Evolving Quarterly Team Leads Debrief Session

Ways of Working

Last quarter, I wrote an essay about our new process for running debriefs across the agency each quarter (read it here).

At a high level, each team meets to discuss notable accomplishments, lessons learned, and feedback (for teammates, leadership, and manager). From there, each Team Leads synthesizes the notes into the following:

  1. Growth Areas: The top 3 areas that your team has shown growth over the last quarter
  2. Lessons Learned: The top 3 lessons learned last quarter
  3. Feedback We Should Consider: The top 3 themes from your team’s feedback
  4. Focus for Next Quarter: What are 3-5 focus areas for your team’s growth next quarter?

With Q3 coming to a close, each team went through this process in late September. On Tuesday, the Barrel leadership team met to review key takeaways and focus areas for Q4.

Taking into account the feedback from last quarter's session, we made a few changes to the format this time around:

  • More guidance for how Team Leads should synthesize their meeting notes
  • A plan for Team Lead presentations, beginning with each sharing the sentiment from their team's debrief meeting
  • Designated time for the whole group to discuss shared themes across all teams

Overall, it was a productive session in that we made time to pause, zoom out from the day-to-day and reflect as a group. The challenge, though, was not having enough time to dig into the themes and align on focus areas for the next quarter. The group shared the same sentiment, rating the meeting with 7s and 8s across the board. In the future, I think the space to align will be the most valuable use of our time together.

I'm inspired by Amazon's culture of writing memos to frame and run meetings. In theory, it seems like an effective way to save time and promote thinking.

"The reason writing a good 4 page memo is harder than “writing” a 20 page powerpoint is because the narrative structure of a good memo forces better thought and better understanding of what’s more important than what, and how things are related. Powerpoint-style presentations somehow give permission to gloss over ideas, flatten out any sense of relative importance, and ignore the interconnectedness of ideas." (Colin Bryar and Bill Carr, Working Backwards)

Rather than extend our quarterly session meeting time, I like the idea of introducing writing and reading. An updated process might look this:

  • Team Leads write an in-depth synthesis of their notes with any necessary context typically added via presentation voiceover (perhaps a one or two-page limit)
  • Everyone comes prepared, having read each other's notes and decided on what they see as the top focus areas for the coming quarter
  • We use the allotted meeting time to answer any questions and a deep discussion on focus areas, breaking out any immediate to-do list items for the team

This post originally appeared in Edition No. 109 of my newsletter. Subscribe here.

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