Group check-ins, flashcards, and other experiments in our virtual organization

The City Fund is a virtual organization made up of mostly senior leaders.

Some standard organizational practices don’t seem best suited for our situation. So we are beginning to experiment.

I think that reinventing organizational management is a fools endeavor, but modifying at the margins can lead to better performance.

Here are some things we are trying:

Alternating 1-1 and group check-ins: We are no longer conducting 1-1 weekly check-ins with managers. Instead, every other week will be a group check-in with a 3 person pod. We think this will increase the effectiveness of problem solving, reduce knowledge silos, increase pattern recognition, and increase team member investment in other people’s work.

Once a month fly-ins: We are finding that quarterly retreats are too infrequent to tackle pressing big issues. So now once a month we all fly into a city, have dinner, and then spend the next day tackling our toughest problems together. We then fly out in the afternoon. We hope that this will allow us to solve big problems quicker as well as increase team bonding.

Monday optional discussions: We are finding that our 2 hour video team call on Friday is not great for informal brainstorming and debating. The agendas tend to be tight and based on making decisions. So we have now have a one hour optional video call on Monday. The video calls never have more than 1-2 topics and are meant for more open discussion.

Slack summaries: A lot of our work happens when an individual team member is a visiting a city. This makes it a bit difficult to learn together. So now we use slack to record visit observations, allowing other team members to chime in with advice. Simply reading these reports also increases building pattern recognition.

Flashcards: This quarter we are piloting flashcards. Each flashcard deck will be on a topic that everyone on our team should be smart on; i.e., the most important educational research on our strategies. During the pilot, we’ll ask each team member to spend ~10 minutes a day working through some flashcards.

We’re not sure what will work and what won’t. We’ll try things for a quarter and stop whatever is not working.

A common theme of these practices is that we’re trying to get smarter as quickly as possible. We hope that this will help us be more effective in making public education better.

When you’re building for the long-haul, quick marginal improvements matter a lot.

Over the years, they can compound into major improvements in effectiveness.

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