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What is this thing?

Turn the engagement level of your team meeting up a notch

August 5th, 2022

by Henry Poydar

in Newsletter

👋 Hey! It’s been a while since I’ve dispatched a dispatch from me, but this week we’re going to fix that. From now on I’ll be posting with regularity, every week or two. We’re also going to stop publishing articles that summarize or re-hash information you can find elsewhere. Our goal is that everything you read here will be something meaty and interesting that you can’t find anywhere else. You can subscribe to this content here.

I’m always looking for ways to make our regular work more engaging and this usually happens by making it fun. Not “we’re all going to wear silly hats because I told you so” fun, but actual fun for smart minds.

Each week, our team at Status Hero gets together on a video call to run through an agenda that’s likely similar to the one you have with your team. You know the drill:

  • What happened last week1
  • Intentions for this week
  • Wins from last week
  • Announcements
  • Action items

Engagement for these meetings is critical, particularly since we’re all remote. It’s the basis for how we align ourselves for the coming week. It’s easy for this meeting to get boring and routine. Boring and routine are the two main enemies of engagement.

So I made up an exercise called #whatisthisthing, heavily inspired by the popular subreddit. (I didn’t link it up on purpose, you’ll never come back.)

Here’s how it works: at the beginning of our meeting, someone holds up an object from their remote work environment up to the camera. The thing should not be easily identifiable or NSFW. During the course of the meeting, attendees DM the presenter of the thing their guess as to what it is.

At the end of the meeting, the presenter announces the winner. The winner gets a $50 Amazon gift card and becomes the presenter for the next week.

Here’s our new weekly meeting agenda:

  • Presentation of the #whatisthisthing
  • What happened last week1
  • Intentions for this week
  • Wins from last week
  • Announcements
  • Action items
  • Results of #whatisthisthing

The results so far? I’ve had fun. The team had fun. We talk and laugh about our things (e.g. espresso dosing rings, vintage motorcycle parts, and a floor desk microphone stand).

I’m not going to pretend that this kind of thing qualifies as a management or leadership strategy, because it doesn’t. That’s hard work you have to think holistically about and do all the time.

But it’s not a gimmick either. Little tactics like this get people interacting on a personal level, and personal relationships are the foundation of trust and collaboration.

Frequency and intensity matter too. People don’t want a giant “team building” exercise foisted on them. #whatisthing for 5 minutes once a week will always beat the “trust falls” at the annual offsite, especially if the rest of the year is buttoned up and all business, all the time.

(For our offsite in October, we’re going to do an IRL expanded episode of #whatisthing, kind of like when your favorite podcast tapes in front of a live audience.)

If you want to give it a try with your team, here’s a Notion template for that, complete with rules.

1 For the first item, we share a screen with a filtered insights report from Status Hero, which summarizes a week’s check-ins from all team members along with blocker and mood trends. I also use it to prepare for the meeting.

Tweet of the week

Sort of. I’d argue that sharing the vision, getting buy-in on it, and getting out of the way is the real work of management. But he’s very close.

What the algos are feeding me

Vintage computers are fascinating, but I’d argue that the one that put humans on the moon is the most interesting. In this video, a (famous?) YouTube vintage computer dude restores and boots up the Apollo Guidance Computer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0PIXvjTasI At the ~5:20 mark they turn it on.

And if you want an old but thorough explanation of the problem that this computer solves, here’s an MIT Science Report on the subject from 1965: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndvmFlg1WmE

Happy Friday!

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I'm Henry Poydar, founder of Status Hero. I've been writing software and leading both co-located and remote software teams for 20+ years.

In that time I've learned a lot about team communication, software estimation, and managing people — mostly the hard way.

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