Author:
Billy Casey

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Recently, What Matters co-hosted a Twitter Chat with Mahan Tavakoli (@mahany), CEO and Board Chair of Leadership Greater Washington. The topic? The role of organizational culture in successfully implementing OKRs. Here’s what Mahan had to say, as well as some of our favorite responses from our community.

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@Mahany: In my experience with organizations, when leaders are willing to show they don’t know it all, open to learn and grow and share that openly with their teams, they make it something others aspire to.

@CSmalander: Must say it’s built-in… we nurture problem-solving engineers. Give them freedom and they’ll grow! What OKRs have brought us was focus. We feel we can do ANYTHING - the problem is selecting the most important.

@geek_freelance: In my experience… transparency and persistent focus on an overall mission.

@EngChallenges: Avoiding comparisons is a big one for me. Also, redirecting “fails” to “needs improvement” or room for growth have been helpful.

@OKRS_Atruity: At Atruity, we let our team do what they do best and allow them the room to create, innovate and dream. We also emphasize this with our organizations as well.

@FabVineet: Giving product teams the business problem to be solved and let them decide the approach and the plan for validation. Decentralise the decision making.

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@Mahany: Psychological Safety is truly tested with two things. One is when things go wrong. How leaders respond to failure. Not necessarily celebrating it, but learning from it and being open to it. The other is if there are trusting relationships to enable transparency.

@lshufro: I have a musical background - in string quartets there’s a rule. If someone makes a mistake, we work together to get back in sync. No blame. We only perform well if we help everyone across the line at the same time. and then – we work on fixing it so it doesn’t happen the next time. When you learn to solve problems together, it’s amazing where you can take that.

@OKRs_Atruity: One of our favorite aspects of #OKRs is that they allow for consistent communication, which creates trust and provides support for employees. Open communication and trust on teams is key for promoting psychological safety.

@_antoncherkasov: Develop sense of safety. People should see that there is no criticism for failure or a lack of confidence. And lead by example. Opposite never works.

@CSmalander: Small self-organizing teams. That is where our people can feel safe and find support.

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@Mahany: Many talk about “servant leadership”. Great concept to counteract how some leaders still behave. However to be a partner leader, you have to realize that there is value that each individual, including the leader, brings to the conversation. No one just serves others.

@lshufro: To partner, the person you are partnering with needs to be as free to say NO to you as to say YES. Not every decision can be an equal partnership, but there must be some dynamism in a relationship to partner.

@CSmalander: The continuous conversations. Teams and managers have regular and tight conversations about where we are and where to go. Progress, obstacles, etc. Mixed with 1:1 communication as requested by the employee.

@realgailthomas: Hmm. Tough one. When I lead, I try to empower others and ask for their feedback. When I follow, I try to be open what I need to do my work well, and offer assistance whenever appropriate and possible.

@heykoan: We like to maintain complete transparency and create asynchronous feedback loops wherever possible. i.e. feedback from “up the reporting chain” (e.g. from your boss), peer feedback and alignment, cross-team dependency negotiation, and resource and capacity planning.

Final Take (From the What Matters Team)

Like most of your responses, we agree that transparency and freedom boost OKR success. Give teams enough space to decide how to achieve the objectives. Balance that freedom with transparent dialogs about progress all along the way.

If you’re setting OKRs that are aggressively realistic – failure is inevitable. Is failure something your team helps you through, or something you hide from them?

Remember that OKRs represent collective commitment to what matters most. The more teams learn to rely on each other when an OKR is at risk, the more chances they have to learn, grow, and collaborate to succeed. And that’s how we see teams get to the mountaintop. - Lisa Shufro

We’d like to thank Mahan for sharing his wisdom with us, as well as everyone who contributed their insights to the conversation. Join the movement @WhatMattersOKRS and tune in for our next Twitter chat!