Distributed playbook

While I was at Truss, I helped move us from a dozen people in the Bay Area to nearly a hundred across 20 states. Through monthly meetings to run experiments in improving our practices, we came up with the Distributed Playbook. It’s since changed format enough that I missed the original version, so I’ve ported it over from Github to a page on this blog. It, along with the onboarding guide, are two of the things of which I’m most proud from my time at Truss. Hope they can help you out, too!

Polyam Interviews : Noah

I’ve been navigating coming out as poly to my nuclear family and to my workplace for the past few years. I think we’re in a moment similar to the LGBT coming out, and I wanted a snapshot of how people are experiencing coming out as poly to different people in their lives. I think this is important to build solidarity and visibility. It’s not to tell anyone how to do anything, but I hope you find it useful in your journeys.

This is an interview with Noah, roughly transcribed and then lightly edited (so maintains the first person voice). It is posted here with his permission.

Tell me a little about yourself

About to turn 47. Straight white cis dude. Spent the first 25 and change years in Portland, the next 20 or so in Seattle. Married for 6.5 years in a house with my wife, some housemates, and cats. I’ve been with my girlfriend, who is married with 2 kids, for 13.5 years. I have another girlfriend of 7.5 years, she’s married with one kid and recently gave birth to a surrogate baby.

What drives you?

I like other people to have good experiences. Informed my career as a user experience designer. Realized in my early 20s I spent most of my life critiquing designs and systems thinking “why did they make that hard?” spend a lot of time thinking about how things can be better or more easily used to make people happier.

What is your relationship style?

I have less distaste for the term “polyamory” than I did 10 years ago. Representatives of polyamory 18 years ago were a lot more prostheletizey and nerdy. I refer to myself as “open” or “nonmonogamous,” but no longer correct people. The first edition of The Ethical Slut turned a lot of people off because it was so proscriptive and holier than thou. At its core, most of it was about understanding your own needs and communicating them.

My wife and I have romantic and physical relationships with more people than each other. From friends we snuggle with, to party makeouts (although no one goes to parties or makes out with strangers anymore). Boyfriends and girlfriends we have relationships with.

Who have you come out to?

Have a friend group with lots of nonmonogamous people in it, I’ve been out with friends for a long time. I formally claimed the lable in the early 2000s, maybe 2003, although I had shrug-why-not tendencies before that. Not really jealous or possessive in my life before that.

Came out to my parents in a formal way in about 2010. Rest of family formally on our engagement announcement. Came out online, on the Twitter I use professionally in 2012. That counts as everybody, right?

Anyone you want to come out to but haven’t yet?

Marginally less cavalier in professional environments. Will tell coworkers, though not everyone all at once. For instance, if someone is asking why I was in Iceland, I’ll tell them I was there with my girlfriend, that it’s ok that you know, ok that you tell others. Telling one or two rather than broadcast. Tell them how long I’ve been out.

No one I’m specifically not telling. There are folk who may have not yet heard. But been with my girlfriend 13 years, so…

In short, there are some coworkers who haven’t heard yet.

Anything from this relationship style that applies to the rest of life?

Mostly try to be an intentional communicator, which I now only screw up sometimes. In my increasing age and awareness, becoming even more aware of consent and power dynamics in all things. Trying to remain cognizant and intentional about those issues.

Anything else you want to talk about?

Repeat an observation that many people have had: conversations nonmonogamous people have had about consent and risks of spending time with people have come in handy this year. What is my risk profile and risk profile of those around me? Seems like an unexpected benefit right now.

Polyam Interviews : Tilde

I’ve been navigating coming out as poly to my nuclear family and to my workplace for the past few years. I think we’re in a moment similar to the LGBT coming out, and I wanted a snapshot of how people are experiencing coming out as poly to different people in their lives. I think this is important to build solidarity and visibility. It’s not to tell anyone how to do anything, but I hope you find it useful in your journeys.

This is an interview with Tilde, roughly transcribed and then lightly edited (so maintains the first person voice). It is posted here with their permission.

