A ritual for surfacing critical conversations
How a simple tool helped our team more effectively launch better products.
Product Manager at Coda
- What’s your overall sentiment?
- What are your top fears?
- What would you wave a magic wand to solve?
- Strategic anxieties - Is anyone going to build on our platform?
- Interpersonal anxieties - Why isn’t Angela getting the designs done? I feel that’s lagging and blocking everything else.
- Tactical anxieties - Do we have the right entry point for Pack creation?
- Copy the template or add it to the top of the Coda doc you use to take meeting notes.
- In each meeting, give everyone five minutes to silently add responses, read what other people have written, and indicate what responses resonate most. When finished, have participants click the “ready to discuss” button.
- As a team, discuss the items you surfaced, beginning with those that recurred or resonated broadly. Continue through the ongoing topics tracker.
Using the Fears & Magic Wand ritual in Coda to help our team launch better products.
Tip 1: Use smaller groups to encourage openness.This activity is particularly useful with small groups of three to five participants. Many people find it easier to open up in small group settings, so it's more likely that folks will surface critical issues and provide constructive feedback in meetings of this size. This also allows more time to discuss each contribution.
Tip 2: Model authenticity and vulnerability.I’ve used this ritual on multiple teams since the Packs project. When I present it, I share stories about how making space for a bit of vulnerability with a trusted group has helped projects in the past go so much better—and how I feel so much more supported while going through it. These examples tend to resonate with my colleagues and increase their enthusiasm for using the ritual. Being open about my experience gives me a chance to model the behavior and attitude I’m encouraging: curiosity, validation, vulnerability, and productive problem-solving. And that continues into how we answer the questions. I encourage folks to not inflate their sentiment ratings, to not shy from sharing low-level fears—often some of the most fruitful—to see if there’s anything there to explore together, and to use the “this resonates” button to share some validation. You can also tap into team spirit to frame the effort: “If anybody is going to get this done, it is going to be us, so it's important we be open with each other.”
Tip #3: Leave enough time.Vulnerable thinking takes time, so give your team the space they need for internal digging. Sharing thoughts in writing allows team members to choose their words carefully, which can make them feel more comfortable sharing, but it also requires additional time. Our team found that we needed at least three to five minutes of quiet writing time per session, and sometimes more.
Tip #4: Embrace the parking lot.Once you’ve created a space to air and address concerns, keep track of them. While you may not solve every issue right away, track them in the doc and check in on the progress as the project continues. This doc can double up as a way to collect agenda items throughout the week, keeping deeper discussions out of Slack where they can be harder to have.
Tip #5: Adapt the ritual to your company culture.Most company cultures encourage certain blind spots. After you use the ritual a few times, adapt the prompts according to yours. For example, some teams have a very “nice” culture. On these teams, it’s easy to be supportive, affirming, and celebratory, and harder to provide critical feedback. You may need to expand the “fears” section of the template to encourage constructive criticism. If your company culture prizes direct feedback but struggles to make space in which individuals can take ownership of problems, you might add a prompt that encourages participants to name issues that seem to be lacking clear follow-up or ownership. This ritual, built with Coda, is just one way that we help teams stay in sync while making better decisions. It helped the Packs team launch a whole new business for our company. Thank you to Helena Jaramillo for being game to experiment and for developing this ritual with me as we launched Packs. Learn more about rituals to help your team thrive.
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