I am a person who runs an “all remote” company and you might already know my opinion on so-called “open offices.” Exactly! I hate them. I think they’re great for socializing but really bad if you want your team members to perform at their best. However, many smart people defend these setups with the premise of “better collaboration” and “openness” and my favorite one: “keeping people on the same page.” Well, let me explain why this kind of attitude is anything but helpful for keeping your people productive, focused and doing their best work. People shouldn’t be “on the same page” with their entire team all of the time. Here’s why:
Your developer doesn’t need to know your up-to-date “lifetime customer value”…
…unless they are working on a piece of code that is exactly correlated with that metric. You see, your developer should know the “overall direction of the company” and the specifics that relate to his or her work. Nothing more. Everything else is just noise and unnecessary distraction to them. Any additional information won’t help them write their best pieces of code… and when you’re trying to keep them up to date in an open office, you’re not even letting them get into “flow” - the state in which the real magic happens.
Ask yourself - why did you hire this amazing programmer if you’re doing everything to keep them from entering the flow state. With the distractions of an open office or up-to-date info you’re effectively disturbing them and not letting them do their magic! Trust me, you hired them for their magic!
Let people have access to info. Keep them updated. Some - weekly, everyone - monthly.
Yes, in my team people are not on the same page all the time. Eventually they are. From time to time. In regular intervals. But not every minute. Not even every hour. Not even every day. A big part of my team is updated every week. And everyone else gets on the same page at least once a month. And that’s how I think it should be done. Here’s how I do it:
Asynchronous communication is the default
Now that “Slack” is the all-new way to communicate in many teams, including ours, everyone is getting back to a “let’s talk right here right now” kind of mindset. Even if they’re a distributed team. It’s like we’re trying to re-create “open office” chatter online.
Slack is a great water cooler, and we use it at Nozbe for our own internal “chit-chat,” but we try to make sure our main communication is still done within tasks, around specific actionable items.
Why? Not only because we don’t lose track of the conversation this way, but mostly because we know that the communication in comments on Nozbe tasks is asynchronous. We don’t expect people to reply to our comments as soon as possible. We know they’ll get to it when they find a moment. We know we don’t interrupt people this way.
That’s why the communication in teams should be asynchronous by default. This already works against “having people on the same page” at all times. It’s much more productive to let them get to the page when they’re done with their most important tasks for the day. Not before that.
It’s not about you. It’s about them. And the company.
The problem many managers have with meetings that “bring people on the same page” is the fact that they want their “status meeting.” They want to demonstrate their status within the team. But it shouldn’t be about them!
I’ve made that mistake before with Friday “all hands” status meetings at Nozbe. A very expensive meeting really. The whole team logged in to Skype for an hour at 11 am each Friday to hear me talk about “where we are.” Crazy stupid of me. Why did I want to interrupt them at a time that was convenient for me (not for them) to listen to stuff that might not be interesting to them at this point? Yes, I had to learn it the hard way.
I cancelled this meeting. Now I’m doing other things to keep people “in the loop.”
Here’s what I do to keep my team (and myself) “on the same page”
- We put things in Nozbe (duh) in their appropriate projects. We input tasks and organize projects in a way that helps me and everyone who may be interested to be on the same page. We add many comments to tasks to keep people in the loop. And as Nozbe works in an asynchronous way by default, everyone can decide when they read the comments and add their own.
- I do a regular weekly “directors” meeting with my direct reports where we discuss what we’ve done in the last week, what we’re doing this upcoming week and what struggles we’re experiencing at the moment. Every Monday at 1pm after our personal Weekly Reviews.
- I crash my developers’ “scrum” meeting on Fridays. I listen to their regular “stand up” meeting and add my two cents with stuff I’ve been doing the past week. Short and sweet. Just to keep them in the loop and make them feel more “aligned” with our company goals. The whole meeting usually takes around 20-30 minutes with me talking for 3-5 minutes.
Apart from these meetings and practices there’s one more thing I do every month:
Recording a “status video” every month
Every month I record a 20-30 minute video standing next to my whiteboard, explaining where we are, what’s next and how on or off track we are with our goals for the year. And I tell stories about some of the interesting things that have happened.
I record this video on my iPhone, edit it later in iMovie on my iPhone and post it online.
I create a task in Nozbe in our common project, delegate this task to “anyone” and set a date for next Friday. This way I know that everyone will receive this task at some point, Friday at the latest. And I ask for comments in the comment section. The following Monday while doing my Weekly Review, I take note of the comments and process them.
This video is great for 2 reasons:
- I can edit my message and make it as short/long as I want. By recording and then editing it, I make sure I talk only about things that really matter.
- By posting this message as a video in one of our tasks in Nozbe, I know people will watch it at the most convenient time for them. I’m not interrupting them. I’m giving them an option to watch it when they are ready. I respect their time.
People should be “on the same page” often enough but not too often
As Albert Einstein allegedly said:
Everything should be made as simple as possible. But not simpler.
People should be updated as often as possible, but not too often.
Eventually your entire team should be on the same page every month, with some people working closer with you every week and other people working directly with you on the same projects every day… but having people constantly “updated” and “open for communication” about stuff that doesn’t matter to them at this point is counter-productive and crazy.
There you have it. Here’s how I keep my team aligned and “on the same page”. How do you do it in your team?
Photo credits: Flickr/jepoirrier CC BY-SA 2.0