A simple way to build trust and empower your team
In mid-2020, I could feel the ties to my teams weakening. Some of this (okay, a lot of it) was due to the pandemic lockdown, which reduced the casual conversations with people based here in Austin and cut off travel to our other offices. Plus, as my team was growing, I was no longer a part of every set of interviews, so there were people in my team I barely knew, and in turn, barely knew me.
Beyond the personal ties that come with those interactions, I realized I was now missing the opportunity to share context. What’s the business doing? Why? What about that group over there — what do they do?
And notably — the often unasked question: “Hey Alex, what do you do all day?” That’s a fair question in the best of times, but it’s even more important to answer it in the hard times when people see even less of me.
So, I went looking for some ideas to bridge the gaps and found a couple of good resources: How to be an information flow superhero by Jade Rubick and Lara Hogan’s excellent Week in Review Leadership Comms.
Building on their concepts, I’ve built a habit of sending out a weekly email to provide context and share a view into my world for those on my team.
It requires a little effort on my part but pays off in many ways over time, so I thought that I’d share this in the hopes that the practice will spread.
Week in Review? (The “What”)
Again, my goal is to provide a view into our team, our business, and our industry and, when possible, share some fun or insightful bits. I shared this with the team when I rebooted the series:
For those receiving this for the first time, welcome! Each week I share a view into my priorities and where I spent my time. I’ll provide some context from other parts of the company and the industry. There is no expectation that you read these; I’ll communicate important news separately. Feel free to delete them if they don’t serve you.
Questions, feedback, and suggestions would be fantastic.
The message has three sections:
I share a few sentences outlining the week, how I’m doing or sometimes a quote that’s resonating with me as a way to kick things off and set the tone. Here are a couple of examples:
I started my week in a 1:1 with Stefan, our Design Manager in Sofia, who asked my advice “as a Texan.” I am both proud and a bit embarrassed to admit that I was very excited that his question was about smokers and barbecue. 🍖
Hi all, I hope you’ve been doing well and are working on interesting challenges. 🙂
Given some recent conversations, this highlight from Brave New Work has come back to me and has been top of mind:
“Instead of enforcing standards, think about proven practices as defaults. Defaults are exactly like standards with one exception: you don’t have to use them. A default says: If you don’t know what you’re doing, do this. If you don’t have time to think, try it our way. But if you’ve achieved some level of mastery in an area and you think you see a better way, feel free. Let us all know how it goes, because either you’ll generate further proof that our default is sound or you’ll sow the seeds for a new default that we can all benefit from.”
Some of the most valuable information a leader can share with their team is to indicate what is important, so I share where I am focusing my time. I’ve begun to break it down into two or three sections that match our organizational structure, plus my wider duties.
- Major Initiatives: I’m working closely with Olivia (Dir. Product, Platform) and William (Product Manager), who are driving our four major initiatives.
- Product Management Structure: we’ve solidified our plan for which PM “owns” which products and services. We’ll get feedback from Engineering over the next two weeks and share it with the rest of Tech the week of July 30.
- In-Store Products Business Case: I’m pairing with Charlie (Product Manager), who is crafting the case for investing in new in-store products to ensure they’re accounted for in our Go-to-Market strategies.
- Refocusing Platform Design: we’ll decide on the design component library we want to use as the foundation for new Platform products on Friday the 21st.
- Restructuring Leadership Meetings: I’m changing the structure of my staff meeting and working through how I can better protect the time. I’m doing the same with our Design Leadership meeting, as I want to invest more focus to support Stefan and Sophie. Changes to roll out next week.
Where possible, I include dates to demonstrate accountability. Once an item is complete, it rolls off the list. I do my best to keep this to five items at most.
A view into my week
And then onto the list of bullets that are in rough chronological order from my week, comprised of a mix of insights from meetings, information that isn’t critical but may be interesting, and the odd fun link. Here are some bullets I’ve shared in the past:
- The Data Science team, along with Olivia and William brought me up to speed on our analytics vendor’s plan for their next-generation product. It sounds interesting but would require a massive migration. No big changes for now, but we’ll kick off some discovery work.