Tell me a little about yourself

My name is Tilde, I use they/them pronouns, I’m an artist, activist, and engineer. I live in SF.

What drives you?

I want to leave the world a little better than I found it. Motivated by helping people, by trying to create joy and connection.

What is your relationship style?

I’m practicing nonhierarchical nonmonogamy. Trendy thing is to call it “relationship anarchy” but I think some people are using that term incorrectly. Anarchy is a political philosophy, and relationship anarchy would be applying that to relationships as well. While I identify with anarchism, I don’t feel like I’m conversant enough in political theory to confidently call myself an anarchist, so I probably shouldn’t call myself relationship anarchist either.

What I do is let every relationship find its own level, and don’t make agreements unless everyone impacted by the agreement is able to negotiate.

Who did you come out to?

I first tried nonmonogamy at age 18. I heard about it on usenet, and it made sense to me intuitively. How much I like one person doesn’t have anything to do with how much I like this other person. About a year into my first relationship, my girlfriend wanted to bring home another girl and I was like “awesome” and we ended up in a triad. I came out and got some major side eye from people I worked with at a grocery store but went with it anyway.

We broke up and people responded really negatively, “you couldn’t possibly have thought that would work.” I internalized that, and it took  me a few years to give nonmonogamy another try. Now it’s a big part of my identity, values, and life.

Recently I feel like I’ve come out a second time. Although my relationship style is nonhierarchical, for the past 11 years I had one partner that I was clearly closer to than all others, which made it easier to pass as monogamous. But now I have 3 people who are really important to me. Figuring out how to talk about that to make it legible without giving too much detail or making people think I’m hitting on them has been tricky. I used to lead with “this might be weird but…” but that magnified the awkwardness. Now I try to be casual (“my partners and I went to the beach this weekend” and just trust myself to read the room.

Anyone you want to come out to but haven’t yet?

Don’t think so – I’m out to everyone who’s super important to me. Biggest one was my dad. I came out to him maybe 5 years ago, but didn’t feel like he got it. More recently I told him I wanted to share more details about my partners, but I wasn’t sure he was comfortable with that. It was a very good conversation. He said he had some bias against nonmonogamy because he’s less familiar with it, but that the most important thing to him was my happiness, and he wanted to hear more about my partners. 

I’m out on the internet, because people can unfollow me if they don’t want to hear about it. 

Anything from this relationship style that applies to the rest of life?

The ability to hold multiple viewpoints in my head, negotiate, mediate conflicts, and calendar things, are very useful in a business context. I feel like I could write a whole blog post about how nonmonogamy skills have boosted my career.

Practicing nonmonogamy helped me become a secure person. Sustainable nonmonogamy requires trusting that my partners are with me because they want to be. It took a lot of work to develop that trust, and the belief that I deserve love. This work might have happened otherwise, but nonmonogamy sped the process along.

Anything else you want to talk about?

I don’t think nonmonogamy is for everyone, I’m not a polyamory evangelist. My hope for the future is that more relationship styles will be normalized, and we’ll have more tools for support for people who want to try out alternative relationship styles. At the end of the day, I want more options, freedom and acceptance for everyone.

Polenesian people have asked polyamorous people to spell out “polyamorous,” so please do that for the blog and URL.

Polyam Interviews : Rowan

I’ve been navigating coming out as poly to my nuclear family and to my workplace for the past few years. I think we’re in a moment similar to the LGBT coming out, and I wanted a snapshot of how people are experiencing coming out as poly to different people in their lives. I think this is important to build solidarity and visibility. It’s not to tell anyone how to do anything, but I hope you find it useful in your journeys.

This is an interview with Rowan, roughly transcribed and then lightly edited (so maintains the first person voice). It is posted here with their permission.

Tell me a little about yourself

I’m 31, and have been poly since I was 15. Moved to the Bay Area from Philadelphia 6 years ago. I’m a therapist and have been for 4ish years, but working in mental health before then, as well. I like cats. I think that attachment work around poly is really interesting, how different styles show up with different partners. Being transmasc is a thing I like people to know about me.

What drives you?

