Culture

Setting up your team for success with a state of the nation address

February 22, 2019

In January, you can hear the buzz of different tribes at TELUS Digital, talking about their plans for the year. Team members shuffle Google slides back and forth, excited about what their team can promise to advance the changing digital landscape at TELUS. Over the next few weeks, they’ll hear the director of their tribe give a formal address to the rest of their team members, partners, vendors and stakeholders across the enterprise. This address has been appropriately dubbed ‘the state of the nation.’

For new TELUS Digital team members, the ‘state of the nation’ address might sound like something highly political - it’s quite the opposite. The state of the nation can be likened to a tribe pep rally. Team members, managers and external partners all gather together to get pumped up, not only for the year’s deliverables but also to celebrate ways of working between team members. Do team members feel a sense of purpose in their work? Are they happy with the outcomes? Do they feel like they’re enabling a digital TELUS? This level of transparency in a large enterprise can only be delivered with the kind of energy that a state of the nation offers.

This level of transparency in a large enterprise can only be delivered with the kind of energy that a state of the nation offers.

If you wanted to draw a parallel between a traditional ‘state of the nation’ address and what we’ve created, think of TELUS Digital as a land with many ‘nations’:

Nation: Our tribes. Head of the nations: Our directors. People within the nation: Our squads

To give us better insight into how a state of the nation functions and why it’s crucial to digital transformation, we sat down with Tom, the Senior Program Manager of Digital Portfolio Management at TELUS Digital.

The ‘state of the nation’ sounds like an interesting concept to someone looking in from the outside. How did this all start?

This actually started last year as an opportunity to level set both within the digital teams and with our internal TELUS stakeholders. The original intent of the state of the nations was to set the stage from a vision, strategic and mindset perspective on where we were going to take the Mobile App, web self-serve and marketing content for the upcoming year.

So this concept is fairly new to TELUS Digital. Why did we adopt this?

We as a digital team anchor ourselves in a set of rituals that we believe help drive a consistent conversation on the highest priority discussions that keep our business moving forward. State of the nations are the opportunities for each tribe to stake their claim on where they will go for the coming year. They aren’t just presentations on business plans. They are rally cries to motivate their tribe. They are also “asks” to other tribes for partnership and support.

If directors can be likened to ‘heads of nations,’ what is your role in all of this?

While my role largely revolves around structuring our portfolios and program governance, state of the nations are largely directed by our tribe leaders. As such, my role has been solely focused on coordinating when, where and how these should occur. Given that these are annual rituals, creating the right atmosphere with a suitable amount of time to prepare is critical to a successful state of the nation.

“The state of the nation helps teams understand each other’s vision and plans for the year. It allows groups to collaborate and support one another in the best way possible - plus it’s a great way to kick off the year and get ourselves into shape!” - Elaine Oei, Director of Unified Products & Commerce

What has been the reception to the state of the nation? I know a lot of readers might be thinking this is just adding another meeting.

Overall, the reception on these state of the nations has been super positive. While prep for these sessions began in December, it's been paying off as tribes are beginning the year with interlock and support for the various missions each are chasing. Rather than having our leaders communicate their goals 2-3 different times across teams, we’re trying to take a proactive approach by having one powerful meeting. As a result, tribe members and stakeholders are leaving energized and motivated to forge into the year ahead.

When team members walk away after hearing their tribe’s address, can there be any immediate value felt?

Absolutely. While tribe members are more aligned to the strategic goals and work planned for the team, often we identify further opportunities to collaborate on in-year work but also chances to explore third-wave ideas. Interestingly enough, we even had brand new team members coming up to the plate and speaking to their plans for the year!

“State of the nations are great catalysts for the tight interlock and planning across teams.” - Stacey James, Director of Mobility

As this is a unique practice for TELUS Digital, how does this ladder back up to success for the rest of TELUS?

The clarity and interlock provided through these state of the nations allows us to not only give the organization a better understanding of our overall work in progress but also a unified voice as we speak to the various stakeholders across TELUS. The unification of our now 400+ person team is paramount in ensuring that the broader digital story at TELUS is delivered consistently and concisely. This then enables TELUS to effectively plan for our future and how we evolve the customer experience at TELUS overall.

If there are other organizations reading this, what words of wisdom can you pass on for them to adopt this?

Start now. As your state of the nation develops, you can worry about creating fancy looking agendas and templates. For now, have your leaders focus on articulating a clear vision and offering a forum where team members can easily participate and access information. Allow the leaders of your team to tell their story as they see it and how they are a key cog in the overall machine. In doing so, the teams’ creativity and ingenuity will flex the existing barriers organizations tend to face with existing meetings. Let the teams tell their story and you’ll be surprised at their ability to initiate opportunities while having the courage to innovate.


Tom Briones is a Senior Program Manager of Digital Portfolio Management at TELUS Digital,  with a background in program and portfolio management, strategic planning and corporate storytelling. Using agile and lean principles, he is refreshing portfolio governance processes to streamline the flow of information and persistently communicate the value digital delivers. 

Tom
Digital Portfolio Strategist