Maximize Meeting Productivity: Streamline the Process

Do meetings drag on while your other work piles up? Many organizations suffer from ineffective meetings.

Here’s how to make your meetings more effective: define the host, share the goal, announce a customized agenda, and adopt the right process.

Define the Host

Know who is running each meeting: the host. Clarify who’s in charge of every agenda item. Assigning a host helps a lot. The host must identify who needs to be involved in each agenda item. Too often, meetings have team members sitting idle when they could be working on other essential tasks. It can be challenging to say who should and shouldn’t be involved for fear of excluding someone. My advice is to take the risk and verify.

Some people excel at being the host. They are adept at recognizing different perspectives, reigning in those who tend to ramble, staying on task, and summarizing the progress made. The host must not necessarily be the agenda owner, team leader, or subject expert. They just need to be good at setting and maintaining a focus.

Share the goal

You must have a goal in mind when you start a meeting. The goal should be at the operational level or the “what.” What do you hope to achieve? If you can’t define the goal, the meeting may fail. It can waste energy, time, and morale. On the other hand, when you have a clear goal and achieve it, it’s very motivating. It also develops a healthy habit of making regular progress.

Customized Agenda

Companies often struggle with rolling meetings. For example, teams may meet every Tuesday at 9:00 for an hour with a set agenda. Unfortunately, this meeting usually runs over and only covers urgent operational matters.The team rarely considers the more transformational, forward-looking needs of the business. Teams often spend too much time working in the business and not enough time working on the business.

To prevent this tendency, having a customized agenda provides a strategic analysis of the team’s most pertinent challenges to achieve the business plan. It is a relevance check and helps to maintain a balance in teamwork.

If your meetings are not focused on the most important matters, what are they for?

Adopt the right process

The process you use to reach your goal depends on the goal itself. This is where most teams fail. They use the same operational reporting and project update processes for all meetings, regardless of the purpose.These processes are helpful, but they won’t help you assess the total addressable market in your sector or identify the learning from your business division’s performance.

To make a decision, use a decision-making process.

To find the best practices, use an inquiry process.

Try it out!

It may feel awkward initially, but if you persist, you and your team will soon start prompting each other on when and how to use these elements.

To get started, share this blog post with your team and experiment together.

Try this approach for yourself, and let me know what you think!

Leave a comment with your feedback.

Get Up to Speed: Tips for Onboarding New Hires

Onboarding is so much more than just paperwork and orientation. It’s about creating a great first impression and setting the tone for a successful journey ahead.

Here a few tips for a highly-effective onboarding experience for your remote-first team.

A Personalised Onboarding Document

One of the most important things for any new hire is to have a personalised onboarding document.

This document should include an overview of the role, company, and team expectations and objectives. It should also include a timeline of key milestones and tasks to be completed.

By providing a personalised onboarding document, employees receive an understanding of their job responsibilities and expectations on their first day, which helps them to get up to speed quickly. Additionally, the document helps employees to stay organised during their onboarding period.

Case study: A rolling document

I led a new team of engineers across multiple countries and time zones. We lacked an onboarding document, and we anticipated adding multiple new hires in the upcoming weeks and months.

We created a live page on our internal documentation platform quickly. We outlined milestones to define what needed to be completed at the end of the first day, week and month in the team.

We made a rule: the last person to use the document was responsible for keeping it up-to-date. This way, after a few rounds, our onboarding page was in great shape and worked well.

The Trust and Autonomy to Start Contributing to Projects Immediately After Hire

When an employee joins a company, they should have the trust and autonomy to contribute to projects immediately after hire.

This helps new hires to become quickly acclimated to the company’s processes and culture, and gives them a sense of ownership over their contributions.

Additionally, it allows them to gain experience on the job and learn the ropes without having to rely too heavily on the support of their team members.

A Publicly-Available Video Introduction

To make new hires feel welcomed and part of the team from the first day, employers can create a publicly-available video introduction. In the video, the employer can introduce new hires to the team, the company culture and processes, and any upcoming projects or tasks. This helps to create a sense of camaraderie and team spirit right away, and allows new hires to get to know their new colleagues and environment.

Invert the process: ask each new hire to record a brief video introducing themselves. Add these videos to the company library. This allows everyone to get to know their colleagues at their own pace, without complex video productions.