First thing that comes up for me is a memory of when I was 18 and had been hospitalized for a couple weeks for being suicidal. I remember looking out the window of the inpatient facility. It was fall, end of November, leaves changing, and I remember apologizing to the trees for not realizing how beautiful life was. 

Finding beauty in things that are dying drives me. Impermanence. Recognizing that things are not just what people say they are. I find hope in looking at things in a new way. Things aren’t just how they look to be. Finding things outside of what I’m being told.

What is your relationship style?

No idea currently. I’m some version of single for first time since I was 14. No touch at all right now (COVID). Nonhierarchical poly / kitchen table poly. I like it when my partners and partners’ partners and I can hang out.

Who did you come out to?

Variety of spaces, all been surprisingly welcoming for the most part (at least initially). Favorite place was when I was interviewed for an administrative role conducting intakes at a marriage and couples counseling center. They wanted to be working with nontraditional relationships more. I mentioned I’m poly so I can talk about it with people, and I’m good at Google Calendar. Got the job. 

With my sister, she was confused by it but then advocated to my parents about it. They see it as a way I relate and it’s fine.

My dad was real weird about it. He’s come around a bit after my sister advocated, but a few years ago I had told him I was seeing someone besides the partner I moved across the country. He said it sounds like a good friend you kiss sometimes. I expressed that yeah, but it’s not just that — if you were to come visit, I would want you to meet him. “If I meet him, I’m not going to sleep with him.” Which was weird. Dad was not good about it, when I was dating [one partner] and we visited NY. My dad made weird comments about not wanting him in the house because I had a primary partner who was not him. Made a comment about how you can do whatever elsewhere. Like if we were a Kosher house and didn’t want ham in the house. Later, something my sister said helped them come around. Kind of jarring because of how enthusiastic they were suddenly.

Mom into astrology in a way I don’t understand. Somewhere in my chart it said something about two partners, which I guess was her way of supporting it.

Cousins have been welcoming of my seeing multiple people. One cousin was the first person I told about dating a second partner when I was 17.

That cousin’s sister, when I told her about having multiple partners said some of their friends in Georgia did that.

Started telling people around 15 was “[Boyfriend] and I are both attracted to other girls so we work on that in our relationship.”

The more people you know, the more people you come out to.

Anyone you want to come out to but haven’t yet?

No. A few clients I’m out to because they’re also non-monogomous, and it can get incestful so we need to avoid that. Heard stories of people needing to navigate being at a play party in close proximity to a client’s partner or close friend or something. I only look at parties that have a guest list. Some play parties ask who your therapist is on the registration (I can’t list my clients but they can list me because confidentiality).

Anything from this relationship style that applies to the rest of life?

Promotes open communication in a way that seems unusual for people who have ideas of not even recognizing they’re taking parts of relationships for granted. Don’t know if it’s queer or poly or both to not know if you’re dating someone or not. On the East Coast it shows up differently. West Coast people assume they’re dates more often. 

Letting people know how you feel. Interesting that some people use “commitment” and “monogamous” as synonyms. I have been very strongly committed to multiple people. Feels sad to equate those two. Focusing so much of your attention and time on one person who is not your self, extending yourself to just one person sounds really sad in the way I hear about it. Can’t imagine being monogamous and therapist, the amount of care and attention I have for my clients. They don’t know much about me, but I care about them, can’t imagine how to do that from a monogamous framework.

I connect more with “nonmonogomous” than with “polyamorous” because of some of the connotations of “poly.” 

But I’ve been this way for so long I can’t understand the impact on other aspects of life? The only monogamous relationship I’ve been in was also the only abusive relationship I’ve been in.

Anything else you want to talk about?

