How Spotify’s agile coach, Cara Lemon, leads async collaboration
January 27, 2022
When COVID-19 pushed Spotify’s NYC office into remote and distributed work, it changed a lot of how Spotify’s Agile Coach, Cara Lemon, does her job.
“Before, I relied a lot on my intuition and people skills to do on-the-fly facilitation. In the remote world, you cannot do that. You need to plan out more clearly how you want to spend meeting time. I had to quickly develop a remote facilitation skillset, and that’s basically all MURAL to me. MURAL is where I design my agendas and modules based on the outcomes and conversations we need to have,” she explains.
Cara now coaches colleagues new to leadership roles on remote facilitation and (among other things) uses MURAL to repeat and customize a series of modules on creating better team alignment and rituals — what Spotify refers to as “ways of working.”
Designing asynchronous collaboration moments
With her colleagues now distributed across the world and — like many remote teams — often in countless meetings, Cara looks for ways to bring async work into projects. She believes the focus of video calls should be meaningful conversations. “My goal is not to be 100% async, but rather to cut down on either the amount of time or amount of people needed for conversations,” she explains. “Synchronous time should be optimized for meaningful debate and building trust and connection.”
By using asynchronous pre-work to gather information — like feedback in a retro or survey results — Cara can process and organize the information on a mural so that any live meeting time can be spent together in conversation.
Cara discovered doing ideation or “thinking work” on a live call can be challenging, so moving those components to async lets everyone avoid feeling the pressure and frees up calendars. It also balances the contribution of more introverted and extroverted voices in the conversation.
👉 Try this template for leading partially or fully async workshops.
Cara sees the role of facilitator as designing a high-value and focused conversation for meeting attendees. Without that focus and preparation, you run the risk of hearing the same things over and over in a meeting or not having clear decisions or alignment achieved.
Of course, everyone has different preferences for async work. Cara suggests introducing async work in a flexible way — so team members can choose how they want to work. For instance, try setting two different meeting start times: If people want to do the pre-work at the start of the meeting, they join first. People who have already done the work can join at a later start time for the conversation.
🚀 Tip: use the outline to designate sections of your mural as pre-work and provide instructions to async collaborators.
Building off her colleagues’ contributions
The coaches at Spotify created an open room in MURAL where they save murals with ideas and visuals they think will be useful to other people. Cara browses it regularly and adds her own murals there, using folders to organize the room into use case categories like warmups and retros.
“I’m really fortunate to have a community of openly sharing ideas,” she enthuses.
In addition to creating murals for foundational and day-to-day meetings and modules, Cara and other coaches have created murals to lead conversations around popular team-building and alignment methods. She recommends taking Patrick Lencioni’s Six Types of Working Genius assessments and using a mural to help visualize the natural talents and strengths within your team. This exercise not only helps you explore what energizes your team, but helps build trust and empathy.