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A taste of our own medicine: Using design thinking to re-envision our monthly staff meeting

Black sign board with white letters that spell "Let's Rally"

We used human-centric tools and methods to collaboratively arrive at a solutions for a new and improved monthly gathering for Fathom employees.

With a frequently dispersed team of consultants working remotely on client sites or traveling for research, the Fathom team (as a whole) gathers just once a month for an all-hands meeting. In our flexible working environment, our monthly staff meetings are as close to “mandatory” as we get. They’re an important time to get caught up on the state of the business, share learnings that make us better consultants, celebrate successes of our co-workers, and authentically connect with our colleagues face-to-face both during and after the meeting.

For many years, these monthly “Project Review” meetings focused on just that: reviewing a client project in the form of a case study (along with sharing other business updates). However, as time went on, case studies became less frequent, announcements became rote, and people drifted back to work or straight home as soon as the meeting ended. When attitudes about the usefulness of the time together started to shift, we decided to become our own client. How could we use human-centered design techniques to collaboratively arrive at a solution for a new and improved gathering with end-users involved in all steps of the process?

Human-centered design often focuses on products and services. But experiences of any size—even staff meetings!—can and should be designed too. Here are a few techniques we used:

  • Co-creation—After laying out key objectives for the monthly meeting (connectedness, transparency, and learning), we used a monthly meeting itself to break into small groups and workshop ideas to ensure we met each of those objectives during each and every gathering.
  • Upvoting—Following our ideation session, suggestions were gathered and posted in a central spot in our office. Team members could both up-vote and down-vote recommendations from their colleagues. Sharing client and consultant high fives at staff meetings? Thumbs up! Doing an actual “project review” at Project Review? Surprisingly, a low vote-getter.
  • Mind-mapping—After a small group evaluated ideas and determined a new format for our monthly gathering, it was clear the name “Project Review” no longer made sense. We used a classic brainstorming tool—mind-mapping—to come up with a new name for our monthly gathering. Mural.co’s digital visual collaboration tools made it easy to brainstorm until we finally landed on the perfect name: Rally.

But even after the heavy lifting of designing the new solution, our work was far from over. We took off our human-centered design hat and put on our operations design and optimization hat, knowing that operationalizing the planning and execution of each meeting would be critical to our staff experiencing the meetings as intended. Food choices were debated (sweet or savory?), spaces were considered, and timing was outlined for our launch. Discussion was given to what we could sustain each month. And, a “Rally Enhancement Team” was established to provide governance and to support ongoing improvements.

Our new format launched in January and, after receiving a bit of “user feedback,” we iterated for February. We went completely virtual starting in  March amid the work-from-home mandate due to the coronavirus (followed by, of course, a virtual happy hour). No doubt we’ll continue to test, learn, and iterate throughout the year, asking for and building on feedback from our users (ourselves). However, with most meetings starting with “connectedness and cupcakes,” the taste of our own medicine—so far—has been sweet.