One monogamous relationship that feels relevant. I remember telling him I prefer seeing multiple people, how I understood relationships. When we started seeing each other, I was also seeing someone in prison, but had to break up with him. When I said I’d like to see other people besides you, this feels limiting. I’m also someone who is often assumed to be flirting so ended up not saying a lot while we were dating so it wouldn’t seem like I was flirting with people. He said poly relationships don’t work out, but none of his mono relationships had worked out before. He even said to me, “I don’t know why you’re so proud of having been a slut.” I’m comfortable with it, but I don’t know if I’d go so far as to be proud of it. People are fun, sex is fun. Nonomonogy seen as being about sex, but it’s not for me at all. About relating with people in a way that allows for it to be a possibility. Differing emotional depths allowed in relationships. Lot of assumptions made that I can date multiple people at once, what does that say about your relationships and how to attach to people?

There’s often a focus on people not being jealous. Jealousy is a real feeling. Have it, look at it. I sound like a California therapist. What are you feeling jealous of, what is lacking? It’s ok to have jealousy and to explore it. Ok to not have jealousy. Trying to turn all jealousy into compersion is dumb.

RecoveryCon Report Out

Last weekend RecoveryCon happened, a distributed conference to examine how we can come out of this pandemic better than we were before. A blog post on how the facilitation happened already got posted, and now that the participants have approved the notes for public viewing, here they are, followed also by our Joy Gallery (things that are bringing us joy right now).

Sessions

These are very rough notes from session report-outs, linking to the track’s notes doc.

Supply chain: How we can organize the supply chain for emergencies. What’s going wrong right now, how it can get better. Anarchist organizations and organizing. Challenges of adoption and disseminating information to get people to use the system. Mechanisms that have prevented organizations from centralizing too much power.

Resilient organizations: gentler with ourselves and each other. This is unprecedented, we’re communicating differently. Internalize, feel it, express. How different organizations are trying to adapt. Yearning to connect, be of service. Not everyone is online. Social innovation, getting through the day. Invitation as a way to communicate. Going from community to life organizing and coaching.

Reclaiming streets: How our streets are changed right now, how to sustain those places. Not just pipes to get places. Less use of public transit from this pandemic but bikes as key. Political will to keep this momentum up. How can we take these experiments and make them more human scale, open to all, plan and build?

Putting your own mask on first: Make spaces meet basic need. Shit, sleep, eat. Many people are relocating right now which is not great. Get a bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen into a reasonable state. Bathrooms often only place you can be alone and vulnerable. These spaces are important. Change concept of success – instead of “hit these things or you’ve failed” – but instead “what is the smallest increment on the way to a goal you can be proud of? Cultivating joy and satisfaction. 

Resilience & Rehabilitation: Incarceration, systems and narratives in place that are very broken. Are the majority of people in the state system convicted of violent crimes? Internalized the narrative of what the system is and who’s in it, why and how they’re there, what should happen after. Parole is really social death, people go back to prison because of parole violations not because of committing another crime. Showed a video clip. And interventions of restorative and transformative justice. Focus on healing process for survivors. 

End of capitalism: Weird, deadly time we’re in. Need to look at new models already out there for a global context. US, UK are grappling with things that aren’t new. Patterns from elsewhere in the world. Think about transfers in one direction, need to go in other directions as well. Imagine alternatives. How do we change incentives? Challenge false dichotomies. Cooperative buy-outs.

How are we collaborative?: How we’ve collaborated during this time. Moving collaboration entirely online, better than half on half off. Not having to travel but still having access. Challenges of everything being online. Divide between digital and non digital conversation. Everyone has to contribute. If there’s a digital divide it’s difficult. STructure so everyone can participate. How things can improve: siloed and fragmented, lots of work within single communities. Conferences like this help, but not clear how this scales. How do we get the right people to talk at the right time?

Campuses: Many US campuses on path to closure. Physical space, use for space that is changing and not what the market structures would deem. Could we build with intention and in community? Concepts of education, pulling away from a system that encourages disparity. Experiences to the table. Book recommendations. Paths forward to making and taking space, like squatters’ rights. Fighting entrenched class structures. How to not need to feel productive at all times.

Data for all: Questioning assumption that data is record of record, faithful construction of reality. Constructed, produced. Produced in all types of new ways we don’t know the repercussions of. Dominant narrative of data generating new insights and how to meet those needs, but also new ways for data to control us without our consent. Concentrated interests extracting value out of us and our systems. Even when I’m presented with a request for consent, I don’t know, don’t have a meaningful way to opt out. Our paradigm of more data should shift from individual consent to harm reduction. Do we need new kinds of institutions to mediate these discussions?

