Webinar Recording & Transcript
So welcome everyone. I’m Brian Robertson. I’m going to be your host for our webinar today and we’re going to be talking about leading virtual teams and meetings. And I, let me tell you just a bit about my, my background and history with this. I think it’s interesting cause I just swore I’d just never would do remote work 20 years ago when I was a CEO of a software company. it was my first company that I was building as CEO, as an entrepreneur and I just could not imagine running a virtual workforce at that point in time.
It seemed like I needed the in person thing to manage effectively. I, at the time my management style was, well, let’s just say not exactly discipline and I relied a lot on just walking around the office, right? And checking in on people and just talking to them and seeing how they’re doing or trusting that I would overhear the right conversation or people would find an easy time coming into my office just to chat.
And it seems so important to me to have that, that physical presence in order to get the alignment, the clarity, the just everything I needed as, as a manager at the time. And, and that changed, that changed a lot. About 13 years ago when I started my current company, I made the decision with my co-founders to do an entirely virtual company. And, we built my current company that way from the beginning. We’ve never had an office. we have partners all over the world.
We’ve got people in Israel, London, all over the US, Guatemala, so all over the world. and, and it’s now I can tell you I would never go back. Even without COVID, I would never want to go back to a co-located office. There just so many actually advantages to me now of working this way. but a lot has shifted over that timeframe in the way I show up and lead. And a lot of that came from my work and self management. So, I’m the kind of main pioneer behind Holacracy which many of you may know is a framework for self-managing companies, that work without the traditional management hierarchy.
And that’s that a lot of the, the tips and advice I want to share today have nothing to do with that. You can, you can use them even in a traditional hierarchy. The thing is when you’re in a self managed environment, you don’t have a choice. You have to have the kind of discipline that I think is now required right from, from virtual working. So when you’re in a self managed company, you don’t have the manager to fall back on. You can’t just have that, that alignment force. You need other ways to make sure you get good, good team alignment, clarity on a team.
You, you really need to be good at meetings because you don’t have just the political pressure of a boss to keep everything on track. So your meetings have to be structured to productive or the whole thing falls apart. So making self management work requires some of the same things that I think are required in any virtual workforce, even in a management hierarchy because you don’t have the same thing to fall back on that you do in person.
It’s almost like in person, there’s, you kind of have the, the, the fallback or the crutch, that you can lean on is at least your co-located, at least you can see people, at least meetings are a little less painful than staring at a Zoom screen to begin with, right? So even if it’s a kind of shitty meeting structure, you at least have something that works for you. So, but when you go virtual, that all changes. And we’ve been thrust into a virtual world now.
I have so many colleagues and for the first time in their careers are dealing with entirely virtual teaming. and it’s disorienting at first for many. So that said, some of you may already have as much experience of this. My goal in, in our webinar today is to, to give those of you with some experience some tips that you can leave with, even if you’re a pro at this, I hope you’ll be able to pick up a few, few key gems of wisdom from Holacracy and the self-management movement.
And for those of you who are completely new at it, I hope to leave you with at least some ideas you can go apply. so let’s start by talking about what’s painful right now. and just a number of random points, not a complete list, but one of the things I often see happen with meetings, and I want to start with meetings because it’s just one of the most concrete things that, that get really painful virtually if you don’t do them well.
And one of the things with meetings that I see, that that often causes more pain counterintuitively sometimes is the agenda is built in advance. I think sometimes we tell ourselves a story that, you know, if we, we figure out our agenda in advance that makes the meeting go better. And in my experience what that tends to do is it tends to have people talking about what they think they should talk about because it was on the agenda and not what they’re really needing in the moment at that point in their work, right?
So we end up spending a lot of time talking about things that no one really cares about. And we talk about it because we think we should to look good or because we think that’s a, you know, a good thing to talk about in theory rather than experientially, I need to talk about this now. So that’s one. And I’ll talk about the alternative of what to do about this instead on the next slide.
but another one, we not only build agendas in advance, we put topics to discuss on the agenda and when we get there we dive into this topic and of course everyone has some opinion about the topic, some people have actual real needs around this topic and we all jump in to try to get our needs met about that topic all at the same time. And it turns into something that to me looks like more like a Colosseum battle, right? Where we’re battling for the collective attention.
It’s like everyone wants some attention of the group on their thing, their need, their issue. But because we’re talking about the general topic that everyone has tensions about or some people do, we kind of all end up competing for the space. And that leads to discussions dragging on. so you end up spending a whole lot of your time on just a handful of agenda items and it’s really hard to know when we’re done with that discussion. So we end up overdoing it, over analyzing, over discussing, which ends up meaning most of our time is spent on the first few agenda items.
We often don’t get through everything that somebody really has real needs around. So we end up talking about things that we actually don’t need to talk about, at least not at that level of depth. And we don’t talk about the things that, you know, one poor person is really needing to talk about to move forward with their work. And then when we do end up with decisions, even those end up vague, right? We have vague we statements, we come out with the idea of what we should do. The trouble is we is a horrible worker, right?
We assign a lot of things to we and we doesn’t do it. so you end up with these or vague commitments, you know, somebody says, “Sure, I’ll take care of that.” But it’s really not clear what they’ve just signed up for. It’s not clear what the action is they’re going to do or what the outcome is they’re going to drive towards, right? And that’s when you at least get clear enough that it’s someone owning it. Sometimes you just end up with vague we decisions and then nothing happens, nothing changes.
So there is an alternative. let me share some of the things I’ve learned 20 years of trying to move towards a more self managed environment that make meetings better. One is every agenda item, it’s not a topic to discuss, it’s a tension to process and it’s owned by one person, not the group. So when we have an agenda item, it’s not just we’re going to talk about the website, it’s more something like I or you, somebody, has added this item to the agenda to solve your tension about this thing, right?
