The One Ritual We Follow with All Our Clients

Something I’ve noticed about high-performing teams, businesses, and/or nonprofits, is that they have highly effective rituals. And they stick to them.

As The Digital Nonprofit, I practice one ritual in particular. And I credit almost all of our consistent growth to this method. The ritual is just a weekly “status” meeting, but we conduct it in a particular way.

I institute it with all of our nonprofit clients in some way, shape or form—our Ad Grants monthly meetings essentially follow this same formula. And for this week’s nonprofit growth tip, I’d like to share it with you, too.

The Origins of Our Weekly Ritual

The Lean Build Measure Learn Cycle for Nonprofits

This weekly meeting has its origins in the Scrum, Kanban, and Lean methods. They’re all project management methodologies based around creating focus, growth, and learning from our mistakes. The way that happens is by working in “sprints”, a period of predefined length with a specific goal & focus.

Between these sprints, we conduct short, focused meetings to review our progress and use those insights to inform where we go now. They’re typically called “Retrospectives”. It’s a fantastic system to cut through busywork, define your true priorities, and force you to focus on them for a period of time.

How a Retrospective Works

The agenda for a retrospective is very simple, which is by design. It’s all too easy to let a meeting spin out of control, so retrospectives are made to keep our focus on learning & planning.

Refresh

The first step is to give a quick refresh of the previous sprint’s goal, and a bit of context around it.

For instance, my goal last week was to improve Ad Grants Assessments, because I felt like I didn’t have a good process in place for guiding the conversation. I write this out in the meeting minutes.

What Went Well?

Then it’s on to the first big question: What went well? This is a moment to remind us of our progress, share new insights with coworkers, and ensure we understand the things that are going right. If we don’t know why we’re progressing, it’s all too easy to stray from that path and mess something up.

In my scenario, I recall comments from clients like “the webinar helped me know what I don’t know” or “this discussion really put my decision into perspective”. Tidbits like that which illuminate the “why we’re growing” behind the “how we’re growing” are especially good to review at this time.

What Didn’t Go Well?

Now we turn to the flip side: What didn’t go well? Or some frame it as, “What could be improved?” Here, we examine where our efforts fell short, times when communication broke down, or unforseen hurdles that appeared in our path.

“I feel like I’m winging each meeting” and “working longer hours seemed to hurt my productivity instead of help it” were a couple of notes I wrote for myself in this portion last week.

How Can We Improve?

Finally, it’s time to consider the future. Based on the context, highs, and lows of the last sprint, you should have a few ideas bouncing around your head on what can be done better. Now is the time to offer them up, and prioritize which are most important/urgent. The goal is to generate actionable tasks you can complete in the next sprint.

Dot voting in action. Credit: dotmocracy.org

Dot voting in action. Credit: dotmocracy.org

In a group, using a tool like dot voting would be especially helpful: First, each participant offers several ideas, and presents them to the group for 20 seconds each. Then, everyone is given a few dot stickers to place on the ideas they support the most—they can place all their dots on one idea, or spread them out over a several.

In the end, the board looks a bit like a frequency graph from stats class, making it easy to determine the winner. There’s also no open-ended discussion, which removes any potential for drawn out debates on what someone thinks is best.

Now, your group has a list of actionable to-dos that will build off your previous experience to ultimately help you reach your long-term goals.

Tweaking it for Your Scenario

For me, it works best to hold these meetings on Monday morning, at the very start of the week. (I also work by myself, so it’s easy to ensure everyone attends and doesn’t talk too much!) It just feels good to redefine that focus before anything else can get in the way to distract me.

I have heard that for teams, biweekly sprints that start & end on Wednesday works best, and that sounds plausible to me. At the end of the day you can do whatever works for you. As long as you take time to regularly regroup, redefine priorities, and review your progress, you’ll be well on your way to rapid, lean growth.

If your nonprofit or team holds regular meetings like this, please comment below. The rest of us would love to learn from your insights. Have you found anything in particular that does or doesn’t work?