Keeping a team aligned isn’t easy. Not every meeting can possibly include every single team member, and updating a multitude of Notion pages with all the details regarding every discussion is an entire project in itself. The data that informs decisions is shared to separate groups of people, many of which don’t necessarily work closely together. The result is team members unintentionally left out of the loop and unable to own projects in a way that contributes to the company’s general direction.
At Bearer, we are well aware that full remote companies are particularly at risk of having misalignment problems. We have 16 team members spread across the globe in countries such as the United States, France and South Africa, just to name a few. Everyone has weekly syncs with their respective “departments”—or, you know, the handful of people they work with closely—and we do our best to ensure that we’re all in contact regularly through our All Hands meetings, an internal newsletter, gaming sessions, or other team bonding activities.
That still left us with a few difficulties to solve:
- How do we ensure that all team members understand where Bearer is going, regardless of which pieces of that puzzle they are personally involved with?
- What do we do to show the team that their suggestions are welcome, and that we encourage a discussion about the decisions we’re making?
When it comes to defining what we should be focusing on as a company, our most effective project to date has been implementing a modified OKR process. The term OKR stands for “Objective and Key Results”, and it consists of a process that allows teams to collaborate on setting their goals, as well as on identifying creative and ambitious ways in which they could be achieved.
At Bearer, we adapted this process to accommodate different time zones by including asynchronous steps, and gives space for creativity by inviting team members to share their ideas and opinions regarding tasks that they might not be directly involved with. At Bearer, each OKR cycle lasts about 40 days, which we consider ideal for our stage. It gives us enough time to focus, deliver, and reflect on results without ignoring the fact that our startup nature requires a flexible mindset.
“As a startup, we have to iterate a lot, but also be good at focusing. Sometimes, it feels as though a startup either doesn’t iterate enough or does it too much by changing its direction every week. The OKR process motivates us to align and focus for a certain amount of time, and creates clear results—or reveals a lack of results, which is just as important—in a timeframe that is not too short or too long. It’s valuable because it helps us understand if we need to continue or change our current course of action.” — Guillaume Montard, CEO at Bearer
The OKR process at Bearer
We have created a Notion page that includes examples of each Step below. You can have a look at it as you read through them, as it might give you a clearer idea of what we do and why: OKRs at Bearer
Step 1: Defining the Objective and Key Results
- Tools: Zoom, Notion
On every new cycle, Bearer’s co-founders (Guillaume and Cédric) kick-start the OKR process by outlining our main goals for the quarter. They propose the Objectives and Key Results and create a file where we can discuss them asynchronously until there is a general understanding and agreement on the direction we are going. Then, Guillaume and Cédric hand the process over to the Team Leads, and only rejoin the discussion for a final review (Step 4). This ensures that the team owns the initiative discussions and decisions in their entirety.
Step 2: Brainstorming
- Tools: Google Docs
- Length: 1-2 hours, asynchronous
We give the team two files to share their initiative ideas they believe we should focus on during the cycle in order to achieve our Objectives and Key Results. One of them is for initiatives related to Sales & Marketing, and the other for Product & Engineering. We encourage everyone to participate, regardless of whether they will be personally involved in the execution of those initiatives or not.
Step 3: Discussion and agreement
- Tools: Zoom, Miro
- Length: 2 hours for each meeting
Following the brainstorming session, we hold one meeting to discuss the Sales & Marketing initiatives and another one for Product & Engineering. Each usually runs for about 2 hours, and are divided into steps that help us identify the initiatives most aligned with our priorities.
The Team Leads facilitate this process and start by creating cards on Miro with all the suggested initiatives. Then, the rest of the team joins them in grouping these cards according to the category that suits them best. For example: are they related to sales, content, or marketing? Team members place each card into its appropriate quadrant, and everyone votes on their favorites. The number of votes each person has to distribute often depends on the amount of initiatives we have overall. A good place to start is by allotting half as many votes as initiatives, such as 10 votes for 20 initiatives or 5 votes for 10.
After voting, we organize the Miro board by moving the cards into a Top 5, Top 10 or Top 20. The five initiatives that received the highest amount of votes will be placed within the inner circle, and become the center of the discussion going forward—some from the Top 10 regularly sneak in too. We then move those cards to a final quadrant, where we score them according to their effort and impact. We also assign owners to each initiative, and they’re responsible for overseeing the progress, setting up a deadline, and making sure they get done within that time frame.
Step 4: Sync and review
Once these meetings are done, the Team Leads sync about the discussions and create an organized file containing all the initiatives that were agreed upon, then share them with our CEO and CTO for a final review.
Step 5: Presenting the final result
- Tools: Google Slides, Zoom
- Length: 20 minutes
The final and arguably the most entertaining step of the process is about presenting the initiatives during our All Hands meeting. Each owner gives their initiative a name, chooses a GIF that represents it, and creates a slide for it on our deck. They get 30 seconds to pitch it to the rest of the team!
It’s about trying new ideas, until you find the ones that work
We’ve had to iterate on these steps a few times until we found something that fits our team. Our “Initiatives Week” (which consists of Steps 2, 3 and 4) used to be unnecessarily complicated to follow, with some questionable tools and a silly amount of pages on Google Docs. Feedback from the team helped us identify what needed to change, and we eventually got to the process we have now. It doesn’t match up exactly with everyone’s thinking process, but we all agree that adopting this method has helped us all stay aligned regarding our priorities for each cycle.
We will likely continue making tweaks here and there to ensure that our OKRs remain effective. As the team grows, we may need to split into more groups in order to facilitate the discussions and ensure that they run smoothly, but our ultimate goal is for the essence of the process to remain the same: it focuses on communication, and giving our Bears a space where discussion, creativity, and inclusion are encouraged.
Has your team implemented OKRs in an interesting way? We'd love to hear about it. Let us know on Twitter @BearerSH.