Thoughtworks is a global software consultancy solving complex problems with technology. Their 7,500+ team members help large enterprises define, structure, and build the organizational and technical capabilities needed to transform into a modern digital business.
Every year, Thoughtworks’ Extended Global Leadership team (EGLT) gathers for their annual planning offsite. For five days, the team of 27 leaders from 11 countries comes together to reflect on the year, plan for the upcoming one, and prioritize strategic initiatives as a team.
In 2020, though, they had a change of plans.
When the global pandemic halted business travel, the Thoughtworks leadership team was unable to meet face-to-face. For the first time, they had to facilitate their planning session remotely, which posed a big logistical challenge.
To solve these challenges, Thoughtworks needed a way to:
If it's just several days of one-way monologues, that's not incredibly engaging. It doesn't facilitate the type of teamwork and collaboration we needed. We needed a way for everyone to connect and interact with one another.
James Pickett, principal of Advisory Services at Thoughtworks, was one of two facilitators tasked with facilitating the prioritization workshop remotely. For James, the solution was clear. He, along with 3,500+ other Thoughtworks employees, had already been using Mural for remote collaboration, meetings, and client engagements, and he was eager to replicate that success with the EGLT.
James and his co-facilitator, Pamela Rampanelli, got to work restructuring the planning offsite for a digital world. Instead of three consecutive days, they decided to break it down into five three-hour sessions over the course of three weeks. "That enabled us to engage with one another and cover many of the activities we would generally cover," James explained. Here’s how they did it.
Prework to align the team
The key output for one of the sessions during the executive offsite is a prioritized list of initiatives for the upcoming year. In order to identify the most important initiatives, participants were asked to review business cases for 16 initiatives prior to the session and prioritize them by voting in Mural. This asynchronous prework got everyone thinking about the initiatives so that time together was more engaging and effective.
The EGLT used Mural as a collaborative workspace for both team-level and small-group prioritization exercises. For example, the team split into five breakout groups, each working in a designated section of a mural and on a different Zoom call. Then, they regrouped to share their work and visualize it all in one mural.
During the sessions, James and Pamela used Mural’s Facilitation Superpowers to keep everyone engaged and on track. Just as they’d do in a face-to-face workshop, they were able to timebox activities, facilitate anonymous voting sessions, and control the virtual room.
Effective and efficient remote workshops: Workshops are more engaging, interactive, and efficient. Even in large groups, the conversation isn’t dominated by a few outspoken voices. Mural allows for different modes of participation, giving everyone the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way.
Synthesis of ideas: With everything visible in Mural — not scattered across different docs and walls of sticky notes — everyone was able to get on the same page at the same time. This made it simple to efficiently synthesize ideas in real time.
When you're looking at everything in one place … I found that to be particularly helpful and useful as we got to the place of being able to synthesize this information together and come to a common agreement.
Scale and adoption: Today, over 3,500 Thoughtworkers use Mural for visual collaboration — a 16x increase versus before the pandemic. Beyond supporting consultants on client engagements, the tool has been adopted across a number of business functions as they work together remotely. Members of the executive team have also begun adopting Mural to facilitate meetings of their own, easily replicating and scaling the prioritization approach pioneered by James and Pamela.
There's been an explosion of interest in new tools over the last few months. We often have to strike a careful balance between what's right for each team and what's right for us as an organization. With the organic growth of Mural across the company, rather than trying to impose standards, we're able to put our efforts towards supporting the technology that teams are choosing for themselves.
Use this template to guide your next planning and prioritization workshop. Created by the Thoughtworks team, this template provides four exercises to help your team plan and prioritize for the upcoming quarter or year.