An Asynchronous Onboarding Process

An asynchronous onboarding process is a great way to ensure that new hires can access the resources they need and familiarize themselves with the company culture and processes at their own pace.

In this type of process, employers provide new hires with resources such as tutorial videos and documents, and allow them to choose the order and speed at which they go through the onboarding materials. This helps to ensure that new hires are well informed before they start their first day.

A Short Series of Ask-Me-Anything (AMA) Style Q&A’s with Key Stakeholders to Support the Asynchronous Onboarding Process

In order to further support the asynchronous onboarding process, employers can organize a short series of Ask-Me-Anything (AMA) style Q&A’s with key stakeholders.

These Q&A’s allow new hires to ask questions and gain insights into the company’s processes and culture that they might not have access to otherwise.

Additionally, the Q&A’s provide new hires with an opportunity to build relationships with key stakeholders, which will help them to adjust to their new job more easily.

Conclusion

Overall, a great onboarding experience for new hires involves having a personalised onboarding document, giving them the trust and autonomy to start contributing to projects immediately after hire, creating a publicly-available video introduction, using an asynchronous onboarding process, and organizing a short series of AMA style Q&A’s with key stakeholders.

By implementing these strategies, employers can provide their new hires with a positive and productive onboarding experience that sets them up for success.

Photocredit: Erwan Hesry on Unsplash

The Importance of Leadership in a Rapidly Changing Industry: Lessons from My Time at Automattic

Today I announce my departure from Automattic. After almost nine incredible years of professional growth and development, I have decided it is time for me to move on and take on new adventures.

I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity that Automattic has given me over the years. From the moment I joined the team as a Growth Engineer on Akismet, up to my last role as Director of Product Engineering on Jetpack, I knew that this was a special place filled with talented and passionate individuals.

I sincerely thank all my colleagues, who have become more like a family to me over the years. Your support and friendship have meant the world to me, and I will always cherish the memories we have made together.

Over the past few years, I have been devoted to managing engineering teams and cultivating a new generation of engineering leaders.

With pervasive generative artificial intelligence rising, software development is undergoing a transformation. Advanced tools are amplifying the creation of digital assets, ranging from content production to design to algorithms. This rapid advancement in the industry further emphasizes the importance of how organizations are structured, organized, and managed.

I am firm in the belief that effective leadership requires more than just instinct. It takes dedication, passion, and a conscious effort to understand, support, and direct people. Whilst positional influence may have been a critical management tool in the past, it is no longer sufficient in an industry where talent is no longer confined by geography.

Through my experience managing teams with members spread across 12+ time zones from Hyderabad, India, to Portland, Oregon, I implemented processes to ensure productivity, resilience, and reliability. I have come to understand that while tools, objectives, and technologies are constantly changing, good leadership is an essential pillar for any organization.

Leadership can transform average teams into high-performing ones by creating an environment of understanding, support, and appreciation that attracts and retains the best talent.

As I embark on this next stage in my professional journey, I look forward to the challenges and opportunities that await me. I am currently assessing a few new ventures and am open to engaging in conversations regarding potential collaborations or employment offers.

What can I do for you?

I am confident that I can help your company become location agnostic, making your projects attractive to an international talent pool. Additionally, I can assess the quality of your leadership and provide recommendations for improvement to amplify their results.

Lastly, I can assist in developing the next generation of managers within your organization, as I successfully did in the recent past.

I am eager to collaborate on new and exciting projects adding value to ambitious teams to make them even more successful.

Get in touch, and let’s talk!

Forming the Foundation: Understanding the FSNP Phases of Team Development

When assembling a new team, expect to go through Tuckman’s FSNP phases.

They are Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing.

The FSNP phases are a well-established model for understanding the different stages of a newly formed team. For a manager, it is paramount to understand these stages and accept that although the order and length of the stages may vary, they will all happen at some point.

Forming

The Forming stage is the first stage of a new team’s development. At this stage, the team is getting to know each other and forming relationships. The focus at this stage will be on finding out what each individual’s strengths and weaknesses are and how the team can work together effectively. It’s also vital to set team goals during this time.

Storming

The Storming stage is the second stage of the FSNP model. During this stage, the team starts to build trust and understanding with each other, as well as define roles and responsibilities within the team. This can also be a difficult stage, as it is common for team members to experience conflict and disagreements. Team members need to recognize that conflict is inevitable, and they work together to find solutions. Sometimes, when conflicts are insanable, it may be necessary to rework the forming phase and reassemble the team. Toxic behaviors must be eradicated as soon as possible to enable access to the following phases.

