For the past five years or so, Akvo has had a Monday morning Skype call at 10am Central European Time. This has become the regular weekly gathering of colleagues, both in Amsterdam (where it is hosted from our big meeting room), and around the world (with people joining in via Skype with updates from their region).
If my grandfather was still alive, he would marvel at our Monday morning Skype meeting. He worked as a communications officer in the British army in India in World War 2, which involved riding a Norton motorcycle on his own, carrying letters, plans, packages. Whereas we can sit in rooms around the world and talk together – and often see each other on video, for almost negligible communications cost (thanks to Skype, Broadband Internet and the really good computers we now have). We can gather upwards of 20 people together from around the world, all sharing what they do together in a convivial atmosphere. I think it’s important not to deride what is already there. It’s a little bit magic. It’s something we shouldn’t take for granted. And each week, I type the minutes myself, either from London or Amsterdam and mail them to everyone that morning, and archive them on our intranet. People can instantly read them wherever they are, be it boarding a plane, sitting on a bus or train, lying in bed or perhaps sitting in the bath, whether they’re in Seattle, Edinburgh, Ethiopia or Canberra. Isn’t the internet amazing?
Despite the marvellousness of all this, we need to change the format. Because the Akvo Monday meeting is not quite a global meeting, not quite an Amsterdam meeting, and not quite a forum to discuss things. And it’s too big now to be a place where everyone sets out their week. It just doesn’t work for 70 staff stretching from Australia around to California, via plenty of places on the way.
We’ve all agreed we’re going to try a new approach, but before we settle on the exact format and process, I wanted to step back and explain the purposes of the meeting – the requirements against which we need to come up with a new approach. It may be that not everything here should be served by this meeting – there may be a combination of things we do, next.
What are the objectives of the Akvo Monday meeting?
1. Provide a “Start The Week” moment, every 7 days, where people ground themselves, and get focused on planning their week.
2. Feel a sense of participation, a sense of roots and bonding with colleagues, wherever they are in the world.
3. Learn who is doing what, either by listening in*, or by reading the minutes.
4. Enable people to articulate their own sense of accountability, and foster a sense of accountability in others.
5. Provide a forum where issues can be flagged up and questions asked in an “all-Akvo” setting.
6. To gather as many people as is practical from each region to talk over the work underway that week.
7. Create a regular, written weekly overview of what people are working on, that is distributed company-wide.
*Listening in is important – actually being present for an event, rather than just reading notes, matters to some.
Who participates today?
Not everyone joins, and this skews the content and purpose.
Who is in it?
– The Akvo Amsterdam team. The meeting is hosted by the Amsterdam hub, and doubles right now as the weekly Amsterdam get-together. All Dutch staff who are in the office come into the meeting, and provide an update on what they’re doing for about a minute. Usually Amsterdam-based staff will also dial in if they’re working from home. Updates are provided by people covering partnership activities, support, finance and administration, product management, software engineering and PR/communications.
– Thomas Bjelkeman. Thomas has long advocated a Monday morning gathering, and its an important part of his work routine. He talks over what he himself is focused on that week.
– Lynn Greenwood. Lynn coordinates a lot of our systems admin and always joins.
– Mark Charmer. I almost always join and provide an update on my work plus key things going on elsewhere in the comms team. I also view it as a moment to add a bit of fun, a bit of motivation and spirit, into the team. I also take the minutes usually (Alvaro in Amsterdam is the backup if I’m away, with others picking that up when we are both out).
– Oliver Galloway-Lunn. Oli tends to join to provide an update on the release engineering team.
– Iván Perdomo. Our development team lead Iván joins on occasions to run through development priorities that week.
– East Africa. Luuk or Phylis usually joins and provides an update on the work of the whole East Africa team.
– West Africa. Generally someone from either Burkina Faso or Bamako joins, and gives an overview of what people are doing that week.
– India (Delhi). Either Isha or Amitangshu normally joins and provides a run down on key things happening in the India partner team
– Caddisfly team (Bangalore). On occasions Sam joins from the Bangalore R&D hub.
– South East Asia. Usually Frodo van Oostveen joins to provide an update on activity happening from our Singapore and Indonesia hubs. On some occasions, Peter van der Linde joins from Indonesia.
– Australia / Pacific. Stefan Kraus often participates in some form from Canberra. This may be via Skype or by sending an update so we can include in the minutes.
Who is not?
– Anyone who doesn’t work on Mondays, such as Jo, Emily, Linda, who work in the comms team.
– US staff, including Henry, Winona, (and again Emily) can’t join because it’s too early in the day.
– Most staff don’t participate from the East and West Africa hubs, including most trainers, with usually just the hub manager passing on activity updates. It’s a similar picture for Asia and South East Asia.
Options from here
We need to understand why we feel we want to change things. I think the reasons include the following:
– Lots of staff participating from Amsterdam, all unloading their weekly to-do-lists into the meeting, while the regions tend to provide a single source of update for a whole group. So, the Monday meeting is an all-Amsterdam meeting, combined with input from a point person in other places.
– How to increase participation of all staff in at least one all-Akvo meeting per week. This could involve scheduling two weekly meetings, with people joining one or the other, with both being minuted and circulated. This would build on the success of what we already have.
I actually think a lot of what we do next depends on how the Amsterdam team works out how to improve the ways it meets together, and how it wants to bring the work of those around the world into their environment. For example, maybe there could be a meeting most mornings of the week, with a different location joining. Or maybe we can project activity from around the world into the Amsterdam hub in new ways. Or set up the kitchen so that there are screens from different regions, showing updates on what’s going on that week where. We could create a shared coffee morning that is designed to get everyone talking to each other and acting as a catalyst to schedule breakout meetings.
Or maybe that’s too Amsterdam-centric. Perhaps we even brand Monday morning as Akvo’s most interactive morning of the week, where updates and discussions fly around the world, and are all documented by lunchtime and shared with everyone.
Whatever we do next, it can be an improvement on something already impressive. I hope that my attempt to document what it currently does make it easier to work out a way – or a combination of ways – to come up with a thing or mix of things that are better.
I’d really value people’s open comments here – you can even comment below. We’re not alone in this journey. Every organisation around the world has to invent ways to meet each week, so we should not be afraid to learn from the best ideas out there, whether they’re 100 years old or from really progressive firms.
Mark Charmer is a co-founder of Akvo, and is director of communications. Photo from the Boomtown Rats on YouTube.