Operating Rhythm Context

What is an Operating Rhythm and Why Design Them?

An operating rhythm is a powerful tool for bringing organizational strategy to life and maintaining strategy as a living, breathing driver. It is the dedicated meetings, rituals, practices and events (e.g. routines and disciplines) by which a team comes together to coordinate action, drive operations, steer the client/product work and organization, ideate, innovate, and close gaps and loops. 

Importantly, meetings designed within any operating rhythm are highly purposeful, curated and facilitated to meet specific outcomes with rigor and within a broader rhythm. These outcomes include 

  • building organizational habits around responsive (not fixed) planning and prioritizing across, up, down the system

  • learning to do project, team, and strategy in tighter, highly intentional timeframes

  • coordinating and running work in conscious sprints

  • delivering micro and macro outcomes faster and with more agility, and

  • reflecting upon and analyzing work, outcomes and strategy actively to understand and measure results.

Why is it important to have operating rhythms?

Nothing obstructs employee efficiency at legacy and growing organizations as much as meeting waste. The expense of thoughtlessly designed or non-existent meeting routines cannot be overstated. Without conscious structures and designs, meetings take place unchecked — costing significant financial resources and human capacity.

This drag prevents organizations from fully utilizing the innate skills, intelligence and time available in their systems. It also inhibits culture health. Poorly designed meetings, and inaccurate rhythms by which to cadence them results in tremendous waste.

What does a good operating rhythm accomplish?

Good meeting designs, disciplined cadences and holding process and flow energetically create shared ownership of organizational and team intentions. They drive coordinated execution. They also align strategy relevant to demands and fluctuations from the market, your clients, and customers.

Conversations about driving and adjusting purpose, strategy and innovation don’t default to any individual person or single initiative nor do meetings take place separate from the actual people closest to any project or client team. Steering work and strategy, those impacted by all ideating and downstream implementation are present — as a priority of workflow optimisation.

Specific types of meetings with very intentional designs are mindfully baked into the way a team runs. A rhythm of meetings (continuously adapted and improved) provides grounding, shared and distributed information as a default, and far better coordinated execution.

Ultimately, operating rhythms and tight meeting designs eliminate waste. That waste gets cleaned up in the form of a wholistically new consideration of the use of time as a strategic lever, halting duplication of effort, interrupting games of telephone, abating all the missed connections on the systemic nature of work in any workplace, and consolidation of effort and its expenditures.

What does a good operating rhythm deliver?

Done well, intentionally designed operating rhythms foster a team to

  • improve itself and its way of operating,

  • dialog openly and iteratively,

  • continually learn, and

  • ensure the demands of the prioritised work and needs of the people delivering on the demands are met.

This is because within the structure of an operating rhythm overall and the well designed meetings within it, individuals share in more pointed conversations, using disciplined ways. They become more comfortable posing asks, surfacing needs, unsticking stuckness, clarifying why’s, and pivoting work in progress — as a tighter way of operating.

  • Less waiting.

  • Less running up and down flagpoles.

  • Less flowdowns.

  • Less mystery.

  • Less confusion.

  • Less irritation.

  • Less sidebars.

  • More clarifying.

  • More clarity.

  • More sync.

  • More inclusion.

Operating rhythms and their meeting designs keep teams and stakeholders grounded in and aware of of-the-moment information, smartly distributing accountability and agency, clarifying ownership, speeding up response time, and doing real-time problem-solving.

Operating Rhythm Installment Commitments

Changing meeting behavior is an evolutionary lift. The patterns, habits and narratives running through the organization undoubtedly reinforce that change is needed while also embracing and romanticizing the current ways of operating. To disrupt those habits and patterns, you must be fastidious in introducing and embedding new meeting structures and showing up to them differently.

Below is a list of principles and commitments that are fundamental to an effective operating rhythm .

