BL&T No. 051: Experimenting with Monthly Team Meetings

Company Culture

This post originally appeared in my newsletter, Borrowed, Learned, & Thought. BL&T is sent weekly on Mondays. In every edition, I share lessons learned in agency leadership, life, and e-commerce. This post does not include all the details shared in the newsletter sent via email. Subscribe here.


"Not to be cute, but rather to be instructive, I would ask you to view the word try as an acronym for The Real You. Through years of teaching, we know for a fact that most people will never know who they really are or what they can really achieve because they fear to try. The Real You can show up only when you try. So don’t be left high and dry—just aim high and try!"

From "The Millionaire Real Estate Agent" by Gary Keller, Jay Papasan, Dave Jenks [Book]


I hit a wall this weekend trying to complete this newsletter. I wanted to write about last week's Monthly Team Meeting but kept losing momentum. Sometimes, when this happens, I compile a list of questions to find a way forward. This time, I wondered, what if I kept the questions and essentially interviewed myself? In the end, I found the process pretty amusing and incredibly reflective.

Last week, you ran the Monthly Team Meeting at Barrel. What happens in this meeting?

Yes! We use the time together to celebrate wins, share company-wide updates, discuss personal growth, and recognize outstanding performance with our peer-nominated, Exemplar of the Month. I like to think of it as a monthly experiment. It used to be a shared responsibility among the Barrel partners, but I took over ownership last October. Since then, I've enjoyed trying something new each month and soliciting feedback at every step.

An experiment, huh? What did you try this month?

Well, in terms of content, it was a continuation of two changes from last month, one to the 3-2-1 GROWTH section and the other to Barrel Trivia.

Sure, tell us more.

I'll start with Barrel Trivia. That's an easy one. At the end of last year, we introduced Barrel Trivia as a new way to engage the team and educate them on Barrel's history. We use Zoom's poll feature. Until last month, it was one question about a Barrel client and one about our history.

Since Barrel Trivia has gotten a lot of good feedback, I decided to add another question, spotlighting a team member who had recently joined. This month, I chose a team member at random and did the same. Simple update, but the team had fun with it.

Nice, and 3-2-1 GROWTH?

We introduced this section in March. After inviting executive coaching team Novus Global for a team workshop, we saw an opportunity to engage with topics around personal growth and feedback on an ongoing basis. I'd even say that the team was hungry for it.

3-2-1 GROWTH has evolved quite a bit since. In the beginning, we would call forward three volunteers from the team to each answer two questions. To close out the discussion, we revisited one topic from Novus, asking everyone to respond in the chat.

Ah, 3-2-1. Got it. Seems like a unique discussion to have as a team.

Definitely, and I won't sugarcoat it - the discussion always begins with a few seconds of crickets. Although, thanks to some chill background music, it's never totally silent! But, it's okay. I get it. Prompts like, explain a time where it was difficult to give feedback, but once you did, the situation improved, aren't easy to talk about as a group!

With the team’s feedback, we've continued to try new things, everything from selecting people ahead of time to using breakout rooms for discussion. The latest iteration has focused on what we call swings.

What's a swing?

Like a player up to bat, a swing is an attempt to progress on our goals. If we never swing, we'll never know if we hit it out of the park or missed the ball. If it's the latter, we can take those setbacks as opportunities to improve our swing for future wins.

The idea came from realizing that while we've embedded shoutouts into our culture, people rarely give themselves a public pat on the back. Sometimes, that's all we need to keep going! The hope was that a discussion around swings would not only shed light on everyone's work but create a learning opportunity for how each of us handles roadblocks.

The format is straightforward. On the screen, we have a grid of thought starters along with these questions:

  • Wins: What are you proud that you've accomplished?
  • Setbacks: What didn't go as planned? What did you learn?
  • WIP: What goal or vision are you currently going after?

Nice! I can see the topic of swings leading to some interesting conversation. How would you say the meeting went this month?

Quite well, actually. I can't remember what happened last month, maybe a sound issue at the start of the meeting, but I felt off the entire time. I appreciated the positive reinforcement from the partners afterward, though.

Regardless, this month was much better. 3-2-1 GROWTH got into recent project challenges that had us all reflecting on our work. As a whole, I not only felt good leading the meeting, but I don't know - it just felt comfortable all around. There were lots of laughs.

The experience got me thinking back to the office days. By nature of conference room set up, the meeting used to be pretty formal. The partner leading that month would stand in front of the room and present the slides with help from any relevant team members. It was a good meeting. We often felt this sense of togetherness, but reflecting now, I wonder how much of that was due to literally being together. I'd go out on a limb and say that I'm slowly feeling a greater sense of camaraderie on Zoom these days.

That's interesting, especially with all the buzz about how isolating remote work can feel at times. What do you think is contributing to this sense of camaraderie?

Yeah, for sure - I can see that. We could spend another few hours discussing remote work! For now, I'll say this - it can be challenging if the organization hasn't made it a priority.

I attribute much of Barrel's success with remote work to fully committing to being a distributed team early on, not long after the COVID pandemic sent us home. We announced it to the team in May 2020. I'm proud of the team's willingness to iterate, learn, and give feedback to continually improve our culture.

Anyway, I digress. Camaraderie is fascinating to me. In many ways, I imagine it's what any agency leader wants to see in their company culture, but it's not something you can create overnight. When I first set out on this Monthly Team Meeting journey, I think I may have lost sight of that, almost trying to manufacture camaraderie.

Manufacture camaraderie - what do you mean by that?

From day one, I had a vision that the meeting could be less of a meeting and more of a team dialogue, but I didn't know how to get there. I thought calling people forward to participate and inviting team members to emcee parts of the meeting would do it. While it felt good at first, it became a bit formulaic, and... forced.

I see. What's changed?

My goal for the future was always to invite anyone participating in the meeting to collaborate with me on the deck, but it just never felt like the right time. Deep down inside, perhaps I was afraid to give it up, worried the presentation might suffer. So, each month I sent out a spreadsheet to collect content. I'd then translate that into the deck. You could call it collaboration, but I remained in full control. Not to mention that people rarely updated the spreadsheet on time.

Over the past couple of months, I've been getting help on the deck from our design director, Christine, and it's been great. So, this month, I decided to put the spreadsheet to rest. I also invited more people to collaborate - our marketing coordinator, Chelsea, and talent acquisition manager, James. I created the deck and assigned everyone slides.

Getting everyone involved was huge. The deck came together on-time and looked good. However, the meeting itself was where I saw the most impact. With everyone taking ownership over slides, I could tell they felt more comfortable presenting. In some cases, they even invited other team members to join them in sharing information. It was nice to hear from so many folks.

Love that. By getting people more involved, you're almost more of a facilitator.

Exactly. In hindsight, it makes sense. If you get more people involved, there will be more voices in the room, and as a result, the discussion will feel more lively.

So true. Well, we're about out of time - it's been great chatting with myself. If you had to sum up your Monthly Team Meeting experience so far into one lesson, what would that be?

It all boils down to embracing experimentation to achieve results. When we feel responsible for the success of something, it can be hard to let go. We hold on to control, avoiding discomfort. What we don't see is how that might be holding us back, like me, waiting for the right time to co-create the deck.

Another piece to this is feedback. If we operate only on our assumptions, we're leaving valuable information on the table. I've become a strong believer in soliciting feedback as much as possible to make sure I'm considering all perspectives before I prepare for the next swing.

Thought Starter

Think about a personal goal. If nothing changes, will you achieve it? What might you learn by trying something new?

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