And that we then focus everything on that one person. What do you need to get your job done better about this thing? And if I have a need around this general area, I can have my own agenda and then we know who owns each agenda item. It’s also easier to know when we’re done, we’re done when that person gets what they need, right? So we’ve got this clear ownership of, of the agenda item. And it’s not just a general topic, it’s the felt experienced tension.
And I define tension, not in a negative way. This doesn’t mean a bad thing necessarily. It could be an exciting thing. It just means tension. You feel a gap between where we are and where we could be, right? And there’s a kind of a stretching that happens when you hold that tension, that gap. Here’s where we are, here’s where we could be, I need something to move forward. when you need something from your team to move forward, great. Good chance to raise that as a tension on the agenda and get the teams focused on helping you solve your one tension.
So we’re focused on one tension at a time, not all the tensions competing for the space around the topic. One tension at a time. Who owns that tension? Only proceed until that person has gotten what they need, right? And to frame that, to start, you start with asking the person, what, what do you need? And it sounds so simple, but I’ve seen just that one shift to starting your agenda items with that when you have a clear owner and you know who brought the item onto the agenda and then you ask them what do you need? Right?
That changes everything right then and there even in that, that one subtle shift. There’s just a whole orientation around that. You’re asking the person to take ownership of their needs, right? You’re asking for a baseline level of empowerment to own your need, state your request, make whatever comments you want to make, but then ask for what you need, right? Own it, real powerful shift.
And then get clear on a specific request, right? And so one thing I should mention, we’ve built this agenda not upfront before the meeting, but on the fly in the meeting, right? So, so in that meeting we’ve said, what do you need? Do you have needs? Add an agenda item. And the agenda item is a label to talk about your needs. So we don’t talk in depth about each agenda item when we’re building the agenda, we just quickly have everyone add a little one or two word label to the agenda and we know who added each.
So we add their initials with it or something so we know whose agenda item it is. And when we get into their agenda item, we start by asking what do you need and then we listen for requests. We’re listening for what is it you want to make a request for from your colleagues. And there’s different kinds of requests. So when we’re facilitating one of these, our facilitators have a little card. And you can actually download that card on our website, Meg, would you share a link to that, tactical meeting page in our, our chats? Anyone who wants to download this card, here’s an image of it for now so you don’t have to worry about it yet. this is the back of the card. And this has different types of requests, right? So, for example, sometimes what you want to request is for somebody to get something done, right? Great. And if so, then you can ask, “Well, okay, who are you requesting that of?” Or, “What role in the team are you requesting that of?”
And then you can turn to the target of the request and say, “Hey, would it serve your, your function, your role’s purpose, what you’re working towards in this, this team? Would it serve your purpose to take on that outcome or that action?” And then you capture it, right? Capture it concretely. and I’ll show you a little bit more about capturing these in a minute. But notice that that’s one type of request. It’s just one type.
Sometimes you want somebody to get something done, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you want information or input or, or something like that. And that’s the second one here. Do you want input or data? If that’s what you want to request, great. Then you, the facilitator of this process, there’s a facilitator can ask the person who brought the agenda item. Great, go ahead talk. What do you need? You know, ask for what you want and hold space for everyone to share whatever it is that they might share in response until the item owner says, thank you. Right? Thank you I’ve got the information I need, I’m done.
And that’s enough. We move on. It’s not there. We’re not doing this to satisfy anyone but the agenda item owner. So if they want input or, or data, create space for that. And as soon as they get what they need, done. If anyone else still has something they want to say, they can add their own agenda item, which they can do at any point on the fly. Sometimes it’s the opposite. Sometimes the person just wants to share information, to share data. Great.
So that’s the next one. Do you want to share some input or some data? And if so, great, give them space to share. And when they’re done sharing, great. Back into what you need, are you done? We move on. And sometimes it’s a little trickier. Sometimes what you need is to expect something from someone, which is different than you want them to get something done. And I think this is one of our, our key distinctions here, right?
Notice sometimes what you want is somebody to get something done and it’s a onetime thing, right? It’s, it’s I want someone to go take this action once or work towards this outcome and when the outcome is done, it’s complete. But sometimes you want something ongoing, you want to expect something from someone, right? It’s a difference between saying something like, you know, I want somebody to get something done, I want them to launch an update to this page on our website. Great. That’s a onetime thing.
Versus actually, you know, I want somebody, every time we launch a new training, I want them to post this to our blog or whatever. And that’s something you don’t just want once, you want it ongoing, you want to expect it, right? That’s a deeper change. When you’re asking somebody for something one time, it’s easier for them to say sure that, that’s I’ll do that once. But when you’re asking for a new expectation, you’re changing somebody’s job, you’re changing their job description.
And typically we don’t do that in the same meeting process because it takes a little bit more analysis, a little more, a little more something. Different process. I’ll come back to that, talk more about that in a minute. Right? So just notice it’s a different thing if you’re asking for somebody to commit to something on an ongoing basis to change their job. So what happens in a lot of meetings when one of our coaches is facilitating and somebody new to this process, right? We start asking them what do they need and they just start talking. They’re not clear on their request.
And one of the most powerful things you can do if you’re facilitating a meeting and you hear that somebody isn’t clear on the request, it’s just read them these four things, help them feel into their requests, right? So I’ll slowly read the options, slow enough for them to really feel into them, right? Like imagine this. Imagine you show up in a meeting, you’re feeling some tension about something. Facilitator says, “What do you need?” You’re not really sure so you just talk about the tension that you feel.
