Setting up Remote Teams for Success by Aligning to a the Vision: A Miro-Based OKR Triangle Mapping Exercise

Real digital transformation is about technology riding shotgun

It’s almost a given that there will be misalignment between multiple teams in complex organisational structures. Across the industry, the technology teams are gradually shifting from the role of Responder to the Driver of competitive advantage. In the process of this shift there are usually major misalignments in a vast number of areas, from language, to assumptions, to objectives. The gap needs to be closed pretty quickly to secure talent as well as ensure the ongoing success of board-sponsored digital plays.

My experience is that erring on the side of an over-emphasis on vision and OKRs is worthwhile. We may guess we all all getting the same picture, but rarely do we spend the time to take into account the complexities and time it takes to reach the most useful common ground. In my mind this is worth the investment, if only for one strong reason. Distributing to the edge (for fasted response times) means that within a day there are hundreds of (sometimes critical) decisions that are entrusted to each individual. These decisions will go mainly unnoticed but will be made based on the individual’s attempt to respond to fit in what is best for the team, initiative and organisation. (e.g. iterative decision-making via the OODA loop).

One of the most important summaries of the map forward is a set of Objectives and Key Results (“OKR”). A great resource on the science behind these is the work by John Doer especially his book “Measure What Matters”.

But Teams frequently lack an understanding of the big picture.

People have trouble boiling down their own team’s OKRs, let alone linking these to the objectives of the organisation or adjacent teams. I run a useful exercise called the “OKR Mapping Exercise” that starts building muscles memory of the teams to start thinking of the various puzzle pieces needed to achieve the overall vision.

What are the Benefits of Investing in this Hour?

  • It primes each individual to be able to make optimal decisions. It usually created a better focus and ability to prioritise based on what matters by referring back to the overall context of the intiative.
  • Teams and individuals understand how they need to connect with each other areas of the organisation to be able to deliver the outcome. This fosters what I call “value-driven collaboration” and it reduces the risk of silo wastage and skipped out important stakeholders/knowledge.
  • It empowers and gets the motivates each everyone. It fosters high performing teams and cultures. It gives each individual a “why” as they understand how they contribute to the real success in a complex organisation. (e.g. Daniel Pink’s Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose motivation model)

A Rough Guide to Running Your Own OKR Mapping Session.

In our remote world, I now try to stimulate engagement and F2F using interactive tools like Miro. Even in cases where a presentation would usually suffice in a room, I would opt to embed the presentation material in the slides and add some interactivity to the session to engage attendees, compete against Facebook attention, and generally conduction a more enjoyable session. Miro has been a key part of my remote arsenal and the team have been adding functionality at a rapid rate. It is continuous to evolve, with some invaluable interactive functionality such as voting, commenting, attention management, commenting, board passwords. It’s difficult to describe the whole OKR mapping session process, so my plan is make this guide easier to follow by publishing a template on Miro’s Miroverse (their template sharing community).

I’ve run these in different flavours as needed, modifying the agenda, duration, attending and levels OKR levels to adapt to the situation. Use these steps as a rough guide to executing the activity.

The goal is to establish a OKRs defined by the Vision and Traceable through the organisational layers.

I like these workshops focused on product building rather than browsing Twitter and then waiting to say something smart. Keep it quick & use agile principles: set a visible timer for the each sprints below with short breaks in between. While the teams are mostly left to self-organise, you should ensure that there is enough coverage across the 4 areas and that there is an elected “Product Owner” that can have a final say in deadlock situations to drive the conversation forward.

  1. Introductions (0 - 10mins). Each team members add a card with a photo of themselves prior to the session containing their role, location in the company & how they relate to the overall vision statement. Each attendee points to their card and explains.
  2. Set the object of solidifying the vision statement.
    • Add cards the best describe what is it we trying to achieve? What it is that justifies the late nights, the headaches, the team arguments? You don’t need to get too specific. but the more details you can provide around the overall Why is better. People need to know why they are doing things to drive them to spring out of bed in the morning, even when it’s dark and training. Make sure you leave out anything to do with the “How”. For this activity each team member adds statements, themes, or elements as to how they perceive the vision.
    • Solidify vision statement. Either open up the cards for voting of the top items that encapsulate the perspectives of the vision statement or elect to have a team member with close alignment to the vision statement select the relevant ideas and explain the “where” & “why”.
  3. Set the Each Layer’s Key Objectives & Results.
    • Split the team into four groups, each with a specialisation in areas of the triangle 1 - 4, segmented appropriately based on experience and speciality. Use audio breakout sessions for the teams. Initially agree to split each layer into multiple components that represent building blocks of the area. You don’t have to split these up and try and keep this to max of major 4 blocks.
    • Add cards for Objectives and Results (~7 mins) of the overall layer and then have the teams individual vote & elect the winning cards. Keep all of the brainstorming ideas of the objectives on the board but simple highlight the agreed cards.
  4. Finally, Connect the Part to the Whole.
    1. Run through each team and have them explain their elected OKRs. Describe WHAT and why there were eventually selected.
    2. As a group, working from 1 down to 4 add lines that represent the strongest relationships between Objectives. These should be fairly apparent but there may be multiple relationships between each: this is fine. The connected should need to agree on.
    3. If any disagreement you need to open up for a vote. Each team can vote add a vote to the line they feel represents the relationships.
  5. A Final Short Reflection: Rapid Retrospective.
    1. Add cards to the board: “what I’m feeling good about”, “what I’m feeling anxious about”, “additional items we need to address”.
    2. For each positive or negative, add add a corresponding actions that we could take to move towards our objective: either capitalise on the opportunities or reduce the probability or impact of any of the negatives.
    3. (Either offline or online) Finally, the elected Product Owner reviews the suggested Actions and reshuffles them to represent the next steps and adds owners and timeframes against each.
  6. After the session session.
    1. Either the Product Owner of Facilitator sends the cleaned up versions (I like PDF) of the following deliverables established in the session.
      1. Vision statement.
      2. OKR Triangle.
      3. The relationships between Objectives.
      4. The retrospective and action table.
      5. The next actions including owners and timeframe and follow up sessions.
    2. Send a link to the remote board and keep it interactive, but lock down the voted & agreed items. Allow comments, new cards, and discussions to keep the board as a living artefact as more information comes to light.

Finally, a a few assorted tips on running these based on running these sessions:

  • For the “Strategic” OKRs, investor materials including company reports are a good place to start. It’s perfectly fine if the OKRs you add don’t align to the official reports (they can lag behind) but they are can act as a good starting point of the board / CEO’s intentions.
  • Splitting layers into blocks should be at a very macro level. Being too granular can add unnecessary complexity & and tends to stop short of representing the whole layer in ~4 blocks.
  • Repeat these sessions multiple times as required. If there are multiple sessions I prefer these spaced out 30-45 minute sessions as opposed to one long session. We all lose concentration and some of these questions need to be reflected on for a few days.
  • Keep it simple and always try and find the North Star. Look at the metric / objective that will cause the largest positive impact to the whole.
  • Earlier in activities, encourage idea generation (“divergence”). However, be ruthless with quality when selecting the right OKRs to represent the idea (“convergence”). Better to have fewer, higher quality representations of the team’s direction.

Hope you enjoyed, have a chance to run a session, and iterate on the approach to make it even more effective. Look out for the template on the Miroverse to be published shortly!