Weeknote – 28th Jan – Explorations and Unearthings

This unusual juxtaposition may be a metaphor later.

Hopefully something of a short weeknote this time around – because mainly I’m sensing and processing at the moment.

It’s been a bit of an onslaught on the senses this week, with well over 30 meetings or gatherings of various kinds – ranging from individual catchups with team members to rooms with over a hundred people in. The open-tab count rather reflects this – I’m back up to over seventy again.

Being fair, this is possibly as much down to using this week’s “Meeting-free Wednesday Morning” to tick off mandatory learning backlog before it’s too late and it ends up in the “maybe soon” pile FOREVER. Previously the meeting-free block had enabled a good few hours of taming the inbox – and I definitely felt the lack of that focus.

Next week is sadly likely to be ‘more of the same’ as I’ve got to squeeze in a funeral and a lot of other Real Life things alongside the work. There’s been a LOT of Real Life over the last few weeks, and everything’s spread quite thin. There are a few coaching people I badly owe some emails as well – hopefully Monday!!!

I’ve managed to spend a lot of time with individual team members, getting to know a bit more about them, their projects and the constraints. Had a truly wonderful hour with one of our LPMs, standing in front of a flipchart and looking at how some of the components in our “subscribe” journey fit together. Even though there were a few moments where I was slightly “ouch” about what I was being shown, I’d forgotten how much I miss being involved in the making and the technology, having spent quite a long time in the more academic end of ‘the craft’.

One thing I’ve been trying to do this week in these chats is bottom out the OKRs so they work for the teams, have a clear thread to value for our leadership, and are actually agreed, rather than slightly ‘drifting organically into being’. I’ve been trying to stay in coaching mode as much as possible, but next week I may need to be a little more strident to get a few things over the line. Everyone’s genuinely lovely and wants the best, but I think I bring a slightly new way of doing things…and we’re all still getting to know each other and how we work when agreeing how that ‘best’ should be described.

I went to two Really Big Meetings (TM) this week.

The first was a gathering of all ELT – the board members and everyone who reports to them. This meant there were about 40 new names and faces to take in at once – which I didn’t exactly succeed at – but there were a few new good relationships started, including discovering some people I know I’m going to genuinely enjoy working with over the next six-ish months.

There were some new rituals to understand as well. Which? has a set of “high performing team practices” embedded into most meetings of any size, all of which are new to me. I got to hear that we no longer do the “Hu” part of “HuWuMu”, but that didn’t exactly mean a lot at this stage. I’ve been sent an email, which will be another set of open tabs, I’ve no doubt.

The other big group gathering was The Forum – an all-staff get-together to talk about how things are going. This was fascinating, as the organisation is unbelievably transparent to everyone about financial performance etc; there are even dashboards about money, subscribers and our other KRs on a telly in the kitchen, for example. There were some pretty crunchy questions from the floor, but nobody shied away from answering them – and answering them pretty honestly as far as I could tell. There was a really good presentation about the three strands of our retention strategy – which was only marred by the slight creeping dread that in three months I’m likely to be one of the people standing at the front talking through similar slides.

What else?

  • I’ve been talking to our user researchers about some of their work to date – but I need an absolute ton of time to get into the many links they’ve sent me, and work out what strategic research we really need to answer the questions forming in my head.
  • There were two more “trio” chats with my design and engineering counterparts about some of our bigger challenges. We now have a Jira board – in lieu of any other way to organise our list of reckons, ideas and worries. (We seem to be a Trello-free zone). I think this could be the first time I’ve used Jira in anger, but perhaps I’m wrong. (Maybe some of the Brexit stuff?) Anyway, these chats are going to lead to some of that strategic research.
  • I’ve sat in a few meetings about the forthcoming Data Strategy, with an agency that’s helping develop it with us – and feeling very lucky that I got to work with the excellent Sian Thomas and see how some of these choices might play out. Some other smart people are involved from our side, and hopefully we’ll find a way to prove some hypotheses cheaply before we make any big investments.

Other than that, I’m really trying to just explore and understand. There are a few things where I think “we can perhaps do better than this” – but I also know that nobody appears to be daft or wilful. This means I need to work out how we got this way – what organisational or external forces led to this particular setup – otherwise I’m going to just be wishing things were better, rather than supporting the teams in getting to any better place. I’m also trying to remember some of my heuristics about “measuring buy-in” from this blog-post shortly after I started at GDS.