Norming

The Norming stage is the third stage of the FSNP model. At this stage, the team has established trust and understanding and is beginning to work together as a cohesive unit. During this stage, team members will develop more complex and productive working relationships. Team members need to communicate openly and respectfully during this stage.

Performing

The Performing stage is the fourth and final stage of the FSNP model. At this stage, the team is well-established and is working together effectively. Team members understand their roles and responsibilities and have a good working relationship with each other. This is when the team produces the best results and achieves its goals.

Wrapping up

All new teams will go through the FSNP phases as they develop. It is essential to recognize that these phases are necessary and take time, and not rush through them.

By taking the time to build trust and understanding between team members and to set clear goals, teams have the best chance of reaching the Performing stage and achieving their objectives.

On The Road Again

After 3 years on the ground, I took my first work trip after the pandemic. To be correct, the pandemic is not over yet, but everybody pretends it is, so better mask up and test often.

In preparation for a few days of meetings in Las Vegas, Nevada, I decided to get there early and shake off my west-coast jet lag with a road trip.

I landed in Los Angeles on Thursday, hired a car on Friday, and took it to the desert, only to arrive in Las Vegas two days later, ready to meet my team on Sunday night.

On the road, I visited a few iconic places.

Milk Bar LA

I started my Friday morning with a disproportionate amount of sugar and it was awesome.

My favorite item on the menu was the cereal milk, but the Milk Bar Pie is also a 10.

While sugar was rushing into our bloodstream, sitting at the table on the curb, we noticed an unusual vehicle roaming the streets.

It was a pizza delivery drone owned by Lucifer Pizza. You can see it in the second picture. Too bad I wasn’t able to catch it in action. Fun stuff!

Off to Zabriskie Point, Death Valley

The trip to Vegas was a good opportunity to visit a few spots dear to me. I went back to Zabriskie point after 20 years.

The last time was December 2002, and it was chilly. This time was July 2022, and it was scorching hot. 46 degrees Celsius and 15% Humidity feel really intense. After the short hundred-meter hike to get on top of the observatory, I needed a good fifteen minutes in the sweet artificial cool environment of the car to return to my senses. It was deadly hot but very cool. No regrets!

Las Vegas

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Just saying…

New York City

Unforeseen circumstances required me to prematurely leave Vegas and replan my route to get back home. This unexpected twist brought some serendipity into my life. I was rerouted to New York City and had a 12-hour layover in EWR. What a great opportunity to leave the airport and hit the Big Apple!

I visited the Whitney Museum of American Art and took a stroll along the Highline. Wow, I admire how this city changes all the time. New buildings were constructed in the last couple of years, and seeing them in person was great.

Just in time to catch my flight home.

Hitting a roadblock, and getting past it

A few months ago I started writing on this blog with a weekly cadence. I was publishing an essay every Wednesday morning. I established a routine for it. I had my draft ready by Monday, review it for a couple of days, and then I’d hit publish on Wednesday.

It was working pretty well, and I published quite a few pieces. They are all under the essay category and they are easy to reach on the top nav of this site.

Next to weekly publishing on this blog, I started sending out a weekly newsletter. I came up with a cool name, got a domain for it, and “The Owl and The Beetle” was born. It goes out every Tuesday, and it’s focused on leadership, technology, and other nerdy stuff.

From September to the end of December 2021, all went smooth: I was sending out a newsletter every Tuesday, and publishing an essay every Wednesday. No problemo.

Then, a couple of things happened, and I hit a roadblock. As you may have noticed, I haven’t published a post here since the 23rd of December; more than a month without writing a word.

“What happened?” you may ask.

The first thing that happened was the winter holidays. I changed my routine for a couple of weeks, and that was just enough to compromise my writing habit.

The second thing was coming to the realization that my writing routine for this blog was unsustainable. If I have been able to find a good flow for my newsletter, I cannot say the same for this blog. At least not in the format of 1000 words essays on a weekly cadence.

In the coming weeks and months, I’ll experiment with different formats, topics, frequency of publishing, to find that flow that I’m currently missing. Feel free to stick around, or not, I’d totally understand.

If you are in for a more regular presence, highly focused, and very disciplined, I recommend you to subscribe to my newsletter. Here you’ll find an experimental ground, and I cannot tell now where it will be heading. It’s gonna be fun, that’s for sure. If you are up for it, subscribe and follow.