- The Tech Leadership Team (TLT) met for a virtual “offsite” where we spent five hours focused on our team, how we work, and the challenges we want to focus on and solve. The was important as we’ve had recent changes to the makeup of the TLT, and the fact that it’s been a year since our last session.
- 💡Tip: I turn on Captions for every Teams meeting. They’re super helpful given the array of accents and audio setups used across the company.
- I canceled our subscription to Abstract, a tool we used for source control of design files. We’d maintained it for years after moving to Figma from Sketch, but it didn’t make sense to keep paying for it. I exported our files as best I could, but they are all so out of date I don’t expect we’ll need them often, if at all.
- The US Designers shared what they’re working on, with additional product context with their Bulgarian counterparts. It was a lot of fun to see what’s in flight and what’s coming. We need more of these!
- Charlie (Product Manager) and team have launched an internal alpha test of the next version of Messaging! 🎉
- We’re wrapping up the review & bonus process, with final signoff by the Exec team and Board next week.
- [A major Point of Sale provider] has been battling a ransomware attack, which impacts some of our customers. While this isn’t an issue with our systems, they will roll back to two-month-old code this weekend. This might affect us, but I don’t think so, beyond possibly helping to backfill customer data. We’re waiting to see what happens.
Keep it Simple (the “How”)
Take Notes Throughout the Week
An essential aspect of this habit is that it’s a list of bullets that I compile throughout the week. So there’s a rough running order and the occasional sub-bullet, but it’s not prose and not super organized. I want it to be easy to digest without skimping on detail.
Make it Easy to Capture Topics
Bear, which I use for all of my notes, is one of a handful of apps that is always open on my computer and sits on my phone’s home screen. It serves as the central collection point. I keep a single note as a working document, deleting the contents once I’ve sent the Week in Review email to start with a clean slate the following week.
Bear also comes with the ability to share content to a specific note via callback-URLs (comment here if you’d like me to publish how I do that). So it’s easy for me to quickly add a thought directly to the end of the note via Raycast (Alfred works too). I’ve also wired up an Apple Shortcut to make it easy for me to share highlighted text or a URL from another app on any of my devices. A second Shortcut makes it easy for me to use voice-to-text when I’m on the go.
Consistent = Easy
I use the same subject every time, so I avoid the stress of coming up with a clever subject at the end of every week (I would likely spend way too much time on this) or having to remember to update the date. I’m not writing a newsletter that needs to grab someone’s attention; the recipients all know me and know what to expect, so “Week in Review” it is.
Context is Key
When I mention someone who isn’t on our team or may not be well known to the group, I include their title and area of responsibility. It’s a great way to provide context and connection (“I met with Britt, our main point of contact in Finance, to discuss the budget for next year and to understand the difference in cost if we hire in Austin versus London”).
I write out acronyms. Business-speak uses way too many acronyms. Seriously. Way. Too. Many. WTM.
Compile and Edit the Notes as the Last Major Task of Each Week
Don’t worry about editing as you go — capture your thoughts and clean them up at the end. I have a reminder set every Friday afternoon on my calendar to pull the email together. I copy my notes from Bear to my email client and spend a few minutes improving the formatting to ensure it’s readable, and tighten up my writing with the help of Grammarly. Some weeks the email is just too long, so I’ll cut a bit out.
This takes less than 15 minutes.
I often schedule the message to go out later in the day, so I know it’ll be sent, even if I log off early. If something significant comes up, I’ll still have time to append it to the message.
Recipients (“The Who”)
The recipients list includes everyone at every level in my organization — not just my direct reports. This means I have to provide extra context, as a newly hired Associate Designer doesn’t have the same level of understanding as a Director of Product with 15 years of experience at the company.
This also means that I write knowing that it could be forwarded elsewhere in the company, helping reinforce the importance that I model respect for our colleagues, customers, and competition.
An Important Note
These emails are not the place to communicate important information, deadlines, or expectations.
I’m sending them into a black hole. And that’s okay.
I don’t know if anyone opens these messages unless someone references an item later. But even if no one else finds them valuable, I find them incredibly useful as a reference to see how much we accomplished and when.
Leave a comment; I’ll be happy to share more!
About the Examples
All of these are based on real messages sent, but I’ve modified names and removed company-specific information.