You talk about something that happened or whatever, right? Or you talk about what we need to do, there’s that unclear we thing again. And then the facilitator turns to you and says, “Okay, what do you need? What requests would you like to make?” Here are four options for you. Do you want someone to get something done? Feel into that. Do you want somebody to get something done one time, an action or a project? Or do you want input or data?
Do you want to just get some space to hear from others and then your complete? Or do you want to share something with the team, have them listen to you, hear you and then that’s it, you’re complete? You don’t need them to do anything, you just want to be heard. Or do you want to expect something from someone on an ongoing basis so you can reliably count on something happening regularly? Which of those requests would you like to make? Right?
This helps you generate a level of clarity in the meeting that I just don’t see on teams that don’t have these clear pathways, don’t try to get clear on what is the request. When everyone’s just discussing then everyone has an opinion and everyone jumps in. When you have one agenda owner, you can ask them to get clear, what do you want to request? Don’t let the whole thing just break out into a discussion. Ask the agenda owner, what do you need? What do you want to request?
If they want to request discussion, they can. That’s usually input or data. They want to just discuss something. Great. Then let a discussion happen, but check in. It’s a mindfulness check first, right? What do you need first? And if they say they want discussion to just get some input, great. But sometimes they don’t want that. They just want to make a request of somebody to get something done. Great. Then give them space to make that request. Ask the target of the request, would it serve your role to get that done? Does it make sense to you? And if so, capture it and move on.
Okay, so that’s that. and what you’re doing then is you’re shifting from trying to seek buy in. This is one of the, the big pitfalls in most meetings that are unstructured, you just look for buy in for everything. You look for consensus, you look for everyone to agree, right? and what happens in Holacracy and what happens if you’re using this meeting process, even outside of Holacracy in any meeting using this, you shift to, instead of seeking buy in, identifying decision making authority.
So when someone says, “Yeah, we need to do something.” Instead of trying to get buy in and consensus on what we should do, we try to get clear who would make the decision to do that or not. Is there a clear person or a role here that would make that decision? And if you do, great. If you, if you have that clarity, great. Then turn to that person and say, great. Well, it’s that person’s decision. What do you want to request of them? Right? You want to ask them to take an action to go reflect on that and make a decision or whatever.
And if you don’t have clear decision making authority, then that’s actually the last one, you want to expect somebody to own that and to make those decisions. So first we need to clarify decision making authority so we can turn to that person. And then sometimes there’s constraints on decision making authority. It doesn’t have to be blanket and autocratic, it can be, sometimes it’s, well one person needs to own the decision but needs to make sure that you know, somebody else says, “Yeah, that’s going to not hurt my area,” or whatever. That’s fine.
You can have more complex decision making authority too. But the key here is whenever you feel yourself shifting to try to get consensus, to try to get buy in, to try to make sure everyone’s okay with it, catch yourself, stop, pull back and ask who makes this decision or what role makes this decision? Let’s get clear first on the authority, first on the expectations and then let’s empower that person to lead their role. Let’s empower that person to make the decision for the team. All right.
So finally, once you do that, you process that agenda item, the end point is when you turn to the owner of the agenda item and you say, “Did you get what you need?” And it’s done when they say, “Yup, I got what I needed.” Check off that agenda item, move to the next. When you do this, you start getting rapid fire meetings. I got a text from one of our clients once that was just getting used to this process and the CEO got so excited, he just texted me after one of his meetings and said, 33 agenda items in 55 minutes. #Holacracywins.
you know, and I, I love that that can happen. I see this all the time. You can get through so many more agenda items when you have this level of clarity. You have one owner, that speeds things up. That owner has to make a clear request, that speeds things up, right? and you’re focusing on what do you need to actually move forward? it’s it’s really powerful. When somebody just starts complaining and talking the facilitator just goes back to, “So what do you need? What’s your request? Here are your four options, which requests would you like to make?” And that just focuses the whole discussion and it speeds everything up.
if you need to, as a facilitator, I’m also doing a little mental math. I want to make sure we get through every item on our agenda, you know? So if I have an hour left in the meeting and we’ve got 10 items left on the, in the agenda or whatever, we’ve got six minutes per item and I’m going to time box it and I’m going to cut it off after six minutes and say, “Sorry, you’re going to have to get your need met out of the meeting. Let’s move on to the next person.”
And it’s rough. I might not be rigid about that. I might give them an extra minute if I think I can make it up later. But my goal, get through every item on the agenda, right? So if we have 30 minutes left in the meeting and you know, 10 agenda items, we have three minutes and it can be that fast. we had a, data collection done in Washington state, had a department in the government that adopted Holacracy and this meeting practice with it.
And they measured these meetings compared to their prior staff meetings and they measured how many meeting minutes does it take someone to get a clear action or clear decision from someone when they need that? And they measured before and after six months of doing this meeting practice. And what they found was after six months of, of this practice, the reduction in meeting minutes to get a clear action, a clear decision was about 90%, right?
That means they can get 10 times done in the same meeting time or their meetings can take one 10th of the time and still get the same amount of accomplished, whichever way you want to look at it. I think that’s pretty remarkable. All right. So let’s do some more advanced ones. So, another thing that I see happening in painful meetings surfacing and processing information end up completely conflated, right? So in other words, you just bring up something and maybe you’re sharing an update on a project, right? But through that update, you end up then getting derailed into talking about, “Well, what do we do about that?” Right?
You’re giving an update or you’re sharing some metrics or something and then you end up discussing what to do about it, right? So that’s something that happens and can just make it muddy and you can take a lot of time just surfacing information or giving updates. and that partly happens because you ask people for just general status updates on their projects. You say what’s going on, and they just talk about their project forever. And then you start going from that into what do we do about it? Then you just get derailed into these big discussions where you’re back to seeking buy in.
