How do we deal with misunderstandings in a remotely managed team?
Inwedo began work on improving the quality of cooperation over two years ago. Then came the Tensions meetings – they were supposed to relieve the disappointment over the discrepancy between the present and desired states, find sources of anxiety and give them a vent. Group wisdom has had a phenomenal impact on the quality of internal communication – in the early 2020s, the need to meet at Tensions began to fade in favor of other forms of knowledge leveling.
The team was well prepared to go into remote mode when it came to face the lockdown. Long before we were forced to pack equipment overnight and start broadcasting from a home address (from my perspective, it is a very important element: building a remote culture does not happen overnight!). Today, after almost a year, we can calmly describe our evolution towards running a remote team that, despite the physical distance, forms a whole.
Managing a remote team: why was it necessary to introduce Tensions meetings?
Head of Transparency
Tension is stress, discomfort, which is due to the discrepancy between the present and desired states. Each of us feels such tensions – they foster change and development. They often trigger ideas on how to implement a given process or task differently, better, more efficiently. Tensions meetings provided us with space to define such stresses: anyone could report them, e.g., through a Product Owner or Tech Leader. This allowed us to plan further steps in the implementation of the adopted solution. The idea of Tensions stems from the holacracy that we are also inspired by in building Inwedo.
A direct impulse for Tensions has been the need to take many operational responsibilities off the board’s shoulders and give responsibility to the team. Probably most of us are familiar with this: key people in the team are involved in so many areas of the company’s activities that many topics simply get bottlenecked. Not to mention the increase in the level of frustration. We asked ourselves: how do we make Founders no longer necessary everywhere?
Dominik Goss, Founder at Inwedo: “Founders’ commitment to operational work has a destructive effect on everything: the company, the team, themselves, development. In the context of the team: it has a blocking effect, because it prolongs the decision-making process, often preventing independence. In my personal context, as any leader, a strong preoccupation with operational work can lead to an escalation of the problem. How does it work?
If leaders are involved in too many areas, they know the numerous contexts of different projects and learn of many needs. Then there is one solution: they have to choose. And they choose what they consider a priority at the moment, or what really cries for attention. During this time, the remaining needs, left unattended, grow. They are becoming a problem and escalating. From here, the path to frustration is short.”
At Tensions, we brought up our general company problems or topics that we couldn’t handle in design work. And either we solved these problems together, or we appointed a keeper for a given topic to help monitor the process development. The effectiveness of Tensions began bearing fruit so quickly that problems gradually ceased to appear and that’s why Tensions are no longer needed.
From crisis to shared responsibility
However, there was still a strong need to consult the ideas and direction of the company development. We needed feedback on how Inwedo operates and a better understanding of what opportunities or risks the team sees in specific activities. Sharing their perspective and experience was also intended to provide additional support to a person who may have considered making changes or implementing new solutions. So we set up a channel on Slack called BOMA, which gave space for discussion.
BOMA is an old African term for a central place in the village where the most important issues for the community used to be discussed. This idea inspired Krzysztof, a Founder at Inwedo.
Founder at Inwedo
The modern simplification of this process in companies was the meetings at the coffee machine. However, this had its limitations – it was easy to omit some people. In times of remote work, the key seemed to me to be a space where anyone who makes decisions that are important to the company can consult them with the entire community. The overarching element of decision-making is to have the fullest possible context and to understand the needs of those affected by a given decision directly and indirectly. And hence the idea for a channel on Slack, which is the virtual central square of our village. This is not a place to vote on decisions, but a place where the person responsible can gain a broader perspective, consult his or her idea or adapt it on the basis of suggestions.
There are discussions related to, among others, how to return to the office after working 100% remotely, the policy of hiring people who do not speak Polish and how the company can prepare for it, etc.
The channel functions as follows:
- someone on the team asks a question,
- everyone can comment, share their perspective, give feedback.
- The person who asked the question can then benefit from the wisdom of our entire “tribe”, which is an additional support in making decisions or continuing to conduct the activities for which he or she is responsible.
