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I wish. I like. I wonder

By balki | August 16, 2016 | 0 Comment

At my last job leading a team of technical folks, I had great flexibility to try new ways to motivate the team. Looking back, the team was way too patient with my various experiments in the name of “agile”. I am surprised now that there wasn’t a riot to overthrow me as the team manager.

One of the successful experiments was a unique weekly meeting that lasted 15 minutes. While talking to a friend at a Bay Area startup he mentioned an unconventional meeting their CEO and executive team did every Monday morning. The meeting was called “I Wish. I Wonder. I Like”. And the meeting had only one rule: Every sentence had to start with one of those 3 phrases: I wish, I like or I wonder!

As soon as I heard that, I realized it would be a perfect way for leaders to get feedback. I second-guessed myself thinking that would only work with small startup companies where communication and honest feedback is not an issue. However, I knew my team and boss too well to not tinker with it. So, I decided to “experiment” on the team.

Around the same time we were also contemplating the idea of going from 4 daily stand-up sessions a week to 3 since we introduced some automation around the daily updates. So I used the opportunity to run the experiment on the team one fine Friday morning. To be fair, I did lay out a few ground rules so that no one would be offended in case there was personal commentary. Here’s the original set of guidelines I laid out (most of those stood the test of time… at least while I was there):

Being respectful, especially of other individuals, is a top priority. So don’t even think about using this as a forum to dole out pent-up complaints about a specific individual: E.g. “Balki is a bad leader” is direct, disrespectful and most importantly doesn’t start with one of the 3 phrases. A better way of phrasing that would be “I wish Balki spent more time with the XYZ team and tried to sympathize with our side of the story as well” is much more respectable and actionable.
Make the statements as focused as possible. See #1 above. Other examples: “I wish the economy was better”, “I wish that we didn’t have clients” etc. are too broad to make an impact within this team and don’t help much with morale either.
Don’t take it personal. Finally, if someone blurts out something that seems targeted at you, please don’t get defensive. I will do my best to facilitate and control such commentary but be the bigger person and deal with such comments in a 1×1 situation or through me.
And here’s the blurb that I used to introduce new folks to the concept quickly:

Anything that’s been bothering you or slowing you down can be an “I Wish…” statement: E.g. I wish I can find a colleague to go running with, or I wish someone can help me with this jQuery question
Anything you enjoy and want to keep can be a “I Like… ” statement: E.g. I like the new team room downstairs or I like that our company is sponsoring the Weight Watchers program for all associates
Any lingering questions you have at any scale, your department-level, your benefits, at the division level, company-level or even at the industry level can be a “I Wonder… “ statement: E.g. I wonder if we will meet our revenue and profit targets for this quarter/year or I wonder if the work space changes downstairs will be replicated in other floors.
Based on that bare-bones concept and some simple rules, we had a great first session. After reading back what people shared in that session, I immediately decided to compile them and send it to rest of the department. Within a few weeks, we hit a rhythm with these sessions and I personally stopped facilitating the sessions! Our deputized Scrum-Master for the week also ran these sessions and sent out the compiled list of items the same day.

In the process we realized a good percentage of questions were best answered by our HR team so we also started including our department’s HR team on the distribution list. They graciously addressed many of the lingering concerns over time.

By the time I left that company, my good friend Dustin actually took this concept and blew it up to a much bigger level that involved several departments. He got rave reviews and the attention of executive management for the way he leveraged this “I wish. I like. I wonder” concept.

Here’s the original article by Akshay Kothari talking about how they implemented this concept at Pulse (now part of LinkedIn).

So leaders in my network: Do you think you can implement this concept within your own group? If so, what modifications would you make? Please share your ideas and thoughts in the comments below.

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