Often this happens partly because you’ve got the person leading the meeting is the boss, right? And everyone’s kind of trying to show off or show something or… I mean it can be subtle, but there’s a certain orientation to that power holder in the meeting. and you’re also complaining often, I mentioned this in the last slide, the idea of a one time request for some, somebody to get something done with a new expectation, that those all get processed the same way, right?
and there is an alternative to these two. So you can separate key steps in your meeting for surfacing and processing tension. Surfacing information or updates and processing the actual tensions. so here’s the other side of that card I showed you. This is the meeting process we use, right? And we start with a little check-in. I won’t talk about that in depth now, but the, the next three steps you’ll see on the side here says surface data. These three steps are not about solving anyone’s tensions.
There’s no requests allowed in these steps. There’s no discussing what do we do about something, right? During these steps, we are solely sharing information. We go over some checklists, right? We do, you can read more about this on that page that was shared, the link in the chat. if you want to read about the different steps, there’s more information in there. metrics, we share data points and metrics, and then project updates, we share more about the projects we’re working on.
But in those steps we’re never discussing what to do about anything, right? In those steps, we’re only talking about information. It’s to build a picture, not to, to triage. But when we get to the next steps where we build our agenda on the fly from real tensions and we then triage those tensions, we call it triage because you’re not in depth solving everything. You’re just identifying what’s the request to move this forward, right? That’s where everything I came back I came to on the last slide. That’s all going in the triage step here where we talk about what do you need and we get clear requests.
All that happens in triage after we have cleared different steps for just surfacing information to build a shared, shared reality. Here’s another key. I love this little tweak. You can do this again in your meetings immediately. when you’re sharing project updates don’t allow status reports. I find when you ask somebody for the status of their project, the amount they talk is often inversely proportional to the amount they’ve gotten done. In other words, the less they’ve gotten done, the more they’re just going to tell you all about their project.
So to stop that, the rule we put in place is you can only share what’s different about your project between the last meeting and this meeting or the last update you gave and this one, right? So don’t give us the status. If somebody does that, the facilitator cuts them off and says, “Nope, no status update allowed. Just give us the updates only, the progress, what’s changed. And if nothing has changed, just say no updates and we’ll move right on.” And then we don’t hide the information that this thing is currently not moving, right?
That’s good data for the team in case we want to do something about it, right? So don’t hide it behind a detailed status report. Just say nothing changed in the last week since our last meeting or two weeks. These meetings are often weekly or every other week. So updates only, what’s different? And part of what helps this process, the facilitator of it is not the boss or the power holder. Now there’s somebody elected from the team to do just the facilitation.
I mean, they have other jobs on the team as well, but in this meeting they might still represent other functions as well, but their first job is kind of, kind of to be the referee, right? They’re not the team captain, they’re not the cheerleader for the team, they’re the referee. They’re there just to hold the process. They’re not there to make sure we, you know, get the right results from the process. That’s everyone’s job, right? It’s not the boss’s job either. It’s your job, when you bring an agenda item, to own your tension, to own your need, to make whatever requests you want to move your area forward.
It is not the boss’s job to direct progress on the team. It’s everyone’s job to drive progress in their area, and it’s not the facilitator’s job. They’re just the referee, right? So really it helps to have that neutral referee who’s just asking the questions, holding the space, asking what do you need, reading you your options, helping you get clear, but it’s up to you to drive, drive that, drive your agenda items.
And finally, when you do identify that you need to clarify expectations or decision making authority, don’t try to do that in the same meeting. It takes a lot longer. There is a need for more integration during that. in, in the self management world and in Holacracy in particular, in the framework that Holacracy gives you, there’s a separate meeting process to that called a governance meeting. We’re not going to talk about that in this meeting, but if you’re curious, Jen, could you share the link for us? Thank you.
if you want to see more about the governance meeting, check out that link, that Jen just shared in the chat. it’ll give you a little walkthrough and there’s actually a video, kind of like this webinar we did one just about the governance process. So you can watch more about that process there if you want. That process is only used for setting clear expectations, updating people’s roles. it’s, it’s defining your power structure of your company as opposed to the process I’m showing you now, which is more standard, typical meetings, triage, get stuff done, identify actions, things like that.
and the final thing, I want to take some time for more than just meetings and then I’ll, I’ll leave some space for Q&A at the end as well. So I’ve seen a couple of hands for questions hold those, we, we’ll come back to those. But the final thing I’ll share, we have a little software tool that we use and there’s lots of different tools you can use. I’ll just show you the one that my company uses. And this is a software product we make, ourselves as well.
this is, we use this in our meetings and, and it really helps. So here is, it’s called GlassFrog, right? Here’s our GlassFrog software. this is a, it gives you a little visual map of the team, right? I can see out here, I’ll Zoom in here. I can see all the roles on our team, all these little bubbles, our role on our team. We have different circles, which are our teams, right? and then on the team I can see the purpose of the team and current strategies.
I can, I can zoom around. I think like here’s our marketing team, right? they have their own purpose for our marketing team. They have, some priorities, they have, accountabilities, things we can expect of the marketing team. every team also has a list of roles, right? these are the roles or the functions on the team. So we have this level of clarity which we link to in our meetings. so you know, we have here all the roles on our team, the purpose of each role, who fills it.
we also have a project board we use in our meetings. So this is showing us here are all the projects in our team, all the current projects. we have some future projects, waiting projects, done projects, right? Little project board that shows us what are the outcomes we’re working towards. And when we, we start a meeting, right? The, the tool kind of walks us through the meeting process I just showed you.
so in the meeting, I’ve got a little agenda, the same thing from the card I showed you, I can walk through, you know, here’s our, here’s our checklist. We don’t have much on our, our checklist for that team. We have a lot of metrics we share. We can go through our project chord with all of our projects, right? We do our updates here and then when we get to triage, we can capture clear output. And this is so important. Whatever tool you use, capture in writing, what’s the output. Don’t just rely on just a group sense of that or verbal, right? Make it clear.
