This is How You Revolutionize the Way Your Team Works Together.
And All It Takes is 15 Minutes
Earlier this month, I attended one of the most useful conferences I’ve been to in a while: the New Work Summit, hosted by the New York Times. There were a number of very relevant sessions and breakouts, but there was one that has transformed how BetterCloud works. It taught me an exercise that I’ll do at every company I’m a part of for the rest of my life.
This standout session was hosted by Adam Bryant, a columnist for The New York Times. I met Adam last year when he interviewed me for his column, The Corner Office. His session, entitled “The CEO’s User Manual,” was inspired by his interviews with CEOs where they talked about creating “user manuals” for themselves.
Basically, the user manual is a “how to work with me” guide: It outlines what you like, what you don’t like, how you work best. It was something these CEOs would give their team members when they joined the company in order to shorten the learning curve of working with them. It’s a “cheat sheet” of sorts, giving employees a way to quickly and efficiently learn about executives, which in turn allows them to work together more effectively. What a brilliant idea — it makes you kick yourself and wonder, “Why didn’t I think of doing that?”
Here is an excerpt from a Corner Office interview where Ivar Kroghrud, discusses why he developed it:
“It made sense to me because I’ve always been struck by this sort of strange approach that people take, where they try the same approach with everybody they work with. But if you lead people for a while, you realize that it’s striking how different people are — if you use the exact same approach with two different people, you can get very different outcomes.
So I tried to think of a way to shorten the learning curve when you build new teams and bring new people on board. The worst way of doing it — which is, regrettably, the normal way — is that people just go into a new team and start working on the task at hand, and then spend so much time battling different personalities without really being aware of it. Instead, you should stop and get to know people before you move forward.”
— Ivar Kroghrud, QuestBack
After explaining the concept to the audience of 150-200 leaders and CEOs, Adam led us through an exercise where we created our own user manuals. First, he walked us through a couple of items from his own manual and then put a list of questions up on the screen to help us get started:
The first set of questions were focused on us:
What are some honest, unfiltered things about you?
What drives you nuts?
What are your quirks?
How can people earn an extra gold star with you?
What qualities do you particularly value in people who work with you?
What are some things that people might misunderstand about you that you should clarify?
The next set of questions were more focused on how we interact with others:
How do you coach people to do their best work and develop their talents?
What’s the best way to communicate with you?
What’s the best way to convince you to do something?
How do you like to give feedback?
How do you like to get feedback?
For the next 15 minutes, the audience was heads-down, writing. Nobody was on their phone. Nobody was looking up. The only sound you heard was the scratching of pens and pencils as people feverishly jotted down answers in the the little notebooks we were provided.
In fact, we were so engrossed that Adam had to forcibly tell us to stop writing. Next, we paired up with the person sitting to our right and shared what we wrote. As the session was ending, my neighbors and I all remarked that we’d publish and share our manuals with our teams when we get back. It felt like the entire room had a collective “Aha!” moment.
The New Work Summit was at the very beginning of a 3-week travel marathon for me, but this user manual exercise really stuck with me. Usually, I end up losing my notes from conferences and forget what I learned. But during every meeting I had over those next 3 weeks on the road, I told every person I met about the exercise and suggested they try it.
Every time I spoke about the concept, though, there was one thing that seemed odd to me: It’s a CEO’s manual.
The value was crystal clear, but why should it be limited to learning how to work with the CEO only? This learning curve seems to be even more pronounced in intra- and inter-team interactions, which happen a lot more on a daily basis than interactions with me do.
So I took it one step further: I decided to have the whole company create user manuals.
At this point, I was really eager to get back to the office for our monthly company meeting so that we could introduce this initiative to everyone. I was still on the road, though, and I grew restless. With each day that passed, it felt like we were missing out on bringing some kind of super-efficiency and high-level engagement across our team. I knew how to make employee interactions more enjoyable; I just needed the opportunity to put it into action.
In preparation for this company meeting, I mentioned we’d be doing a team exercise and asked everyone to bring their laptops. After going through the typical items on our meeting agenda for about an hour, I shared my story from the New Work Summit. I explained why I found the user manual valuable and walked through mine, one item at a time, with our whole team of 130 people. I then replicated Adam’s exercise so that everyone could create their own user manuals in Google Docs.
I don’t think we’ve ever had a period of time where every person in the company was typing at the same time — they were so absorbed that nobody was talking or looking up; everyone was just furiously typing away. Just like what happened at the conference, I had to tell people to stop writing. But the coolest part of all was when we finished and people went back to their desks: I noticed everyone was in the shared Drive folder and avidly reading each other’s user manuals, curious to learn more.
We’ve been doing monthly all-hands/company-wide meetings since we started the company 4 years ago and I have never, not even once, seen this kind of overwhelmingly positive response to an exercise before.
Getting buy-in was effortless, and it makes perfect sense why people instantly saw the value in it. Think about it: We all have different personalities. We’ve all been shaped by profoundly different life experiences. We all communicate differently. But many times when we come into work, we’re expected — and in many cases forced — to interact with each other in a templated, “one-size-fits-all” way.
Here is my user manual, which is a work in progress and will continually evolve but I’ve already noticed changes in how people interact with me:
I don’t have any hobbies (which I know is unhealthy) but I’m 100% focused on and dedicated to BetterCloud. All of my energy is devoted to BetterCloud and my family. I’m passionate about what we do, so you will get emails from me at all times of the day and week. I will challenge you, and I have high expectations.
Email is how I manage my task/to-do list. If you want me to do something, send me an email about it. I try to work through my email and get as close to inbox zero every morning (I usually get there once a month). I’ll communicate via Slack, Google Hangouts, text, or phone, but things fall through the cracks there.
Three attributes that I love in people that I work with: an infectious work ethic, intelligence, creative problem-solving skills.
Three attributes that I hate in people that I work with: selfishness, insincerity, rigidity.
I like people to be straightforward and give me feedback directly. I’m not easily offended. I know that I don’t know how to do everything and can’t see everything that is happening in the company or market, so feedback is always welcome.
It doesn’t take too much to convince me to try new initiatives, but it takes a lot more to convince me that it makes sense to make a bigger and longer-term investment in something. I want to see data to back it up.
I love brainstorming new ideas with people. I get an actual adrenaline rush from coming up with something innovative, even if it is something small.
Unfortunately I’m late to a lot of meetings, but I’ve tried to get better at being on time. It’s said that people who are late to meetings are very selfish and aren’t thinking of others, but my meetings often run long because I’m very present in meetings and don’t pay much attention to time.
If I ask someone to do something and they acknowledge they are going to do it, I expect it to be done and not to have to ask about it again in the future. This is my biggest pet peeve, and it frustrates me if I have to be the one to remind you to do it.
This exercise, while short and simple, is tremendously powerful. It’s helping my team be more effective and efficient, and ultimately transforming how they work together. With a little perspective and 15 minutes, you can truly revolutionize how your team works together.
This post is by David Poltis, Founder and CEO at BetterCloud, one of my preferred partners.