What art is giving you visions for the future you want? How can creativity be part of future-crafting? Ways art can bring our imaginations closer to what another world could look like. Star Trek, UKL. Art in community, collaborative process being deeply fueling, esp with other collaborative processes. Meaning making and community building of having a physical object. Street art as assertion of people in space. Dystopian art as highlighting or telling us what we want to avoid?

Fun, creative, and inspiring opportunities for the future of [digital] communications/socializing more vulnerable populations participating. Rope people into ways we want to connect online. Serendipity of real world is missing. Town Online is trying to mimic that, but not really there yet. How we can get to conversations, like rooms for conversations like a house. Brackets and multithreading in chats to track topics. Using video chat with shared activity without expectation of eye contact. How to emote with avatars? Changing video call backgrounds as framing conversations. Annotation as something everyone can contribute to

How do we plan for a post-scarcity society within a society that is collapsing? What is hope? Redefining hope, going from this model of “everything will be ok in a few months” versus what I can have hope in today. Changes expectations and outputs of what you’re capable of. Prepper talk. Differences based on environment, and who is around. Unevenness of post scarcity. How unevenly distributed these crises are. We’ve seen alternative systems of sharing value, but it happens at small scales and in homogeneous places. I believe other worlds are possible, but I don’t see a path towards the multicultural world I want to live in. Security in a world of collapse feels bubbly.

We were all scared to show up. There’s not a lot of capacity to do things, including for the organizers and facilitators. But we’re glad we did.

Joy Gallery

  • Bookcases! Lots of bookcases: https://twitter.com/BCredibility/
  • Old Oakland Railways –
  • Gardening. And the badgers.
  • Listening to the wind in the trees
  • Putting a sprig of rosemary or lavender in my mask as I talk a walk in nature
  • sunset on the rooftop (I’m trying to make a ritual of it)
  • Micro moments to fill in
  • Vicarious cat interactions through lots of videos/tiktok compilations
  • Seeing people’s rooms/homes in the backgrounds and getting to know them in that way
    • This piñata head:  
  • The poetry of Keetje Kuipers (example)
  • Somehow ended up in an all canadian group
  • Playing scrabble with my best friends – i have won 1 game of 700. Keep on 
  • Art – making beauty out of struggle
  • Convening spaces for community across the world – humanitarian wise. It is hard but people really appreciate it
  • Reconnecting with old friends, virtual hangouts
  • These Twitter threads:https://twitter.com/kylosbarechest/status/1264208265245683712
  • https://twitter.com/vilruse/status/1263891922168545281
  • I (Zephyr) have been putting out a small newsletter every Friday of only good/cute/queer/hopeful things – https://tinyletter.com/zalsoa
  • MINECRAFT (building huge group projects with friends)
  • Being with my son
  • Being able to enjoy my art installment around my nome Meural 
  • Reconnecting, finding my grounding and sense of place 
  • Being outside, hiking, connecting with my friends

What’s bringing you joy right now?

Facilitating a distributed conference

I was pretty sure it was going to be a disaster the day before. Hell, the week before. Having multiple tracks of participatory sessions meant that people would need to move from video conference link to video conference link. We didn’t have a shared chat space consistent across all the “rooms,” and I was anxious to go to other links myself to gather people, leaving the core room unattended.

It could have been terrible. Instead, RecoveryCon was a smashing success, with people joining from all over the US, plus the UK, Germany, and Turkey. We ran (mostly) on time. We shared back what had happened in sessions. We cried a bit together. And we ended 3 minutes early.

Another blog post will happen soon with a summary of sessions, links to notes, and our Joy Gallery; but for now I wanted to tell you about facilitating a multi-track open-spaces style event. A caveat that a high proportion of my friends are facilitators and/or are tech savvy. YMMV.