On a related note, I’ve been starting to get out and about in the streets around the office. Albany Street, which leads up towards Camden, is a truly fascinating mix of eras. Lots of classic white townhouses facing into 1970s housing estates. A Ladbrokes on one side of the road, and Marksons’ workshop – full of fancy grand pianos – on the other. A disused police station that surely has some new surreptitious government purpose. Even the grotty Troutbeck estate is more than it seems – with loads of tiny businesses ranging from dentistry to sandwich delivery to film production companies, all crammed in to the basement floor. And then you walking into said estate, and it’s been built around a Victorian church – as seen in the picture at the top of this post. I’ve not yet found out more about how this planning weirdness happened, as I was running out of time before a meeting, but I’m going to keep digging.

Things closer to the Euston road are all pretty recent – but architecturally still very wide-ranging. Office blocks and luxury flats, but intermingled with video art and a tiny theatre and exorbitant-looking craft breweries.

“Regent’s Place”, I think this is called.

Culture corner: esp ‘The Motive and the Cue’

Photo of Mark Gatiss and Johnny Flyyn utterly ‘borrowed’ from the NT website.

We took Daisy to see this brilliant play as one of the presents for her recent birthday. Yes, it was a brilliant study in what it takes for a director to find their way against a wilful cast…but it also featured Johnny Flynn in his pants.

I was expecting the play to be mainly about the challenges between Gielgud and Burton, but actually it’s mainly about Gielgud’s struggles with himself. It’s set in a period of 60s-70s wilderness I wasn’t aware he’d gone through. I also wasn’t expecting it to be so much Mark Gatiss’s show. So a lot of surprises.

There’s some really imaginative scene changing, with three nested-room sets and shutters that constrain your field of view so you don’t really notice that the stage has changed size…but also actors move out of those rooms onto the apron and perform apposite bits of Hamlet while everything’s moving around, before moving seamlessly back in again.

That Sam Mendes is quite good. He’ll probably go far.

It was quite wordy, and fairly cerebral, but there was still lots of conflict and jeopardy. It certainly wasn’t deliberately tugging the heartstrings in the way that ‘Totoro’ or ‘Cabaret’ or ‘Dear England’ did, so I was even thinking (as a bit of an inveterate theatre-weeper) “blimey, we’ve got to the end of this and I’ve not even had the faintest sniffle”. And then suddenly it’s the final scene. “Zadok the Priest” kicks in, and you realise just how much tension had quietly been built up over the course of two hours. Floods. Everyone was on their feet for the curtain call, almost instantly. Fabulous stuff.

Elsewhere: had some very long drives (of which more shortly) and as a result I got to listen to the whole of Peter Gabriel’s extremely long latest album “i/o” without interruption. I even got into the second “dark side mixes” disc – and actually I prefer a few of these. They’re bit more intense, and you can overtly hear more of the instruments playing, rather than the delicate “So”-like production of the ‘bright side’ mixes. Still a strong recommend. But I’m still rinsing Caroline Polachek for balance, obvs.

Booked to see Craven Faults playing live in a few weeks’ time. Still pondering a few other gigs. But making plans right now feels a bit optimistic, given there’s no shortage of…

Real Life

Quite a bit of this going on. Mum had a fall on the way to a library story-time session at the start of the week. Thankfully only a bad sprain and a lot of bruising, but I was briefly on standby to hop into the car for a weekend visit. Thankfully it turned out not to be needed, and she seemed in better spirits this morning when I chatted to her, which is a huge relief. Sending all good vibes up north.

Finn (the Human), the cat, has had another round of eyewatering blood tests – and they still don’t know what’s wrong with him. But he does appear to be putting weight on again. And showing off by climbing trees in the garden once more. So perhaps he’s getting better again.

Daisy’s headed back to UEA for her birthday party this weekend. Sadly she left the dress she was planning to wear back in London, so I got to spend a few hours driving to a retail park outside Thetford to hand it over. We managed to grab a coffee from Costa and pick up some fruit from Sainsburys, but resisted the temptation to go and feel the new carpets.

Lovely skies though.

One unusual feature of this retail park was that it’s in the middle of army territory. So, as you sit in the car sipping your latte, you also get to hear gunfire from the Thetford Ranges just on the other side of the A11. Not 100% relaxing, but I suppose the locals get used to it.

Right, that’s enough for now. Time to go and watch a Ted Lasso or Hannah Fry or something comforting. Have a good week, everyone.

2 thoughts on “Weeknote – 28th Jan – Explorations and Unearthings

  1. Neil Williams

    Interesting about The Forum and ELT. Every org does this stuff differently (as they should) but I’d love to hear more about the Which? way – coffee when you feel like you’ve got your head above water?

    1. Tom Post author


      I think there’s space for some ‘liberating structures’-type activities to slot in alongside some of what they’re already doing, but early doors etc.


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