Head of Transparency
The most important stimulus was the need for a broad exchange of knowledge, decision-making based on our collective, Inwedo pool of knowledge and experience (because as a team we are stronger and smarter :)) and ensuring that everyone felt that they had a real impact on the actions taken. BOMA – on the company scale, daily – on a project scale.
How to maintain new meeting rituals in a remote team
Every time you introduce an innovation, custom or change, there comes a moment of crisis. It’s a little bit discouraging, maybe it still hasn’t become a habit, sometimes you need more energy and it’s just not there. In such situations, external support is needed.
Founder at Inwedo
We observe this pattern on a regular basis: we know that after 3-4 weeks, when endorphin levels drop, we need to support some change and recharge some batteries. At the moment, in BOMA, we are facing exactly that. It is clear that this need to consult and use the group wisdom is recurring, but instilling in the team a habit of limiting this need to this particular channel is not easy 🙂. That’s when we need our support: tying up ends, reminding, adding more topics in the right place.
How do these changes really affect what’s happening in the team? And what stems from them?
BOMA has helped us to consult and plan activities together in areas such as:
- efficient remote work,
- the quality and rules of company meetings,
- principles of team communication,
- remote recruitment,
- an English-speaking person joining the team.
BOMA gave us space to listen to each other, broaden perspectives and exchange thoughts on each topic – everyone could express their ideas or fears.
“Thanks to this, the solutions we have developed really reflect the challenges we face on a daily basis (both individually and as a team). We were able to implement them much more efficiently and they brought better results.”
Agata Solnica, Head of Transparency
There is a text by Maja Gojtowska who has been observing tensions, crises and good solutions in cooperation between the team and supervisors for years. In this text, Maja pinpoints the key challenges faced by those companies that until recently only operated in a common space, and then had to re-build the entire remote organizational culture of the company overnight. One of these challenges is the breakdown of ties and the disappearance of cooperation skills:
“Employees are becoming increasingly cut off from team links, they are becoming units working in a large format. Do they work together? Or maybe just rather next to each other?”
Maja Gojtowska about the situation in which the employer stops being attentive to the team. More on www.gojtowska.com
At Inwedo, our Slack channel Razem-ale-zdalnie (Together-but-remotely) is also important in the context of distance ties. We share what’s going on with us there. We have a greeting ritual, and when someone starts work and becomes available, they can simply say “hello!” to others. You can show a picture of a dog, breakfast, share frustration or a good life event, and not only professional. Most often, however, you can talk there, just like in the office kitchen with a good coffee.
Rules of remote operation: not NEXT TO each other, but Together
Let’s talk specifics. After a year of remote work, we have developed a certain structure of meetings which at this moment organize our knowledge, give us space to exchange ideas or doubts and solve problems. We’re a nearly 40-people team and we don’t want to change that, but I hope both smaller and larger teams can take advantage of these ideas.
Board’s Daily – takes place every day, lasts 30 minutes and anyone can join this meeting to know what the board is working on, what’s the stage of the goals that individuals pursue and what is changing.
Weekly Synchro – held weekly, lasts an hour, the meeting is attended by board members, Product Owners and persons with specific roles. Purpose of the meeting: to exchange information and update the common context on the events of the past and the coming week.
The meeting revolves around:
- People – Are we all right? Is there something that doesn’t let us?
- Customers – Do we create value for our customers? What’s stopping us?
- Companies – Is the company growing as we would like it to through our work for our customers?
How does this meeting streamline communication?
- it shows a roadmap of ongoing and planned projects
- it reminds you of success indicators and ensures the proper use of project hours (billable vs. non-billable),
- it raises questions: are there currently any design risks? How can we help each other?
All Hands – takes place every week, lasts about 40 minutes, includes the whole team and is preceded by remote coffee on Google Meet. We succinctly level the knowledge of what is happening in different areas of the company’s operation: in projects, in the field of development, in the area of sales and marketing, recruitment and HR. Finally, we make room for acknowledgements and questions. Recently, there has also been a rapid exchange of ideas in response to ongoing urgent needs.
