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Hatching great teams through reflection

A knowledge worker, seen from above, reflecting in a journal

I’ve been thinking a lot about supporting shared, informal reflection at work.

In software development, we do a lot of what I’d call formal reflection. These usually take the form of retrospectives after a development sprint, where the team gets together to discuss what went right and wrong, and what they might change about their development process. There’s also space for formal reflection in 1:1 meetings with your manager, where you discuss your progress with respect to your and your team’s goals.

In most development teams, there isn’t a lot of space for what I’d call informal reflection: discussing our hopes, ideas for what we might do in the future, or playing around with ideas that might seem off-topic if you tried to tie them to a direct team goal. Ideas that start “What if …” or “How might we …” or “Here’s how I’m thinking about …” or “I’m struggling with …”, rather than more formal work documents.

But his kind of reflection is important. When shared in writing across a team, I think it serves a few different purposes. These include but aren’t limited to:

  • It helps widen the gene pool of ideas for what the team might do (and provides a way for anyone to discuss an idea)
  • It reveals your colleagues’ worries and excitements, helping to build empathetic relationships on the team
  • It helps the team build a muscle for sharing vulnerably and giving feedback openly
  • It helps fill in the culture and communication gap for remote teams, who have fewer opportunities for sharing informally with each other

Some workplaces do this well. When I worked at Medium, we had an internal version of the platform called Hatch that was so good it should have been listed as a perk. Everyone in the company could write and respond to posts, which ran the gamut from people introducing themselves and what they cared about to technical specifications. Posts I remember writing included an exploration of what it might look like to support podcasts as a product, a post about me as a person, some stuff I’d done in the past that might be applicable, and various engineering specifications. Other people wrote rich, eloquent reflections on every aspect of the platform and its community. I mourned its loss when I left.

In a post from 2015, Marcin Wichary included this screenshot of Hatch posts that goes some way of capturing the spread:

A screenshot of Hatch, Medium's internal version for team members

I know that other Medium alumni have tried to build similar platforms at other companies they’ve worked at. I think it’s a good idea. This isn’t a traditionally formal company intranet: it’s a relatively-unstructured space where virtually anything goes.

There are a few commercial platforms that approach this. BlogIn allows you to create an internal blog that (as far as I can tell) any employee can contribute to, but the screenshots still make it look more formal than I’m looking for: more like an internal marketing space than a collaborative, freeform space for long-form thought within a team.

I think, in other words, that there’s space for a new kind of internal tool that allows folks to write long-form reflections without having to adhere to a taxonomy or development process. Where they can explore those ideas that start with “How might we …” or “What if …” or “Here’s how I’m thinking about …” or “I’m struggling with …” at length with impunity.

It’s the kind of stuff that folks might do today with a shared memo on a particular topic (if they’re part of a team that communicates well). On the team I’m working with today, a new member of the team writes wonderful weekly reflection documents about her onboarding and then shares links to them on Slack. That works, and her documents really are wonderful, but what if there was a place where everyone could post and find each other’s reflections? I don’t think either Slack or Google Docs are it (although you could simulate it with a shared, dedicated Google Docs folder and a Slack channel). Some people do this via email, and I don’t think that’s it either. I really think it needs a dedicated space.

I shared a survey about this the other day to try and figure out if other people felt the same need. It wasn’t a complete success because I don’t think people understood what I meant by reflection, and I used the word “journaling” which also isn’t quite right.

These ideas are still quite rough, but I’m hoping this blog post makes more sense. And if this idea resonates with you — or, indeed, if it doesn’t — I’d love it if you spent a couple of minutes answering my survey questions. Thank you!

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