PS: I might go back to being more active on Twitter, but I won’t promise. Just sayin’…

Do you have a recommendation? Feedback? Advice? Drop a comment!

Avalanche Week: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Skiing at Forty Years of Age

As I’m packing my gear and getting ready to spend eight days skiing in the Alps, I want to reflect on the series of events that took me, born and raised at sea level, to get on the slopes and enjoy this great outdoor activity with my family.

“Come on, go faster! You need speed to carve your turns properly!”
That’s what a 60 something years old ski teacher yelled at me at some point during avalanche week.

I call “Avalanche Week” the time that went from my timid snowplow in the children’s snowpark to my glorious descent from the black slope that winds down to Vierschach, Pustertal, Italy. To be honest, they were actually two weeks, but that’s not relevant.

In 2019, in 12 days, at the age of 39 and a half, I went from zero to hero on a sports activity that, unless you learn as a kid, is considered really hard to pick up later on.

I’m an average overweight dude, 6ft tall, a little less fit than I should be, and I had no prior experience on those two narrow strips of semi-rigid material worn underfoot to glide over snow.

This is how I prepared, executed, and iterated on getting it done.

Part 1: Preparation

I knew I would spend 12 days on the alpine slopes with my wife and her family. They are all experienced skiers, and I didn’t want to spend my days on my own, crafting snowmen, freezing my toes, and hating every minute of it.

I wanted to spend quality time with my family, enjoying the fantastic landscape, the cold air in the face, the camaraderie around the lifts, and most importantly, the eggnog shot at the end of every slope.

We went skiing on Christmas week, and in September, I had already bought my ski boots. That’s commitment!

I didn’t like the idea of wearing rental ski boots because they are disgusting, uncomfortable, ugly, and overall gross!

Skiing is a demanding sport, very unforgiving to the tender feet of a tech worker who sits at his desk wearing slippers or just socks all day. For this reason, not only had I bought my boots three months earlier, but I had my insoles thermoformed around my feet to have a perfect wearing of those two pieces of modern plastic torture placed at the end of my lower limbs.

As a final step for my preparation, I booked 5 days of group ski class and 5 days of private one-on-one private lessons. It wasn’t cheap, but it was the game-changer. Learning a complex activity quickly requires a coach; there are no hacks around it.

Part 2: Execution

On day one, I suited up and joined the beginners’ class at the children’s snowpark.

We did some warm-up exercises, we were told the basics of balancing the body weight, edging the skis on the snow, and we took off for the first ski-lift and snowplow. It was damn hard.

My feet were sore. And frozen. And I was damn scared. So I pushed harder, and I was snowplowing properly on day three. Then, on day four, I was parallel skiing and attempting my first turns.

On day five, I was pretty ok. But I was in constant agony. My feet were sore. The pain was unbearable, so I went to the ski shop and asked for help. And they helped.

Part 3: Iteration

They looked at my boots and started fixing them. First, they adapted the boots to my feet with a masterful usage of a heat gun and wood forms, allowing for more space for my toes. It took a few rounds of back and forth, but my boots were comfortable yet very tight in the end.

I also iterated on my garments. On day one, I wore a full-body thermal suit, a sweater, ski pants, ski jacket, a helmet, gloves, and a mask. It was way too much, and I had already dropped the sweater on day three. I also added a 10l backpack to the gear to bring water and chocolate with me on the slopes.

I also went back to the rental and changed my skis. I went from beginner to pro, allowing me for more controlled carvs.

I dropped the group classes on day six and started with private lessons. Fun fact: the teacher was the same who taught my wife and her brothers 30 something years before. It was an actually sweet get-together when they met again. 🙂

For five days, I went up and down the red slopes with my teacher, and I refined all the basics until he claimed I was ready for the black slope on the very last day.

Was I scared at that point? Hell yeah! I was afraid every minute of Avalanche Week! But I never let fear have the best of me.

I went on the black slope, followed every instruction it was yelled at me, and I made it.

The point of Avalanche Week was not about not being scared; it was about learning how to ski despite being scared. And on that, I totally succeeded.

Next week I’ll be on the slopes again, and I’ll be scared for sure. And I’ll push through.

Wish me luck! I’ll have a wonderful time, I’m sure! Eggnog, here I come!