The All-Hands Meeting (or… Zoo Time!)

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by Jurgen Appelo

Editor’s Note: This blog was written when Management 3.0’s parent company was called Happy Melly One and when we had launched an experimental project called Happy Melly, which focused on happiness at work. Today Happy Melly has been absorbed by Management 3.0, which is part of the Happy Melly Group.

No matter whether they are lions, penguins, cobras or meerkats, a whole bunch of them is only called a zoo when they’re in it together.

In an earlier post, I described that Happy Melly is learning how to grow. Managing our work was (relatively) easy when we were a team of seven people. But we just hired the 10th and 11th team members, and we’re looking for number 12. 

Splitting Up

Actually, team is a silly word for 12 people. I believe that when you have more than nine people working together, it becomes a group, not a team.

But anyways, the word team is already stuck in our daily vocabulary. It will take more than a CEO’s proclamation for our group of people to use the term correctly. (They probably don’t even care what the CEO thinks.)

To prevent any confusion, we have decided to split our group/team into several smaller crews: a Management 3.0 Crew, a Happy Melly Crew, a Content Crew, and an Org Crew. We may introduce more crews later. Time will tell.

Our awesome team members can choose to join any number of crews as a regular member, but that means they commit to participating in the crew’s weekly activities and will work together towards the crew’s objectives. They are also allowed to sneak into another crew’s meetings, just to see what’s going on there.

Where Is “The Team”?

The benefits of splitting into multiple crews was immediately obvious: we had more focused meetings and we could make better streamlined task boards.

The drawback was as obvious: we felt a loss of group identity and in turn a loss of motivation. As soon as our group split into smaller units, some of us felt out of touch with what was going on elsewhere. They lost the feeling of “being a team”. It’s no surprise this happens to a group that decides to split up. What did surprise me was that this feeling emerged in less than two weeks!

The solution is, of course, as obvious as the problem: do something that enables people to meet and chat as a whole group, on a regular basis. It doesn’t really matter what kind of activity it is, as long as it emphasizes togetherness. It should emphasize us.

Corporate Huddles

Kitten Talk at Happy Melly

In our case, the feeling disappeared as soon as we had a group-wide retrospective. And to keep the loss of identity at bay, we scheduled a weekly Kitten Talk. (Referring to cats is somewhat ironic for a bunch of animals who like hanging out together.) Our Kitten Talk is simply one dedicated moment each week, when all of us can show up to talk about kittens. Or puppies. Or movies. Or politics. Or the latest viral videos on Facebook.
My guess is that all successful, happy organizations organize some type of regular get-together. Google has their weekly TGIF meetings. Zappos has their All Hands meetings. In my #Workout book, I referred to them as Corporate Huddles. At Happy Melly, we now have our Kitten Talks.

It doesn’t matter much what you do and what you call it. You might as well call it Zoo Time. The main goal is for people to think, “OK, we might be working in vertical teams, but we’re still in this thing together.” Meow.

Image credits:
Louisville Meerkats by Amber MacPherson
Cross-eyed Kitten by Niels Kliim

2 thoughts on "The All-Hands Meeting (or… Zoo Time!)"

  • Tom Francis says:

    Interesting concept! Do you all work in the same place or are you distributed geographically? I’d be interested to see how you keep the team spirit up with people not co-located as it is a challenge we face all the time!

  • Raymond Cathey says:

    The SBI could be effective but not at all levels of management. The Sandwich style of counseling is not bad, Some people are just bad at applying it. SBI is made for Senior level management and up. The reason it would be difficult for a Supervisor is because they have to be soft with their employees. To keep good employees their feelings are a definitely a factor because it show the employees that you care. For Mid level Management you have to use a firm approach. You have a general idea of the obstacles your Supervisors are facing so you have to show them the error, provide feedback, and coach them so that they know that they have your support. As a Senior level manager SBI is definitely your friend. Your focus is the business and group success. So you do not have time to be indirect and your managers know that. In that role you are expected to focus on facts not feelings and SBI can help you accomplish that flawlessly.

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