At Flowa we’ve worked remotely from the very beginning. Part of us are from Helsinki and part from Jyväskylä. As the Corona crisis outburst we didn’t need to change much. In this blog post series, we will share patterns and practice for self-organized remote teams that we find especially useful.

In the first part of the series, I’ll introduce our weekly goals practice.

Why?

When you are working apart from others, it’s rather common that you face following challenges:

  1. Conflicting priorities. Agreeing on priorities is hard when you are co-located, it is extra hard when you are not. For us this was a big challenge because we work on highly responsible roles in client projects and still wanted to do business development together. There are frequently conflicting priorities and building shared understanding on the whole is too time consuming - and still you need to decide where to invest your time.
  2. Unclarity on the level of commitment. Another challenge when working remotely is that you cannot really know how committed people are to do what they say. This may influence your own motivation and it definitely makes planning your work harder. Transparency on the level of commitment is critical in remote self-organizing teams.
  3. Lack of relatedness. Relatedness is one of the basic psychological needs. In remote settings, building a sense of community and shared purpose is a lot harder than when working co-located.

Weekly goals practice helps to counter all these issues.

To whom? Context

Weekly goal ideal for seasoned self-organized teams and small organizations. Weekly goals practice presumes that there are some more or less shared high level goals and everyone has some responsibilities.

If you are familiar with Scrum, this is similar to Sprint planning but shorter and more light-weight. Alike in the case of Scrum’s sprint planning, keep strategic long term planning and backlog refinement separate from this meeting. Weekly goals meeting is about choosing tactics, not about strategy or action details.

Comparing to Scrum’s sprint planning there are 3 main differences:

  1. No hierarchical roles or responsibilities. It does not require anyone to take care of priorities or backlog content (Product owner role in Scrum). It does not require even a shared and consistent backlog. In our case, people might do work for three or more different customers during the week and a shared, prioritized cross-customer backlog is not realism.
  2. Intended impact over delivered outcome. Weekly goals practice is about the change you wish to see, not about the (potentially shippable) outcome of work. Sometimes we list also outcomes, but focusing only on the outcomes is in my opinion an anti-pattern
  3. Purely value-centric. The focus is purely on expected value. The cost in terms of time (e.g. work estimates) is irrelevant. I personally think that this should be true for sprint planning as well: You should discuss work estimates if and only if the team is incapable or incompetent to discuss value holistically. Further on, if the team is incapable or incompetent to discuss value holistically, you should work systematically to fix this problem.

How?

At Flowa, we start work on a Monday morning by discussing the goals of the week and by shortly telling what happened in the last week. We’ve had this practice for a few years now.

In the beginning of week

Step 1: Set the stage. Start with a short informal discussion about what is important and acute this week. This should not take more than 5 minutes or so.

Step 2: Enter goals. Everyone enters the goals they want to achieve this week or would like us as a team to achieve. This usually takes five minutes or so. To make this work, you need to have a (prioritized) backlog of work, and shared understanding on the long term goals.

The key question on this stage is: What kind of results or progress do you wish to achieve within next week (a) as an individual and (b) as a part of the team?

Step 3: Align goals and fine tune. Once all goals are listed, then we check if the goal is clear and aligned, and remove possible duplicated. People may join a goal or ask others to join if they need help.

The key questions on this stage is: What kind of support do you need to get that done? How might you help others to accomplish their goals? What goals we should work on together?

Step 4: Agree on highest priorities. At last we tag the most important three goals. The exact number of high priority goals is not important. There are weeks when we have no “TOP 3” goals at all and others when we have 4. We often end up prioritizing things that require effort from many of us. It can be a coincidence: often things that require effort from many of us are also the most important goals.

The key question on this stage is: What is most important for the whole?

Next week

Step 5: Check results. In the beginning of next week’s meeting we quickly checked which goals we accomplished. It’s important to be gracious toward oneself: It’s fine not to accomplish a goal. If you miss a goal over and over again it’s valuable information to yourself.

The key question on this stage is: What difference did my effort made and what other's should know about it? What did I learn?

We use Monday.com to track goals. After the first part of Weekly goals practice the weekly goal board look like this:


After the second part (in the beginning of next week) it looks like this:

Anti-patterns to avoid

Weekly goals practice is easy to get started but hard to master. I list here some likely anti-patterns you should pay attention to.

  • Push rather than pull goals. If there is one or two people who talk and propose who should do what and what, you probably do this wrong. It’s important that people pull goals, because otherwise they are less committed and motivated to get things done. In remote settings it’s more important that people really take leadership on their own work. This never was a challenge to us, but I think we may be an exception here - in most organizations 80% of people are not seasoned agile coaches.
  • Longer than 30 minutes. This meeting took 30 min and you should start it with check in. If there is something that requires more planning, it’s something you should do elsewhere.
  • Lack of shared goals. We have noticed that people have a tendency to focus on “what I’d like to do” rather than “what we might do”. We tag people to a goal partly because we want to make this potential problem visible. There are weeks when we don’t collaborate much and every one does his or her own things - and it’s fine as long as it is not incidental.
  • Rather tasks than goals. Fourth anti-pattern to avoid is that goals become rather just tasks. It’s fine to have some tasks there as well. We want to avoid censoring ourselves too much. It’s better to have mediocre and badly formulated goals than no clear goals at all. In practice, it’s more than enough that the most important goals are well formulated and inspire people.

Leadership and Facilitation of Responsive Remote Teams

This post is part of the leadership and facilitation of Responsive Remote Teams article series. Subscribe below to get all the posts straight to your inbox:

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Acknowledgement

The awesome hero image is taken by

unsplash-logoCurtis MacNewton