The logistics

We had as many video conference “rooms” as we had tracks. This will come into play with the agenda. One “room” should be both a track and also where you start / regroup to. This means anyone coming to the conference at weird times is swept up in a session without extra overhead. It also gives a consistent sense of a “common room” that people know to go to if they get lost or booted or whatever.

Start a notes doc for each track, including headers for each session and reminders of when to come back to the main room. That way, folk don’t need to ask about it. It will be a bit of a Thing when times change and you have to go update each doc, but oftentimes folk will have already updated it for you. You will be able to see this in the notes doc when the content overview post goes up.

If I were going to do this again, I would have a chat of some kind with the session leads and facilitators to coordinate and remind about coming back. This time it worked out great, tho!

The agenda

This was bananas to me. I am in the school of facilitation that does not share the agenda for an event, but rather encourages people to be fully present by asking them to trust me and giving folk whatever comes next as it happens. This time, I shared a spreadsheet of when various things were going to happen. This spreadsheet also provided a source of truth so far as links to video conference rooms and notes docs so folk could self-sort.

All sessions ended up being the same length of time, which was different than originally planned. I tried to add in complexity where it wasn’t needed, and we organically got back to a simpler state.

Expectation setting

In addition to a version of the participant guidelines from Aspiration I give (and was reminded to do so this time — thank you), we also had the expectation of all watching the clock together, and of returning to the main room. I asked at least once on each front for those to be repeated back to me, and made the main room clear in the communications emails sent out to attendees.

We also set the expectation of collaborative note taking as active listening and of reporting back on sessions so folk who went elsewhere still felt like they got something out of the sessions they missed.

Thank you

Thank you to all the amazing folk who came to RecoveryCon and made it what it was. Special shout out to Greg, for helping with organizing; to Liz, for having boundaries; to Adrienne and Heather for facilitating tracks; and to Cheryl, Beatriz, Nathan, sevine, Julie, Courtney, Lou, Ahmet, B, and two other folk I missed for leading sessions.

Recovery Con

I think all of us are worn down at this point.

Inspired somehow this morning by this tweet from Quinn, and this article from Laurie, I realized I wanted to start thinking about how we can make the world better as we move from pandemic and quarantine into whatever comes next.

We’ll have talks.

We’ll have a joy gallery.

We can even have karaoke, even tho it’ll go poorly over video chat.

We’ll have spaces to talk to each other about how hard this is, yes of course, but also what we can dream of coming after.

A lot of it is yet to be figured out. You can help me in doing so by signing up here. It also includes indicating you’re interested in helping to organize, facilitate, give a talk, etc. Charging $5 to be sure people are actually committed, all proceeds will go to groups in need as selected by attendees. Obviously and as always, ping me to have the fee waived.

May 23rd (because let’s be honest, we’re going to be in this for awhile) 9a-1p PT / 12p-4p ET / 5p-9p BT / 7p-11p EAT.

A playbook for distributed teams

Originally posted on the Truss blog

There are a lot of articles coming out these days about how to be an effective distributed employee. But there is much less around on how to be a good distributed team. Truss hired our first distributed employees back in January of 2018, and we’re now at 55% outside our “home state” of California (and many of us are spread across CA). We’re now 75 folk, and there are usually 5 of us in “the office.” As Isaac recently said, “it’s like a coworking space that only Trussels have access to.”

We’ve had to learn a few things in order to keep the organization functioning and aligned with our values. We’ve now codified the steadiest of these lessons in a distributed playbook on GitHub.

A quick note on language, and why we chose “distributed” over “remote.”

“Remote” suggests that there is a central place to which a node is remote. Because we wanted to emphasize that we are all on equal footing, we instead chose “distributed” – there is no “center.” We have collections of Trussels in NYC, Atlanta, Chicago, Sacramento, LA, and SF; as well as individual Trussels in many other locations.

What the playbook holds

We think healthy distributed team interaction falls into four buckets: facilitating interaction, properly resourcing people, bonding with each other, and seeing each other in person on occasion. This includes other things like taking stack, having a place for banter, having offsites, and having ways to connect about not-work. Things we’ve talked about in previous blog posts and will continue to post about (and now will collect into this playbook as we do).

