are able to share team-wide announcements or changes to processes that may or may not require additional discussion.
Our gratitude section of the weekly is arguably the most radical part of our meeting compared to a “standard” meeting agenda. Having the opportunity to openly express thanks for something large or small, personal or professional, has brought us closer together than anything else we practice at InsightPact.
In what is typically the final stages of our weekly meetings, each team member has space to share up to 3 gratitudes for one or more people. We used to have space for unlimited gratitudes, but with the growth of the team, we have decided to limit this for the sake of time, and reserve a dedicated channel called #kudos in our Slack environment for ongoing and asynchronous gratitudes and recognitions.
It’s important to say that giving gratitude is encouraged in our weekly and in the #kudos channel, but not enforced. Each person has different ways of expressing themselves. Putting gratitudes into the public space, however, also helps us foster a practice of consideration. For example, different members of the team will recognize different aspects of other team members’ work. They might recognize a specific task deliverable, an action of care work supporting our team and organization, or perhaps simply expressing general gratitude. Creating a diversity of gratitudes, small expressions of vulnerability, and acknowledgement of how oneself was supported and helped creates space for more transparency, accountability, and safety in the organization.
I know that for many of our new team members, our weeklies can feel a little awkward at first. Having the space to check-in however you like, personal or professional? Saying your gratitudes out loud to everyone and directly to the recipient? Opening up about a team behavior that bothers you? This all seems a little too much, too soon.
As mentioned earlier, our team members rotate between the facilitator, time keeper, notes consolidator and action harvester roles each week. What we’ve seen over time is that by creating space held by multiple team members, flexible agenda structures, opportunities to lead, and invitations to experiment with one’s own abilities, these skills and habits in the weekly become part of every individual’s habits and considerations day to day.
Some might argue that by creating these spaces, they reduce the authenticity of human interaction, but in a world where the technological default is to reduce our humanity to 1’s and 0’s, we need to work to give people an opportunity to practice authentic human to human interaction in virtual spaces. Creating connections through structured conversations does not have to feel forced: it can be exactly what is needed to ensure important conversations aren’t left to the wayside.
Let me explain with a personal story of how and why our weeklies, and the structure of our agenda, has been powerful and important for me.
I recognized early on in my journey as an entrepreneur that being able to ask for help, offering my vulnerabilities, and communicating non-violently were important qualities that I wanted to grow in my ability as a leader.
It hasn’t been easy. Over the years, I’ve learned that I have trouble expressing and feeling my emotions and vulnerabilities, and trusting people in a variety of situations. But, I have been lucky to have been surrounded by co-founders and colleagues in the last 8 years who have been stronger than me in exhibiting and practicing these qualities and skills; many of whom continue to trust me and push me to learn more, even when it makes me uncomfortable. I am proud to say that I have made progress, and that everyone who has been on the InsightPact team, and those who continue to join the team have been a huge support in my professional journey.
There was one time that continues to stay in my mind when I reflect upon my leadership journey. In late 2020, I was feeling physically ill and mentally strained as a result of managing several demanding client programs simultaneously. I had started to fail to meet regular deliverable commitments to both team members and clients. I needed support, but I didn’t recognize it or know how to ask for help. It wasn’t until one day in our weekly meeting when I began to cry during my check-in that I had really failed to deliver as the person I wanted to be, even if I was able to hobble through my task deliverables.
I realized that I hadn’t been utilizing the space of support that I had in fact created together with Irene, co-founder of InsightPact. But, it was there when I needed it, and this space continues to be more and more available to me and other members of the team as our culture becomes held by more and more team members. I realized that the culture could hold and support me as much as it holds and supports other members of the team.
Knowing that the space of the weekly is a resource, I have learned to utilize it as an opportunity to ask for help, to express how I feel, and trust that my team will respond as best they can.
By the time you read this blog, it may be possible that our meeting structure has changed, and that’s totally ok. We’re an organization that’s always learning, and the needs of our people will always change. But, we also know that culture runs deep, and foundations matter. I can only imagine that the elements of consideration, space, and openness will remain central to our weekly meetings.
Our weekly meetings have created an opportunity for us to connect as colleagues, and as people. These meetings help us bring our whole selves to work in a distributed team environment, and humanizes our professional lives in a way that feels respectful towards each person’s personal privacy.
I invite you to experiment with different elements of our weekly meeting agenda we’ve shared here, and to also iterate and change up how your meetings run. How can you surface what might seem ‘obvious’ and how does giving it space change what you understand ‘obvious’ means? Let us know how you’ve changed your meetings and how it has changed your team at firstname.lastname@example.org