Think Creatively to Succeed as a Team

Melissa Moody
February 10, 2022

We’re building a fully remote team at Gated so, given the physical distance between teammates (Gators), we place high importance on creating moments of human connection.  We use tools like Notion and Slack to create open channels of communication. We use platforms like Donut and Loom to get to know each other better. We are learning from fully remote companies like Automattic how to build culture, when your culture is global from the get-go.

One unique strategy Gated uses to build connections between teammates is our monthly all-company “Unlock” sessions.  These hour-long virtual events are related to work but designed to get each Gator out of the regular work mindset and into a collaborative, big-thinking environment with their colleagues from around the globe.

Here’s how an Unlock session works:

  • Every employee is welcome and added to the optional calendar invite.
  • One person (the Leader) is responsible for the topic and focus of the session.  The topic is something of relevance to an ongoing company initiative - so that the Unlock itself will create more input, insight, or ideas to guide a larger initiative.   (Example: “Exploring edge cases of our new onboarding flow” or “What’s our company personality?”)
  • The session is made up of activities related to big-thinking, brainstorming, and creative ideation. A lot of sessions use strategies from Design Thinking and the GV Design Sprint methodology to foster “divergent”, open-ended participation.
  • We use a collaborative tool, such as Mural or Figjam, to facilitate activities and inputs.
  • A week after the session, the Leader delivers a summary of key takeaways and reports how the Unlock session’s work will be used in the larger initiative.
A snapshot of a messy, exploratory, fun Unlock session.

Here are a few key benefits:

  • Gators can contribute creativity and out-of-the box ideas, without having to get into the “weeds” of an initiative.
  • People are empowered to break out of their traditional roles and projects.
  • It’s a set time dedicated to divergent, unstructured thinking - which we sometimes don’t  make time for, especially in a fast-growing startup.

What we’ve learned so far:

  • These sessions are extremely valuable at the start of a new initiative, to source big ideas before a multi-functional team starts working on specific deliverables or features.
  • The size of each session should adhere to the “two pizza rule”, so that participants always have a chance to be heard and contribute effectively.  For now, Gated is small enough to have just one Unlock a month and open it to everyone. In the future, our idea is to have a few Unlocks per month, as needed, and make each one open to the first 8 people to RSVP.
  • Leaders can be anyone - any seniority or job function - as long as the topic they are focused on is clear and has a project-related purpose.
  • No idea is a bad idea. It’s critical to set the stage, at the beginning of every Unlock, with the ground rules of acceptance and positivity.  It should be common to hear the famous improv line: “Yes, and...”
  • Takeaways are critical. A Leader has the responsibility of summarizing the work that was done and outlining exactly how it will be used in a given real-world setting.  It’s fun to think in an open-ended way, but equally important to decide on priorities and converge on clear actions as a follow-up step.

As more professionals are exposed to and appreciate the business value of Design Thinking, there’s an increase in participation and understanding of events like these.  Unlock events make space for thinking big and inviting new ideas, vs. always moving towards an end goal.

Above all, these events perfectly embody our Gated company and team attributes: Curious, Connected, Focused.  We hope you can create space for those foundational values as well, with your team.

Need inspiration? Here are example topics from recent Unlock sessions at Gated:

  • What is our brand personality and voice?  (brand/marketing)
  • How might the Cult 8 principles apply to our brand? (brand/marketing)
  • How do users move through the onboarding flow?  (product)
  • What company traditions might be fun or important? (culture)

Header photo from UX Indonesia on Unsplash.com.