One-to-One – this is basically a meeting ritual which is to facilitate the work between a team member and the person with a certain duty. This can be a meeting between a back-end developer and a Head of Development, between a Product Owner and a Key Account Manager, etc. At contact points where it is worth supporting each other.
Mentoring – anyone who joins Inwedo can count on mentoring with a selected person. In terms of self-development, developing the role fulfilled in the team, in the context of leadership competences. It is carried out on average once a month.
Feedback – feedback sessions are held every 3 months: they are used for summaries and drawing conclusions, but also give space for comments (to both sides) and planning for further actions.
Head of Transparency like an umbrella
A few months ago, a new position appeared in Inwedo – Head of Transparency. Agata is a board member and her main duty is a Key Account Manager. She is a FRIS researcher with strong competence of the Partner in action and she systematically and conscientiously makes sure that transparency in the company is a freshly modified process. She has developed, among other things:
- a pole map on Notion (individuals update their goals or changes there),
- development talks in the board,
- a feedback survey on the board,
- a massive summary of the year during a remote Christmas Eve at Inwedo.
Managing a remote team: Founder and CEO Perspective
What effects of the new meeting structure at Inwedo do you perceive from a Founder’s perspective?
First: fewer obstacles
Delegating to the team elements not strictly related to my role translates into shortening this team’s decision-making process. Simplifying, making it easier for it to be independent in solving problems or inventing new elements that I don’t have space for. This is, in my opinion, a Founder’s key role: do not disturb – remove obstacles. This was actually painfully realized by Google when it got rid of managers. The company quickly recognized that the lack of these roles in a team caused not so much management chaos as a multiplication of difficulties. Because managers did just that: they facilitated, simplified, removed obstacles, didn’t disturb, and worked WITH the team all the time.
Second: focus on strengths
Leveling knowledge in a team, delegating responsibility and group wisdom made me see something crystal clear: I could focus on the strengths of the team, not on the current problems. The operational work unlocked my perspective on my colleagues. Delegating decision-making has also allowed the strengths of individuals to flourish. A sense of agency is a state that really fosters development.
What effects do you see in the team’s knowledge leveling and the new meeting culture from the CEO’s perspective?
- I can see how the organizational culture is solidifying again. The values implemented so far within daily meetings in the office had to materialize in remote mode. This is a fascinating process.
- The quality of meetings has improved. First, the participants know the purpose of the meeting and its context. This is the standard that every organizer gives to participants. Secondly, each participant has the green light to ask why we meet and to leave the meeting if they feel they are unable to contribute anything else. The value and legitimacy of a meeting are always the starting point. And then, it is much easier to share responsibility for the meeting: reminding what the goal is, keeping the track of time, cutting off digressions. And this applies not only to management, but to every person involved in the meeting.
- I have gained distance. In the office, someone or something was constantly fighting for my attention. Delegating some responsibility to the team gave me a chance to look at Inwedo’s processes and vision from a distance. I have more time to look for new areas of action, I have a vision of what to do next and which way I want to guide us.
- I see what support means in practice. Not just because we have a habit of thanking each other and appreciating one another on All Hands (weekly knowledge-leveling team meetings of what’s going on in the company). It works like this: the more you communicate your goals and needs, the easier and more effective for others is it to start supporting you, giving you reminders, providing assistance. Both the sense of responsibility and agency increase.
The privilege of a medium-sized organization: flexibility
After almost a year, we already know that we will stay in a hybrid working mode. The processes we implemented gave us great flexibility, and the whole system of meetings was the drive to a great deal of autonomy. It is hard to imagine that we could give up the benefits of remote work. But we also have no illusions as to how much mindfulness and adaptability to the current situation are required. Personally, I also see that being an almost 30-person team is a privilege: agility is much easier to implement here. But I believe that the Inwedo meeting system can inspire both smaller and larger organizations.