A quick note on internal references in the playbook

We talk in the playbook about TDRs – Truss Decision Records. We pulled these from ADRs (Architectural Decision Records) which we use in our code repos to document why we made certain choices. We do the same for our organization now, and anyone can propose a new decision. We should probably do another blog post on that at some point.

We want your help!

We’re still learning about distributed team interactions—we all are—and we’d love your feedback and contributions to the playbook so we can all learn with each other.

Facilitating distributed All Hands meetings

Originally posted on the Truss blog

All hands meetings are important – they are a way to spread a message, a way for a team to get to know each other, and a way to move a decision making process forward. They are easy to do wrong—to hear something everyone already knows a thousand times over, to be unclear, or to be a jumbled mess without enough time to accomplish a goal. I’ve run the numbers of how much we pay for an all hands meeting (something I can do with internal salary transparency), and the cost is nothing to laugh at. So why do we have these meetings so often (at Truss, once a week), and how can we make sure we’re getting the most of them?

We see facilitation as the way to get the most out of a meeting like this. I’ll arbitrarily define “meeting facilitation” here as the act of deciding what you want to get out of a gathering, planning for, and then constructing and maintaining a space and flow to optimize for achieving that goal with a group of people. This is different from presentations—which are also useful—as a presentation is about the clear delivering of a message by one or a small group of people to another set of people. It is possible to facilitate a set of presentations, especially if there is Q&A at the end.

Facilitating distributed meetings

As we’ve talked about before, facilitation changes when you have a distributed group. And so as Truss noses up past 70 (and still growing) we’re hitting new facilitation challenges. As our client base grows, and our internal operations change, and fewer Trussels know each other well, what do we want out of our all hands meetings (that we call “Practitioners’,” or “Prac” for short), and how can we be sure we’re achieving those goals?

Skill share

We know we don’t have all the answers at Truss, and so we wanted to have the conversation about how to further improve our practices with a broader group of people. Four Trussels (Sara, MacRae, Isaac, and Willow) were joined by Emily of honeycomb.io, Pam of One Medical, Aaron of CivicActions, Liz of Public Lab, and Mike of an undisclosed media company to skill share. The all hands we facilitate run from groups of a handful to in the 70s. Some of us rotate facilitators, some of us hold that honor for a prolonged period. Some of us are fully remote, some of us are clumped into rooms in different locations.

While you can get into the details by watching the video or reading the notes, our main categories of interest fell into engagement & participation, meeting purpose, and who is remote versus who is in person. We had a few main takeaways that we’ll be cross-pollinating across our organizations.

Facilitation Guild

Having a group of similarly dedicated folk within your organization can help up everyone’s game. Try out experiments together, lean on each other for support, and perform course corrections by having allies to check in with. We try out new things on our project teams and then share them back to the guild, helping the whole organization benefit from gains (and avoid and/or reproduce discovered failures!)

Collaborative decision making

While some of us (including Truss) still use all hands primarily as a way to disseminate information, Aaron of CivicActions and Liz of Public Lab told stories of making decisions as organizations during all hands meetings. This makes my robot heart sing with joy, and the Truss facilitation guild will be looking for ways to start doing this in our projects.

“Hand” in chat

As a group grows larger, it becomes more difficult to track who wants to say something, and in what order. We use the video conferencing software’s chat to raise a hand through text—literally typing “hand”—in order to signal we want to say something. Not only does it help the facilitator keep stack, it also gives time to folks who want to consider what they want to say before they say it

Banter / Side channel

Banter is a great way to keep everyone engaged—I may not want to take up everyone’s attention with the perfect gif in reaction to something that’s just been said, but if I have somewhere to post it, I’m more likely to stay engaged as are the folk looking at and responding to the gif. Using a side channel (so not distracting from the “hand” channel above) means everyone wins.

What’s next?