There’s something about the act of writing down the action that really helps make it more concrete. Otherwise, you can leave a meeting all thinking you agreed to the same thing and have completely different ideas on what actually is going to happen. So when you have to get clear, what is the action? You know, the action is, oh, I don’t know, add new training to the website event page, right? Or whatever. And then, okay, not only that, who’s going to do that? What role is going to do that? Right? I don’t know. Or help us have that, whatever and who fills that role, right?
And then we can save it and we can get a running list of meeting outputs and then all those will get distributed out after the team. You can also capture new projects this way rather than you can get clear what is the outcome that you want from this project. and when you do that, that adds it to the project board. So we can now get updates on it in the next meetings. Having some kind of meeting tool to help you, it’s useful, even in in-person meetings to have this on a projector.
But when you’re in a virtual meeting, it’s even more important, right? To have everyone be able to look at the shared screen. If you’re all using this tool, it’ll sync up across the different people. So when one person adds it, everyone sees what is the outcome or the, the action. it just helps you so much get clear concrete outcomes, right? and I’m not going to save this. I’m gonna close this meeting in my company before I add random actions and projects to random team members. but that’s the tool we use. You can find more about this tool at glassfrog.com. Jen, can you share a link to the GlassFrog website?
There’s a free version of the tool that lets you run the meetings and all that. So there’s no cost to it. There’s a premium version. If you are going to go more into self-management, there’s tools that will help you in the premium version, but it’s a hundred percent free for the basic meeting support and visualization tools that they showed you there. So that’s GlassFrog.
Let’s go back and now talk beyond just the meetings. and it’s working remotely, virtual it’s not just about the meetings. And in fact that’s probably the single most important point I can make even though we just talked a lot about meetings. The risk in working virtually, when we’re in person, we rely so much on meetings to get things done. If we carry that outside to the virtual workplace, it’s harder to have meetings and it’s just something about the nature of virtual work. Even with Zoom or whatever, it’s harder to have meetings. It’s more draining.
And if you wait to meetings for everything, nothing gets done but meetings. So the key thing I, the biggest point I think I’ve learned is if you want to a, a functional high productivity virtual work environment, you need less meetings. You need to rely less on the meetings. You need your meetings to be more efficient, right? Which your process. That’s why I spent so long talking about meetings. If you don’t fix your meetings, people will tend to use them more.
When you were ever really disciplined, really good meetings, that can help you decrease the amount of people have to spend in them. And it’s not just the meetings though that have to be good, you need clarity, you need clear expectations. People need to know what’s expected of them and what’s theirs to lead. When people know what is theirs to lead, they don’t need to, they don’t need to go to a meeting for everything to get grouped by it, right? That’s the whole point I shared earlier about avoiding buy in and instead identify decision making authority.
When people are clear on what’s there as to lead and the boundaries, they’re free to go lead. there’s a great story about that experiment done with, it was I think kindergartners in a playground. And they studied how much of the playground space did the, the kids use. And they found when the playground wasn’t fenced in, the kids tended to stay really clustered right in the center. They didn’t explore, they didn’t use all the space. When they had a fence way out, a fence around the whole perimeter, the kids spread out. They actually used far more of the space. They felt free to play in the complete space given to them because there was a clear boundary, okay?
You need that into your teams. You need clear expectations and clear boundaries. You need people free to completely play within their playground. They need to know what’s theirs to lead and do and decide without a meeting, without talking to anyone. And they need to know what they can expect from others, right? They need clear expectations from their colleagues. They know what’s, what they can lean on other for. Clear expectations and clear boundaries, right?
If you don’t know the limits to your power, you don’t know your power. If you don’t know the limits to your freedom, you don’t know your freedom. If you don’t know what you, you can’t do without talking to someone, then you don’t know what you can do without talking to anyone. So you need clarity, especially on a virtual team. This is helpful in person. It’s, it’s a deal killer. If you have a virtual team with no clarity, you’re screwed. You’re not gonna get anything done. You’re gonna spend all your time in meetings with everyone trying to make sure everyone else is okay with whatever action they want to do.
If you want more done virtually, you need to give people more freedom. And to do that, you need to clarify the lack of freedom, the boundary. You need people to know, here’s your role. Within that role, you have the complete freedom to take any action you want to get anything done, right? Within these boundaries. If you’re going to step outside this, you need to talk to someone. If you’re going to go do that, that thing over there, you need to talk to someone. But within this area, lead, don’t get buy in. Don’t get consensus, just lead your role.
And here’s an example of a role. This is one of the roles in my team, resources product manager. Every role in our team has a purpose that gives people the biggest picture why does this role exist? Right? Start with that why, let somebody lead towards that. it also has some accountabilities down here. These are the things that others can expect of this role and it tells the role what’s it’s to lead. The purpose and accountabilities give you your, your playground space, right? Lead in these areas.
The domains give restrictions for others. Domains say, this is what this role controls, this is its property. That tells everyone else, don’t mess in this. This is, this role’s playground. Don’t mess in that area without checking in, right? So if you’re going to, for example, want to publish a blog post in my company, you know, right? Then, you need to check in here. Or if you want to name one of our or our courses, officially make a name for a course, you need to check in with this role. This role controls those things, right?
This gives you the boundaries for other roles to honor. When you have this clarity, it’s easier to take a stance that says in your role, go do anything to lead your purpose or get your accountabilities done. Use your judgment, lead. Don’t talk to people, don’t get buy in. Don’t come to meetings, just lead in your area. Except, if you want to mess with these domains, then you need to check in with Matt or Tara who fill our resources product manager role. And there’s other roles with the other areas that they control.
