Team of Teams - Developing a Shared Organizational Consciousness Requires BFM (Big Fucking Meetings)
Issue 007 - Everyone hates them; they often are poorly run. But, in a complex, interconnected, and now remote world - I believe we need more bigger meetings not less. Just hear me out...
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Now, onwards to today’s essay.
Highly effective organizations have a strong shared consciousness.
As the world becomes more complex, we are moving from rigid command control structures to more organic team of teams.
In a pandemic, remote, work from home world, to preserve or develop shared consciousness, you need more bigger meetings not less.
Goal of bigger meetings is information sharing, transparency which develops trust and more effective organizational decision making.
Project Managers can do several things to ensure these big meetings are effective.
General Stanley McChrystal is famous for being the US Army General who got fired thanks to a Rolling Stones article. That is how I know of the General. But, besides an illustrious and awe inspiring military career, with an abrupt end, I admire The General for another reason - his book Team of Teams. It is a book that had a profound impact on me and my professional career.
A bit business book, a bit self-help, sprinkled with military analogies, anecdotes, and business case studies, The General explains how the world is rapidly transforming into a complex spiderweb of multiple nodes of information and actors. The military, and likewise the private sector, have transformed from rigid Command control structures to Command of Teams to now Team of Teams. Decades of business graduates armed with organizational behavioural theories of decentralizing critical decisions (from CEO to SVPs to VPs to Directors to Managers to Product Managers etc) has led to smaller teams capable of experimenting and creating things at break neck speed. However, it has come at a cost. Information tends to be siloed, teams working together can come of as haphazardly through explosion of Slack channels, private messaging, and information sanitization before sharing.
The General explains that in order for an organization to scale and weather the test of time, and investor & shareholder wrath, effective decision making requires a shared consciousness which in turn requires transparency, trust, and information sharing at scale. Only then can we create a more effective organization.
The pandemic and resulting work from home and remote work orders from technology organizations has further exacerbated & hindered organizations from developing this shared consciousness. Things have gone from serendipitous encounters at the coffee bar to now 15mins Zoom calls making our work relationships transactional. So - what is the solution? A Big Fucking Meeting (BFM).
One thing I learned early in my career is that a Project Manager's key role is ensuring information sharing and flow. If critical information is not available to all the key stakeholders, you make the bad decisions. Wiki's are great but they are inherently passive and create NEED TO KNOW silos. Nothing beats a face to face, person to person information sharing which inherently invites debate and discussions on the spot.
In every project I have ever led, I always had my one BFM where I invited everyone who was either working on the project or was impacted by it, or wanted to know what was happening. If you couldn't attend or had a conflict, great, send an representative or get on the meeting minutes list. Sounds counter intuitive and everything modern tech companies hate - more big meetings. However, I was surprised and happy to see my theory validated by The General who did the same thing when he assumed command of the Joint Task Force at Baghram Airbase in 2003 Afghanistan. Known has O&I (Operations and Intelligence Brief) in the military, it was held 6 days a week, Monday morning, 9:00AM EST, and never canceled (Team of Teams - Page 165). The goal was simple, get the brains out of the footlockers, get the information out of the silos, and develop a neurological link between the teams.
Just having a big meeting wasn't enough. What sounds like any organizational theorists worst nightmare of inefficient time use (Team of Teams - Page 168), it required some effort on my part. Here is how Project Managers can make BFM more productive and effective:
Lead by example - share your teams information as transparently and widely as possible in the meetings and set the example for others to follow, to feel comfortable. No sanitization or pretty slides, and allow questions.
Create an environment of psychological trust - this is not the place to publicly shame other teams and get one over the other. If anyone misbehaved in my meetings, I would call them out on it afterwards and ensure they play as a team.
Much like The General's O&I briefings, this isn't about well crafted presentations - keep the update short and allow others especially leadership to ask the "Why" questions for the remainder of your allotted time. This allows organizations and teams to respond before a problem becomes an actualized risk.
Debate is encouraged BUT - if we begin to rat hole you take it offline and come back with the conclusion of the discussion to the next BFM.
Meeting Minutes must be centrally shared - anyone could go and correct a mistake in the notes.
Creating shared consciousness requires many to feel part of the one. BFM requires practice, it requires patience, trial and error but, I can tell you now, in a world of zoom calls, ever increasing remote work, and more geographical diversity of teams - these Big Fucking Meetings can be a difference between a good decision or a bad one and will play a more critical role to give a feeling of belonging and ownership to the individual members of team, and team of teams.
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