Huge shout out to all the folk who joined for this facilitation skill share—I’m excited about a lot I get to do, and this was still the highlight of my month thus far. To be able to share skills across organizations is rarer than I’d like in the private sector, and that’s just silly. We all do better when we all do better. I hope we have more reason to collaborate with each other to grow and uplift the spaces we’re in. Is there something you want to learn or share about?

There is a growing body of work around working from home and working from anywhere… as well as the practices individuals take to stay sane and healthy while doing so. But we’re lacking a supporting body of work in how to help groups work together well in this new distributed environment. Truss is beginning to codify our learnings into a distributed playbook, which we’ll share when it’s good enough to face the tumult of the internet. When it’s out, we hope you’ll join us in making it better.

Upping Our Distributed Practices

Originally posted on the Truss blog

While there are lively debates about whether or not the Future is Distributed, at Truss we’re having a pretty solid time of it. Running online meetings is just the beginning of making sure your distributed team is included, and we’re continually working to improve our distributed practices.

We have a running doc of practices we want to try. Our goal is to fail at least occasionally — it means we’re actually reaching further than our grasp. Here are a handful that we’ve recently tried, and to what result.

  1. Persistent distributed video : quiet failure
  2. Being Humans Together : resounding success
  3. #in-out-status : success
  4. Synchronized cupcake delivery : failed, but worth a re-attempt

Persistent distributed video

One of the things we missed most in becoming fully distributed was the human bonding time we got with our rad coworkers while in the office together. One of our attempts at addressing this has been a standing video link which people can jump into and out of to “cowork” with each other. There’s sometimes some idle chitchat, and then often heads-down working.

It ended up not working for a few reasons:

  • being on it as the same time as other folk is rare;
  • we have a culture of scheduling time to talk about specific subjects rather than hoping it happens organically;
  • the standing video link quickly became “invisible.”

Result : quiet failure

Being Humans Together

Getting distributed folk in a video in a coordinated way to talk about Not Work is now a standing half-hour weekly timeslot. It is some Trussels’ favorite part of the week. We do a couple different formats:

  • if under 9 participants, each person gets 2 minutes to talk about anything at all they want to, so long as it’s not work.
  • if it’s more than 9 participants, a quick checkin happens on how people are feeling, and then breakout groups of 3-4 people each for a deeper dive.

We sometimes have a prompt (“what’s one story about you that you think really represents what you’re like?” or a show-and-tell.

Breakout functionality in video conferencing software has been amazingly useful. So far we’ve done these randomly, but at some point we might try self-selection into these “rooms.”

Result : resounding success

#in-out-status

Has this ever happened to you? You log in on the East Coast after a sick day, and you have no. idea. what is going on with different stories. Did someone delete that blocker, or has it been worked around? And it’s 3 hours before anyone else who might know what’s going on will be online.

We now have a Slack channel called #in-out-status where people give a brief summary of the status of what they were working on before they go out for the day. It’s evolved to be a place where we also flag when we’re in for the day, going to lunch, taking a sick day, etc.

Result : success

Synchronized Cupcake Delivery

The project I manage recently hit a big milestone in October. While it was more of a non-event than our June release, there was still some stress around it, and a celebration was warranted. I set up a 2-hour session — the first hour of which was to catch up with each other (similar to Being Humans Together, but less structured), and a second hour to wander around where each of us is, and post pictures back to the group. The pictures were to put everyone on equal footing, rather than prioritizing office Trussels.

Also, during the first hour, I had lined up (what I thought would be) synchronized treat delivery to people regardless of location, scheduling deliveries for the time of the zone of delivery (IE, deliveries marked for 11:30 PT, 13:30 CT, and 14:30 ET in the interface should all arrive at the same point in time).

It ends up this is not a use case for this particular delivery service.

While all the cupcakes (plus one cookie order and one bundt cake order for some destitute places of the world which don’t have cupcakes available for delivery) for people in my timezone arrived as expected, 2 folk received theirs at the time requested but in MY timezone (hours late), and 2 received theirs hours early (for conversion errors I don’t understand).

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While it didn’t work out this time, everyone felt included and celebrated. Definitely worth trying again at some point.

Result : failed, but worth a re-attempt