When you have those kinds of property rights controlled, you know what’s yours to lead. Just like in society, right? I don’t need to call a meeting of my neighbors to get consensus on redecorating my kitchen. I know it’s my kitchen. I know it’s mine to lead, but I know not to walk into my neighbor’s house, especially now, right? And go do something in his kitchen without checking in. That’s his territory.
When you carve out and clarify territories, you also clarify people’s freedom to lead within theirs and they know when it connects to someone else. And you can add expectations on them to connect with other people when that’s needed, right? Like we’ve got one here, the third one, proactively working with brand identity and other role. And that tells, it tells you when you need to reach out and coordinate with somebody else. And about what? To develop names, right? There we go.
so all of this really, really helps us. it helps us get clarity on what we don’t need a meeting for, what we can just lead on our own. This is the kind of clarity we generate in the governance meetings in our process. and it really doesn’t, I mean it does matter. I think our governance process is, is really good. But even if you just have your managers do this. If you’re in a management hierarchy, fine, have your managers clarify things.
But make them use this discipline because frankly, do you want your managers micromanaging, right? And, and just telling people what to do? Or do you want your managers creating clarity and giving people the freedom to lead? And if you’re a manager, do you want to be the kind of manager that creates followers who do what they’re told? Or do you want to be the kind of manager who creates leaders? Right? If you want to do that, you need to clarify people’s boundaries and authority and give them freedom to lead within them, right?
So you can use that tactical meeting process I shared, have that discipline, have this kind of role clarity even in a management hierarchy where the managers of the team create this clarity, create the roles, and then give people the autonomy to go lead within their roles. So you don’t have to go full self management to, to benefit from some of this. If you had the governance process, now you start not needing the managers anymore because you have a team process that can actually clarify all this.
And there’s one last general principle I want to make. and then we’ll move in and take our last 10 minutes for some Q&A. so the general principle is, it’s just a pull back to the paradigm that I’m pointing to here. This is, it’s a lot about empowerment, it’s a lot about creating the clarity that leads to empowerment and the kind of meeting structure that invites people to step into their empowerment. This represents a very different control paradigm than what we’re used to in most companies, right?
And to illustrate this, I have two control paradigms for traffic here on this slide, right? I’ve got on the left your stoplights. This is the way we control traffic often in cities today and more and more we’re seeing more roundabouts, especially in the US. This was something Europe is way ahead of us in this, but we’re adding more. And that’s because research consistently has found two measures that different research studies have looked at.
One is which of these two paradigms lets more traffic through in a shorter amount of timeframe, which has greater flow through the system? And it’s the right one. It’s traffic circles. They have far greater flow than stoplights, they let way more traffic through. They’ve also studied which one is safer and it’s also traffic circles. The traffic circle has far greater safety, less accidents per vehicle moving through the system, right? It’s a safer paradigm as well. More flow and it’s safer.
But which one’s harder to drive in, which one requires more of the driver? It’s also the traffic circle. And that’s the challenge with this paradigm I’m pointing towards, right? If you’re driving in a traffic circle, you don’t get to just give up your autonomy to some external authority. The traffic light, the central planner that has designed the city and the system, right? You don’t get to just give up your autonomy and wait to be told what to do, when to stop and when to go.
In a traffic circle, you have to stay present. You have to be conscious, you have to coordinate with everyone around you in real time. But you have to own your part of it, right? You own your part, you trust others to own their part and you synchronize, you coordinate. It takes more, it’s harder, it takes more presence, more consciousness, more empowerment and it works better. The challenge I think we’re going to see, especially in our, our current world, especially if, if what we’re seeing now lasts and virtual working is more of a, a here to stay or at least more substantial thing in our world.
We have companies today that are predominantly built in the left hand side control paradigm. And that, that’s that straining. As complexity increases, that fails more and more. And when you go virtual, complexity increases. It’s also harder to do it virtually and it’s harder to control through top-down controls and central plans when everyone is in their own little office doing their own thing and it’s harder to just go see them and talk to them.
I think more and more as complexity increases, we need this, this other paradigm of how to get control. One that leaves people with more power, more freedom to self organize and self manage in the moment, even in a management hierarchy, even if you’re not changing your whole power structure, you need more self management to deal with complexity. It doesn’t have to be a black or white thing. So I hope this has been helpful. I hope it’s given you some concrete tips you can apply to make your virtual working or your in person working better when you get back to that.
let’s take our last, a bit of time here for some Q&A. So there’s the, question and answer at the bottom of your Zoom window, you can post it there. You can also raise a hand if you want to ask a question vocally, please feel free. This little raise hand icon, as well. I’m going to, oops, we’re not going to do that. There we go. For more information about all this, you can also see our website, holacracy.org. Jen, could you share a link just to our general site?
There’s more about this whole framework. We’ve just given you a glimpse of it. There’s a lot more moving parts, you can find more on a website. But let’s move into Q&A. Feel free to raise a hand if you want to, talk verbally. If you raised a hand earlier, it’s probably clear to go to raise your hand again or type your question if you prefer. Okay, so let’s see. let me look at our questions here. I hear one, my technical business partner is unable to keep his agenda items to himself until tactical meetings. He uses his inbox, his to do list, doesn’t trust using folders. Any thoughts on how to manage this?
I mean if somebody is going to share their agenda items before the meeting, cool. Just ignore them. Let them bring them in the meeting too. I make my own list of agenda items before the meeting, right? It’s, I’m not saying don’t have your own self discipline of you know, tracking what you want to talk about in the meeting. I do that. I’ve got a list of like, oh hey, this thing came up for me. I want to talk about it in the next meeting. I’ll put myself a note, make a little list. I don’t share it with others. I’d rather just bring it to the meeting. I don’t want to waste people’s time.
