TLDR; This is the recap of an experiment to promote participation specifically in P2 posts (I explain what’s a p2 post later). Conclusion: When the team lead publishes as few as possible posts on the team p2 it seems to leave a place for others to participate and could have an impact on fostering participation from team members. (Don’t take it for granted anyway. You’ll need to also encourage some members to catalyze the change, especially at the beginning).
What’s a P2?
A P2 is a P2 Themed Blog. It’s an non-hierarchical blog where team members are any participant are all admins and it allows async collaboration under the form of discussions and conversations, project and file sharing… Discussions -as well as every participation- has a direct link so it is visible, linkable, reusable. I’d say P2 is one of the best tools to raise productive discussions.
Other alternatives for this genre of participations (each one with their own particularities could be forums, or github, google docs -with some limitations- or even slack, depending on how you use it. Slack-like tools are important too, especially at the daily conversational level. For sure. But P2s are crucial when we try to capitalize and reuse discussions. Note: I exclude wikis because a wiki presents final results, but hide the conversation or the process.
Why we need to promote Participation? Because it is the key to productivity
Participation is the key to get the most out of team members. If you want them to give more than the bare minimum or what is described in the job description, you don’t need to empower them. Just allow them to participate and show their power. Project outcomes are improved when we have extra pairs of eyes and hands. Debates and discussions are enriched when all the team members can, and effectively, take part.
If we want team members to participate: allow them to take part!
As you probably know if you have read some of my posts/articles, I believe in horizontality and openness are key to boost participation. And an excessive presence of the team lead could break the horizontality metaphor and suffocate participation within the team as well as remove any hint of divergent thinking and even diversity of topics. It’s great if team members have the freedom to raise discussions their way. But, let’s go a step further. What if they raise the discussions they want instead of just answering or commenting on team lead posts, calls or issues?
The experiment: be less present.
In a few words, I tried to lower the % of publications I made as a team lead in our team P2 posts. My goal was to promote participation so I sent a clear message that team members could and should start conversations themselves.
I doubted this were enough so I animated participation in parallel. I was / have also been intentional and explicit to promote participation and encouraged them to publish posts and take part in others’ posts. This took a bit of time and effort to be assumed in the team culture, but it’s part of our team values now. Some examples:
- We have several weekly posts that are published by team members. Examples of these posts are ‘what to read’ post, the team hangout agenda, the TIL (Today I learned) post -where we capitalize and share learnings- and the weekly post to track what we have done. Who publishes the post has full freedom to decide the implementation/content/format… and leave their footprint on the post. Note: It’s great how impressively this can spark creativity as well as engagement.
- We publish a good number of ‘casual’ or ‘team bonding’ posts. In some cases, we agreed to publish in turns (for instance about our past experiences). Idioms posts were published by a team member during some months and asked others to share their native language version of an idiom. Our team is called Neptune, so we also publish about Neptune sculptures around the world…
- Any team member is encouraged to publish a post with their learnings on a given topic or anything that could be reused (a book that they read, a course or a podcast they follow, a TIL they want to elaborate on, some productivity tricks…)
- Any team member is encouraged to publish a post to start a discussion, from a review for any interaction they had (asking for peer reviews) to ideas gathering for the next team meetup.
- We gave a lot of importance to participation not only in our P2 but elsewhere and published posts from time to time to animate and celebrate it.
What if I was wrong? Team members will have the space as I was not publishing posts, but the participation (posts but also comments) would fall or would remain the same.
The experiment: some side flows
From a discussion around this experiment with other team leads in Automattic I discovered some new side flows that could help with the experiment. (Thank you Erin and Sasha for your juicy and intelligent points of view)
Delaying answers in conversations is an approach some of us have experimented with as a team lead. Crickets sound “forces” others to participate because some team members feel uncomfortable talking but even more uncomfortable with the silence. Even more, once we accept that participation is not optional but the way the group gets value from individuals, I think we all appreciate the lead to be silent for a while (to propitiate more diverse contributions).
A teacher’s perspective. I worked for some years as a lecturer/teacher in a PhD program where we used forums and slack to implement a learning community. This is a clear environment where you can see the importance of the lead (the teacher in this case) to allow others’ participation. Given the authority of the teacher, the risk is that students tend to blindly learn what the teacher thinks/says. And this supports a transmissive workflow where knowledge is just passed on, unchanged.
Magic happens when the teacher allows students to share and discuss their thoughts and opinions, better if divergent. Magic appears not just because the teacher is allowing students to learn more than just what the teacher knows or says. The magic is also that the teacher is allowing themselves to learn from the students, ultimately becoming a better teacher. This metaphor is certainly applicable for our teams. Luckily a8c teams are way less hierarchical than classes, but leads still have the risk to cause silence, so less juicy discussions when they / we are excessively present).
About transparency in communication. About private conversations or exchanges. I’m not necessarily fully against them because they could make sense in some cases and contexts. But in general I advocate for transparency -and this includes in the most cases making discussions public-. Transparency is crucial especially in remote companies, where you cannot afford the lack of context that a lack of transparency can create. If our discussion and improvement process relies on iteration a missing piece can cause several iterations lost (more with timezones diversity)… This said Google Docs could be transparent enough ¯_(ツ)_/¯
About team members that could feel forced to participate. The results are cool. I prefer to believe that my team members were encouraged by participation, horizontally, and a sense of ownership. But we aware that there is % of success that could be explained because team members feel I’m enthusiastic and they prefer not to burst my bubble. 😛
There are no silver bullets or one-size-fits-all approaches or techniques to promote participation. We are dealing with people and this makes it hugely complex… and amusing!
The experiment: Results
I gave it a try and I think the test was quite successful (So that’s the reason for this post) 😀
The graph shows results for a very long period so includes some external effects. It suggests an overall decline in the number of posts from September 2019 onward. And another dip in March and climbing a little at the very end, but not drastically over the whole period. There are several good reasons for that.
- We changed the strategy with peer reviews and started focusing on the intensity of the discussion. (We started focusing on the number).
- Some of the longer tenure HEs -and more communicative- moved to other teams (From Sep 2019).
- COVID-19 is having a deep impact (3rd period, since Mar 2020).
So, in the worst case, we post at least 30 posts/month. And fewer than 15% of them published by the team lead.
And these are the results in terms of comments and posts.
The experiment: Side Effects
I’m under the impression that this experience is useful not only to promote participation in the team p2. It also strengthens the participation muscle. And in parallel, we learn to be more active in other company discussions, like other P2s. And we feel empowered and practical in contributing with our opinions and engaging in other workflows. This is great as we – at Automatic- celebrate participation as it helps us to get the most out of our huge potential. I agree that is difficult to measure with numbers because there are so many overlapping factors. But I’m pretty convinced that there is an actual impact and my team mates agree on this.
The experiment: Discussion.
I’m not saying publishing fewer posts is the ultimate tool to foster or promote participation. I’m aware that there are more factors there, some environmental, some others relative to the team itself, and its inner dynamics. But… in any case, it seems it’s something that has an impact and could be worth trying.
Have you tried this / something similar with your team? What are your insights / POV ?