That’s right, a successful business culture without meetings. Is it possible? Is this, you might be wondering, something like the Loch-Ness Monster? Big Foot? Mythical, exciting…but no one believes you if you tell them you saw it with your own eyes?
This week on CEO Exclusive I am excited to welcome Keith and Nicki Schroeder, CEO and COO of High Road Craft Ice Cream (listed on the Inc. 5000). We talk about disruption in the CPG industry; the ways technology is changing both their industry and their communications; and how they have developed a successful business with extremely limited meetings. And then they introduce us to their pet unicorn. (Spoiler: They don’t really have a pet unicorn, but the no-meeting part is real.)
Choose Your Communication Channels
Meetings may be on their way out, but communication is always in season. Coordination is important, but with today’s technology there are lots of ways to make that happen without hours of sitting in on conversations that don’t necessarily pertain to you.
High Road uses Slack, a program for managing team communications. Slack offers 24 hour-a-day collaboration between team members. You can organize different channels for different aspects of the business, and team members only follow what’s relevant to them. Slack also supports direct messages and even calls. Applications like Slack offer communication and transparency in a focused manner.
Don’t Be Afraid of Growing Pains
That doesn’t mean implementation of a new communication system won’t have some tough spots. Nicki says that Slack was overwhelming at first. “Keith calls me a shiny object chaser, and I tend to have my mind on all the things that are urgent right away, and so Slack became overwhelming.”
Keith agrees. “It was too much. It was everything thrown against the wall, and it was a stream of consciousness. But then, we set expectations with one another to be concise and clear.” They outlined that Slack should be used for posts that are actionable, rather than a place to bounce ideas around.
When they got the basics cleaned up, Slack had some unexpected results. Says Keith, “It created an environment where there is a lot of trust. There was visibility in real time, so we didn’t have to have the meeting for the update.”
The five executives on the team have a locked channel where they communicate about higher level issues. Although the executives do have a regular weekly meeting on the books (it’s the one and only regular meeting at High Road), it is often canceled because of the close collaboration the execs have had during the week. Keith says the meeting occurs about once every other week.
Taking all of the details, to-dos, and reporting out of the conversation doesn’t mean that the group doesn’t need some team time. Get people together, but do it in a fun way. For a craft ice-cream company, the solution is simple – tasting party! They get everyone together on Fridays to taste the products they have created through the week. It’s fun for the team, and provides consistent, useful feedback on the products they’re working to perfect.
When In Doubt, Have a Huddle
With Slack being off limits for brainstorming, sometimes a huddle is in order. The team at High Road Craft Ice Cream prides themselves on being able to get new flavors of ice cream on the shelf quickly – in less than a month. There is a lot of creative collaboration that goes into that. Many of the details are handled through Slack, and with the help of weekly tastings, but sometimes people need to connect.
A huddle is a sort of mini meeting with a limited invite list. The point is to be very mindful of people’s time. “If we need to sit down and physically look at these, you would send a PDF, and have everyone take their own time to look and review things as they’re progressing, so that we’re not all sitting around the table looking. A chef might be able to be looking over something in the kitchen.” Then, if some in person feedback is needed, the huddle can be 5 minutes long instead of an hour. It also gives the team more freedom to work at their own pace and in their own way.
Keith explains, “My dad was a football coach, and I played football is a kid, so we’ve decided, rather than meeting, we just huddle. We huddle standing up, we call the play, we move on, and we do the next thing. To Nicki’s point, often times there’s a different amount of time required out of each expert when she’s trying to get a project done, and it might be that she needs three minutes from one guy, and thirty minutes from another. It doesn’t seem to make sense to have the three minute guy at the table at all. So it’s interesting, it’s unique, and it works for us.”
Trust Your Team
Transparency brings trust, and that’s been a welcome side effect of improved communications at High Road. Keith says, “We have kind of a stream of live meetings amongst the five leaders in the organization at all times. And what I realized about them is; (a) they’re brilliant and (b) they don’t need my help 99% of the time. And so they’re trying to encourage me to go out, be on radio shows, be the face of the business, go sell, sell, sell, and, ’We got it, Keith.’”
Keith describes life at High Road as fluid. The effect of more streamlined communication and less meetings is a happier team. Keith says, “We don’t have the startup culture that’s so celebrated. It’s ‘Go home, go to sleep, go see your wife, go hang out with your child.’ You know, it’s important, and it condenses the day.”
He says it’s been a process of evolution and discovery. “We wanted to get to the point where we naturally respected one another deeply. Through our actions we wanted to make sure that we really loved one another, and loved the holistic person, like we care about you as a human, and you’re long-term at this business.“
In the early days of the company people went home exhausted. That has all changed. Says Keith, “Now they leave looking like they just started their day, and they’re pumped up. They’re ready to go, and they have ideas for tomorrow. They have got to be forced out the door because they’re having fun, and it’s magnificent.”