And even in the meeting I’m doing a little double checking myself. I’m saying, is this still relevant? Do I still feel tension about this thing? Because if I don’t, I’m not going to waste our time putting it on the agenda. So I’m not building an agenda and circulating it in advance. I just have my own list of things I think I want to talk about. And if your business partner is doing that, great. If he’s also circulating it and try to build an agenda, see if you can ask for an experiment.
You don’t have to get somebody’s commitment to totally change forever. But ask, can we try building agendas on the fly? You can still have your list. Can we try it? Try it for a month or two, see if it works better. I suspect it will. give it a shot. All right. Let’s see. let’s see. what else? how do you manage across multiple time zones? I see that question. Yeah. it’s a challenge. we have people get across, Oh, I think nine, 10 times zone, something like that.
we schedule meetings when we can. we often end up scheduling the morning Pacific time and late in Europe, right? That just tends to be the time zone that works out for us. sometimes we also schedule them when somebody can’t make them. The nice thing about Zoom, you can record the meeting if you want. what I love is and when I play back recorded meetings, I played them on 2X speed. That works great for me. You know, so you can, you can record meetings when you need to.
the other nice thing is sometimes missing a meeting isn’t so bad when you have clear output, right? I, I notice people are less concerned about missing meetings in, in Holacracy. and it’s because they can see the output clearly and if they want to dig in, they can go ask somebody, they know who’s tension it was. If you’re using our tool GlassFrog, it tracks for you whose tension were you solving and what were the outputs. And, and you know, the, the tension and the outputs, it’s all there.
So you can go back in and ask them, “Hey, tell me more about what led to that if you need to.” Or you can just look at the output. In fact, even in a meeting, one of the things I do when an agenda item comes up because it’s not just a general discussion, it’s one person’s tension. I check myself, I, I listen, what’s the tension? And I ask, am I involved in this? Do I have a role that cares about this or do I, do I have input that could help this person? And if the answer to those is no, I intentionally check out into the next agenda item.
Jen, could you find the blog post that Chris just wrote called Constructive Disengagement and share a link in the chat? I love this blog post. This might be helpful, right? I would encourage people to be disengaged in parts of meeting. The key is there’s an non-constructive disengagement, right? Or a harmful disengagement. And that’s when you’re not even listening, what is the tension? And do I have something to contribute? Right?
When you ignore that part, you’re wasting everyone’s time. But when you consciously listen at the start of an agenda item and assess, do I have anything to contribute to this, and the answer is no. When you’re using this kind of discipline meeting process, it’s safe to check out. So I’ll do that and I’ll just start doing my own email, right? Until the next agenda item when I get right back to present. And I listen, do I have anything to contribute? Am I needed in this agenda item? And if so, I stay present and if not, I continue checking out and doing my email, right?
and I love that that is useful. In most meetings, that’s not useful. Being disengaged like that is a horrible idea and it’ll make your meetings worse. But when you have good disciplined ownership of tensions, right? And clear requests, it’s safe. And that also, it’s the same thing that makes it safe to miss meetings if you have times on issues. When you have clear outputs and clear tensions leading to them, it becomes safer to miss a meeting. so I hope that helps. let’s see, what else do we have?
how are accountabilities handled when somebody who has freedom to lead in an area they’re accountable for something doesn’t, they don’t lead? You still get that, right? and it depends, if you’re in a completely self managing environment, if you’re using Holacracy as a framework, you have another role that’s worried about that and you have a role that can make changes and work towards them. You still can have somebody with the freedom to lead when somebody else has the freedom to kick them out of leadership, right?
And I think that’s really interesting. That’s different than the freedom to micromanage, right? In, in the Holacracy framework, no one has the freedom to micromanage. You can’t go tell someone else what to do and how to do their job. But there is a role that can kick somebody else out of a role. They can’t tell them how to do their role, but they can assess are they meeting the role effectively? You can still have that. Or you can decide to do it a different way. It’s part of what we do in our governance process.
We define how was that handled, that itself is attention. If you have attention about somebody’s performance, solve it. Just don’t solve it by micromanaging, solve it some other way. Maybe you just need clear expectations in their roles. Sometimes, actually often I see when somebody is concerned about someone else’s performance, it’s just a lack of clarity at play. It’s not a performance problem. Sometimes it’s a system problem. We often mistake system problems for performance problems.
Sometimes it’s a problem where the system doesn’t have the right processes or isn’t clear enough, we don’t have the right clarity of expectations. So before you jump to this is a performance problem. Ask is the process right, is the system right? Is the, the expectation on them clear? Because sometimes that’s the issue. Most of the time in my experience, if you’re coming from a traditional environment, that’s the issue. It’s not a performance problem. You will still have performance problems and you still need to deal with them.
Okay. what another question. What if attention needs to be longer than 30 minutes of discussion, right? Or longer than five minutes? Sometimes only five minutes per agenda item in a tactical meeting. then yeah, schedule a different meeting. sometimes I, I do this, I schedule a meeting because I just want to brainstorm about a project of mine for half an hour or an hour. Great. I schedule a meeting, I tell people what I’m doing with the meeting, why I want them there.
I’m clear about the purpose. I’m clear about the roles at play, you know, why am I doing this? I’m clear about the outcome I want from this meeting and I own that and I facilitate it. Fine. Right? If you want a meeting for that, schedule a meeting for that. The tactical process I showed is more for your general staff meetings or your general triage. It’s, it’s the meeting to go to when you’re not sure what else to do and you just need to ask for help from your team, right?
