How to Keep a Global Team Aligned with “Tea Time”

Unreasonable is admittedly a small organization. With just over 20 full-time employees we have an intimate team. Even so, because at any given time our team is spread across multiple cities, countries, and continents, and we all share a drive to move at an aggressive work pace, ensuring we are all aligned and that a fabric of trust rests across the organization is a challenge.

As the CEO of the company, I believe that arguably my most important job is to align the team around a shared vision and invest in the culture and health of the collective. Tea Time is a one-hour meeting held three times monthly that enables us to do just that.

The
What

Ricken Patel is the founding President and CEO of Avaaz, the world’s largest online political movement with over 48 million members. Ten years into their organization’s development and with over 130 full-time employees, Ricken wanted to course-correct the company’s culture — a notably difficult task given that his team was distributed across more than 20 countries.

He identified a solution that he aptly branded the “Wrinkle Survey.” One hour a month, he was able to tap into the hesitations and concerns of the entire organization. Although difficult at first, over time it paid dividends in terms of creating a world-class culture and sense of shared alignment. We have adapted this practice into what we now call “Tea Time.” Below is an introduction to Tea Time and how we leverage it to ensure company alignment and a foundation for a world-class culture, one hour at a time.

The
Why

When companies typically share a town-hall style meeting, I find there are two challenges: managing remote teammates, and encouraging all members of the team to speak their minds. Tea Time can solve for both of these issues.

01

It works for remote teams
If you are video conferencing into an in-person meeting, you are at a serious disadvantage and typically are not able to engage in the conversation remotely. It’s typical for only half of our company to be physically present at Tea Time, but because we use Sli.do to source questions and concerns across the team in real time, everyone is able to be an active participant.

02

Everyone’s voice is heard
Second, in a typical town-hall meeting, when the leadership team opens up the floor for questions, only the most extraverted people raise their hands. Additionally, these meetings don’t usually accommodate anonymity, so teammates might not surface their most genuine concerns. By using Sli.do we ensure that all voices are heard, whether introverted or extroverted, and that individuals feel safe surfacing their toughest questions to the leadership team.

The
How

The concept is rather straightforward: from 9am – 10am on the first three Thursdays each month, we host a company-wide “Tea Time” conversation. No matter where in the world the team is located, we all call into a video conference and leverage a very simple process.

Here’s our standard agenda, which remains the same for all Tea Times.

STANDARD TEA-TIME AGENDA

0 – 3 minutes: I’ll ask a member of the team to hold a moment of silence and break it when they feel ready. This ensures that we are all able to pause, take a moment to ourselves, and show up with presence in the conversation that is about to ensue (side note: we do this for all our meetings, whether the meeting is 10 minutes long or two hours).

3 – 10 minutes: I’ll kickoff Tea Time with headlines. As the CEO, I typically take the first 5-7 minutes to highlight any important updates, hesitations, ideas, concerns, and wins that have taken place between now and our last Tea Time.

10 – 20 minutes: We open up the floor for any teammates to share relevant headlines, wins, announcements, or points of tension that they feel is relevant to the whole company. No teammate takes longer than 2 minutes and typically 4-5 will share their headlines.

20 – 22 minutes: Every teammate takes 2 minutes to write out any burning questions, concerns, hesitations that they may have — whether tied to the headlines that were shared or otherwise. All questions and concerns are written out individually in a free software platform we utilize called Sli.do. To ensure even the most sensitive questions and concerns are raised, teammates have the option to post anonymously.

22 – 25 minutes: What’s brilliant about Sli.do is that the platform aggregates all the questions in one spot as a live stream. We now have every teammate take 3 minutes to read over the stream of posts and upvote the questions or concerns that resonate most for them. In a total of 5 minutes I now have a 360 degree view of how things are going across a globally distributed team.

25 – 49 minutes: I now have a list of all the burning questions and concerns that are prevalent across the company and the list is prioritized by the sense of urgency or resonance across every team member. This is GOLD. My job is to now go through the list of questions and concerns one-by-one. When teammates feel that I have adequately addressed a question, they downvote it so that it moves to the bottom of the list.

In a typical Tea Time I’ll be able to address the top 10-15 concerns and questions as determined most important by the whole of the company. Occasionally, I’m not able to get to all the questions but I love the fact that in real-time, I’m able to see which are addressed and which still linger.

49 – 50 minutes: We strive to finish all hour-long meetings 10 minutes early. That said, I always take the last minute to sincerely thank the company for participating and we typically finish the meeting by yarring like pirates. True story. It’s how we close out all company-wide meetings, and it keeps us all feeling a little unreasonable.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

01

One of our core values at Unreasonable is “No Bullshit.” By addressing concerns and burning questions directly and sincerely, and without getting defensive, I’m able to live this value in front of the team multiple times a week. In doing so, I hope that I’m able to in a small way create a cultural tone for others to do so inside and outside of Tea Time.

02

Tea Time enables the most pressing concerns to rise to the top — not as determined by one person’s interpretation of reality, but by the collective votes of the entire team. This is invaluable for ensuring that I’m able to address the most felt questions and concerns of the organization, but it also offers teammates a window into their own biases.

If they raise a concern that they think is critical to the trajectory of the business and that concern isn’t upvoted, they may reflect on that implicit feedback and realize that the concern is something that really only pertains to them, rather than a crisis facing the whole company.