Culture > Strategy

A

t the beginning of, gestures widely, all this, we had a little wind in our sails. Our sales were looking good. Our current clients were happy and themselves feeling buoyant. Our product development was ahead of schedule. In short, all signs pointed toward a really fun year. 

Then it got scary. The pandemic was real. Any sense of honky dory quickly shifted to helter skelter. It wasn't just work life changing. Our systems, institutions and social contracts were all coming into question. You experienced it, too. And by now, if you're like me, you've become accustomed to it. The new status quo is noli timere. 

I don't want to gloss over the severity of the pandemic on people, businesses and institutions. That's a different post, by better students of tragedy. I do want to highlight how our company has handled this massive change. In a word: culture.

The old adage, "culture beats strategy every time" has never rung more true than immediately after we shut down our office. For a growing company, being present in person is a huge thing. It speeds up communications. It generates those water cooler moments that we rely on for social cohesion. Being present means being aware. Being aware means being agile. You can't adapt and learn without it. 

So what happened? 

Given our reliance on Slack, we started ramping up our communications on it. Emails are fewer, which gives us more of a realtime side-by-side problem-solving we would have had in the office. Second, we committed to regular interval check-ins via Google Meet. Cameras on. We all get on for these meetings, even if you're not a part of the marketing team, it's nice that we get to see your face. It's also nice that you know what's happening in other parts of the business. 

The best change was in our daily standups. Right when we went virtual, I asked that everyone start posting their status daily. It had a simple framework I had known from my years running agile teams: 

What I am working on.

What I am depending on.

What I need help with.

Under each of those is a bulleted list which we can see getting shorter throughout the week. What I am working on is a list of tasks. Your checklist for the week. What I am depending on, is the place where you can make sure anyone who is in your critical path knows it. What I need help with is a place where you mention anything that might be a roadblock to your progress on your erstwhile successful completion of tasks. 

A couple of weeks in and everyone was now in the daily habit of doing stand-ups asynchronously. Fill it out when you can. When someone posts theirs, start a comment thread if you have ideas or questions. React with a thumbs up or Party Parrot. Post gifs if you're feeling particularly expressive. It's all fair game. 

Then Nelli introduced a fourth section: What I am thinking about. That's when our culture really started to blossom. It allows us a space to talk about our fears and concerns early on. It has evolved into the place where we can share music, books, shows and movies that have our attention. It's a place where we can share something we just learned. It's a place where anything goes really and as such it provides a window into our souls we can't get by looking into each other's eyes.

With that little change, on top of the big changes, we've adapted quite nicely. And I am happy to report, we've never felt more buoyant, in spite of, gestures widely, all this.

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