Or, you know, you know, you have everyone in the same room for a short time or the same virtual room so you can make a request if somebody that’s… You’ve just been busy. They’ve been doing their thing, you’ve been doing yours. At least you have them there and you can make a quick request. All right, let me take one of the in person, or the real time questions. Anne, Anne, and go ahead. You’re unmuted, your question. Anne, I’m not hearing you. oh, it looks like your mic is muted.
Now it’s unmuted, okay. How often do you do tactical meetings? And what if someone has so much tension that he or she can’t wait?
Yeah, so, we typically, most teams find they’re useful once a week or once every other week. Those are the most common frequencies I see. but you can adapt it to the team. I’ve seen some teams just doing once a month. I’ve seen other teams do the tactical meeting in a short format every day. They skip all the like metrics and the checklist, they just do those once every couple of weeks. But the little triage part, they’ll do a really quick one, sometimes 15 minutes every day. I’ve seen that work.
it really is up to the team. I find weekly or every other week most common. and if somebody can’t wait, don’t wait. This is one of the key things about this whole process. The meeting is just there to be convenient, to make a request. You never need to wait for the meeting. You can always just call someone and make a request or use Slack or whatever virtual email and just make a request. You never need to wait for the meeting.
This is one of the major cultural shifts that we try to instill in our clients when we help them with this, we want to shift them from a culture where everybody waits to a meeting, to a culture where the meetings are just your convenient fallback and by default you do something out of a meeting if you can. So don’t wait for a meeting if you have too much tension, just go solve your tension, right? The meeting is only there when it’s the most convenient path for you. Not in any way because you should have wait for a meeting.
A lot of cultures today, the implicit culture is you should wait to discuss it in a meeting. That’s exactly what we’re trying to change. Instead, you should lead your role. And lead your role means taking autocratic action within your balance, outside of meetings and use the meetings when it’s convenient for you because you want to request something from your colleagues. Hope that answers that question. et’s try to take one more in our, our remaining time. Thanks Anne.
so let’s see. yeah. Okay, so here’s, here’s a good one. I am the facilitator in a tactical meeting, but very new to it. How do you handle it in a meeting when it becomes a blame game when attention is raised? yeah, I love this. as a facilitator, when I hear blame creep in, I use our role clarity for that. So the first thing I do is I get back to, okay, well what do you want to request? What do you want to, to expect? Usually when there’s blame, it’s because there’s an expectation that was violated.
So I try to get clear, what do you need? Do you want someone to get something done or do you want to expect something from someone? And I help that person get clear, oh no, I want to expect something. This person should have done something. And then I want to get clear, what is it you were expecting? And then I pull up the role, I use our GlassFrog and I pull it up on the shared screen for everybody, right?
I say, well, okay, well what’s the role? Right? So here, let me, let me actually show you, right. So I pull up our GlassFrog again. I pull up the role, right? Let’s say they’re trying to expect something from, oh, I don’t know our, what’s a good role here? Contract steward, right? This is one of our legal assistant kind of roles, right? This role is real simple. It has a purpose, it has an accountability. so let’s say somebody wants to expect something.
You’re saying, you know, “You missed a, a key filing. You should have filed this, you know, this, this business registration for us in the new state we’re doing business in.” Well, I’d pull up this role and I’d say, “Are they accountable for business registrations? Look at that. They’re not.” Usually when somebody is blaming someone, it’s an accountability that isn’t clear. So I want to just get really honest and clear. And the rule of Holacracy, the rule of this, the process we use is if it’s not a clear accountability, you have no right to expect it.
So once I pull up the role, I’ll tell the person, “Look, it’s not in the accountability. There’s nothing here about business registrations.” So you don’t have any right to expect it of this person. So I’m holding up a mirror to the blame and I’m showing them this is about you, not the other person. You need clarity. And then I’ll ask them, do you want to expect it? Would you like to be able to expect it of this role? Because if so, you can. You just need to get it as a clear accountability and then you can expect it, right?
And to do that, in Holacracy, we use our governance process. If you’re in a management hierarchy, it might be just the boss of the team gets to decide on who’s accountable for what and clarify that. But I want to see it clarified in here so we know what we can expect from each other. So I cut through blame by getting clear on what’s the request and what are the expectations you want and let’s get those clear. And often that just melts away the blame. The, the person shifts from being a victim, blaming someone else to being empowered. What do I need? I need to clarify expectations, or I need to make a clear request for somebody.
And I love seeing that shift. When you can get somebody to shift from victim energy to owner, like owning their work, empowered energy, that is so powerful. And our meetings can be a practice ground for empowerment. I think our companies can be a practice ground for empowerment. and for me that goes way beyond. I’ll close on this note. Even our meetings, I think our world, especially today, we’re in unprecedented times. I think the thing our world needs most is empowered people.
And I think our companies can be a practice ground. I think empowered people can change the damn planet. And I think our company is in the best place to practice empowerment. And to do that, we need clarity, we need discipline, processes, we need the ways, the tools to empower people. I hope I’ve left you with a few tools that you can empower your team a little bit more. because ultimately you can’t empower anyone, all you can do is give them the environment, the structure, and the tools where they can empower themselves.
And I think these kinds of practices I’m showing you, this kind of clarity gives people the tools where they can choose to empower themselves. All right. So thanks everyone. I really appreciate your time. it’s been a pleasure getting to, to share some of my wisdom with you. If you want to learn more, please check out our website or reach out to us. we do a lot of coaching work, we have trainings.
Jen, if you would, share a link to our trainings. Obviously no one’s attending in person trainings right now, but if you’re on our mailing list, we’ll be scheduling a virtual training soon. And of course we have in person ones once the the, the current crisis has settled down a bit. We also offer virtual coaching. So check out our website or reach out to us if we can support your journey. And thanks again for your time. Have a great day.
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