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At Gay Star News, the online media company where I work, we've been growing. We've been recruiting new members to the team, and there's also been some turn-over in roles, plus we've got some plans for further growth. So it feels like we're going through a period of change.
At the moment we effectively have three different dimensions to the business resources we've got—Team Tris, Team Scott, and Team Gareth. They're obviously not the official names of the teams, we don't actually have official names for the teams, but you could broadly characterise them as Engagement (Team Tris), Partnerships (Team Scott), and Delivery (Team Gareth).
The Engagement side of the troika (Team Tris) is focused on content, distribution, and audience. The Partnerships side (Team Scott) is focused on direct sales to commercial partners. The Delivery side (Team Gareth) is focused on technology, events, sales support, business management, finance, and project management.
1. The Problem
Having gone from one fairly low-maintenance direct report in my Delivery team to now having four new-to-the-business direct reports, I'm wanting to put in some easy-to-use systems to help everyone in the Delivery team know what they should be doing, and to be able to transparently track what we're prioritising, where we're allocating time, as well as demonstrating that stuff is getting done.
We currently don't have a business-wide goal-setting framework in place at Gay Star News, and there's quite a material difference between the three teams, so having a one-size-fits-all approach probably doesn't make much sense. The Engagement team runs pretty much like a content-generating newsroom; the Partnerships team is a classic sales team; whereas the Delivery team has the five of us all working on pretty distinct and separate deliverables.
I've managed this kind of team before in other companies, so in a lot of senses this dynamic feels quite familiar, but I wanted to try and build some solid foundations that would enable and support future growth of the business.
2. The Research
After a bit of reading about how different teams and organisations tackle this kind of thing, it was eventually the experience of Hailley Griffis from the marketing team at Buffer that helped me find a way forward. Griffis wrote about how they had adapted Buffer's six-week planning cycle to the marketing team. The solutions that Griffis ended up with didn't really resonate with me, but the six-week planning cycle, and adapting that to the team dynamics and business objectives that I was grappling with in the Delivery team at Gay Star News made a lot of sense to me.
3. The Starting Point
My starting point was to write down (in a Google Sheet) a list of everything that I could think of that myself and my direct reports need to deliver in the next six weeks.
I created a separate list for each of the team: Alex, Nuno, Mattia, Addison, and myself.
That was a useful exercise—it demonstrated that we had a lot of stuff to get done.
At this point, I realised I'd been working in isolation from Team Tris and Team Scott, so I emailed both Tris and Scott with a summary of where I'd got to and what I was working on, with the caveat that I was happy to keep working in isolation on this as I didn't really see it as appropriate for their teams.
5. Goals and Strategy
Just getting-stuff-done doesn't make a lot of sense unless we've got some context that the stuff that we're doing is helping the performance of the business and building towards some longer-term strategy.
I allocated three specific goals for each team member. Each team member has different goals, with specific and measurable numbers. All of our goals (including mine) are shown together on the front-sheet of the spreadsheet-tracker I've built, so there's transparency across the team and they're always front-and-centre.
6. The Initial Roll-Out
My next step was to empower each member of the Delivery team to take ownership of their own deliverables—planning, tracking, updating (using the combined Google Sheet).
Addison doesn't join the team until next week, so I want to present it to him as this-is-how-the-team-works.
My roll-out to Alex, Nuno, and Mattia was an individual, face-to-face conversation—explaining my rationale and what I was wanting to try and put in place.
I also talked each of them through my thinking on the goals that had been set—sense-checking to ensure that they agreed with the goals and understood how they would work towards them, as well as how the goals contribute to the overall performance of the business.
In effect, the list of stuff-we-need-to-get done is to become the work-plan that I'll be reviewing with each of them on a daily basis, and it also records everything that has been completed (which will be reviewed in monthly performance discussions).
7. Next Steps
So far, things seem to be going pretty well and I'm fairly pleased with myself.
The real test is whether this approach becomes part of our normal way of working, or if it becomes a struggle to update, maintain, and review. The other interesting test will be when Addison joins next week and we see how someone new to the team adapts to this style of structured working.
It's all to play for!