  • Be patient. Run each new meeting several times before you assume you fully understand the meeting or try to change the structure. Change takes time and needs practice.
  • Be comfortable being messy. If it isn’t uncomfortable, you aren’t doing anything new.
  • Start today. The lived experience of doing new meeting types creates change faster than prepping and over-cognating in advance of experiencing the changes in your rhythm.
  • Beware of meeting “owners.” Somebody does need to handle calendar admin which can be on rotation but the mental and emotional adjustment is that meetings need to be for the participants and the outcomes, not an individual owner nor as a place to have a podium or for document sharing that can easily be opened up using technology, using no meeting time.
  • Meeting structure is a planning tool, not an afterthought. Good meeting structure enables everyone to participate equally in emerging the right dialog about the right topics for the right output at the right time. Don’t attend or invite to meetings with poor design.
  • Meetings don’t move for individuals. People prioritize Operating Rhythm Meetings that are scheduled. If you can’t make it or choose not to go, the meeting still happens.
  • Operating Rhythm Meetings are never canceled or moved around week to week. They are a sacred underpinning to the vision, growth and evolution of the team(s) and organization. They need to become the well from which all the system’s work flows to ensure delivery on strategic priorities.
  • Meetings are not an extracurricular activity. Schedule Operating Rhythm Meetings during the work day rather than on the fringe. People will either participate or not, grown up organisations respect and appreciate people making smart choices for their own workflow.
  • Adhere to the meeting structure. So participants can live the experience of a new kind of meeting end-to-end and the new can inform eventual optimization of a meeting design, adhere to the tried and true structures before deviating. Change needs repetition.
  • Meetings drive culture and energetics. Designed meetings in an explicit rhythm work together as a system of organized dialog and conversation to tilt people in the direction of more shared people experience, sync on strategy and priorities, and consistently prepping the field for unanticipated innovation.

Operating Rhythm Behavior Commitments

As leaders on a journey to a progressive and healthy organizational life, adopt new principles to help you initiate, embed and sustain changes in the system. The vibe and outcomes you envision will progress or revert based on leader behavior.

Here are mindset shifts, behavior commitments, and operating ways to both stop and to activate. They will issue in positive architectural and energetic changes for your organisation’s long-term.

- Stop the firefighting. Push questions, concerns and tensions to open dialog in operating rhythm meetings. Rescuing isn’t leader work.

- Cancel 1:1 meetings that aren’t focused on professional development and imminent project deadlines. 1:1s unconfronted are calendar sinkholes.

- Stop having conversations without all the right people in the virtual or physical room. Use an operating rhythm meeting (an an asynchronous software tool) rather than email, hallway 1:1, texts or phone calls that isolate out people who ought to be in the dialog. Leaders consciously or unconsciously initiate adverse control and attachment levers when doing these.

- Separate skepticism from fear and vulnerability. Help “skeptical” team members feel safe by modeling and leaning into doing and being new leader behavior.

- Hold one another accountable. Operating rhythms are a team sport. Make them fun and collaborative by helping each other play by the rules of the game rather than buying into the discomfort to change for the better.

- Communicate directly. Articulate your expectations and get really good at clarifying your ask, need or want with stealth precision rather than asking passive, flimsy and unproductive open-ended questions.

- Build trust through your own honesty and transparency. Trust germinates and radiates. Be trust to flourish trust.

- Push on iterative action even over perfection. Perfection is a toxin in individuals and systems. Iteration builds safety into systems and teams and health into people.

- Reinforce the mindset that “failure” is learning and learning is what grows, progresses and evolves people and systems. Trying something new requires action. Action requires courage. Innovation requires risk. Risk requires failure. Awareness, awakening and new understanding requires uncomfortable learning.

- Let Go. The monkey mind that wants to think it has all the answers without interacting consistently and with more rigor in the field is an illusion. It also does nothing to increase predictability or emotional safety.

- Use video. Eyeballs are a passive trust builder as tribal animals. Seeing feeds connectivity.

- Get out of the noise and narrative. Good flows and designs spirals teams up and out of the dross.

- Listen rather than opine. Observe. Listen. Notice. Hold without words. Say less. Give away more space. Ask stellar questions. Believe in people’s innate creativity and intelligence. Change the leader game.

- Contribute rather than judging. Wisdom is giving and strong by nature. It is not regressive or mean.

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