Snapshots from the Digital AMAs.

An ‘Ask Me Anything’ workplace

When you’re working in an organization that changes rapidly, getting communication right is extremely important.

As you know, the Ontario Digital Service has been evolving. In the past few months, the team has grown by about 20% as our mandate unfolds. With that rapid growth, getting everyone up to speed can be a challenge.

So, we decided to think about a new way to communicate across the organization — one that would improve information flow, knowledge sharing and team inclusion. Staff and managers from across the organization came together, studied where we had gaps in our cross-team communication, and came up with a revolutionary idea:

All-staff meetings.

Okay, so maybe the idea wasn’t that revolutionary, but our approach and execution was different: we brought a designer’s eye to the all-staff meeting. We did user research, built an inclusive governance model, and iterated every step of the way.

The goals from our first Digital AMA . Tacky branding was encouraged.

We decided to run the meetings as Ask Me Anythings (AMAs), a popular questions & answer format inspired by reddit and the team at Shopify.

Any member on the team can ask anonymous questions prior to the meeting, and at the meeting, the team members who have answers to that question respond in person.

To make sure we were inclusive to every member of the team, we had the entire AMA streamed on Google Hangouts as well, and allowed our distributed workforce to participate online.

Most importantly, we were very clear about the goals of each AMA right at the start, and were open to brainstorming new goals between each one. After every Digital AMA, we surveyed all participants and held a small focus group to make sure we were on the right track. From the results of those surveys and focus groups, we made changes to the next AMA, iterating as we went.

A snapshot from our first AMA.

Our first Digital AMA was far more popular than we had anticipated. We had more questions than we could answer, and the discussion centered on issues like staffing, growth, performance, and organizational change. Feedback was positive, but we also got a lot of suggestions on how to make it better — so we learned and adapted.

We’ve had seven Digital AMA’s now. We’ve learned and iterated a lot:

  • Moderation and facilitation is necessary to ensure everyone can have a say. We use hand signals to keep it human.
  • Answers are important, but discussions are crucial.
  • We do more than questions and answers now. We now have lightning talks, team updates, guest speakers, and live Q&A using
  • Every two weeks was too many. Now we have them every four weeks
  • An open working group of staff and managers is really important to keep the event attendee-centred.
  • Always report back on results of surveys and how you interpret them, so people know you’re listening.
  • Log actions as they’re promised. Report on those actions.
  • Reserve time for giving and receiving kudos.

By iterating and making changes based on the feedback, we’ve seen lots of improvement.

One of the regular questions on our survey is “would you attend another Digital AMA?” After the first one, 22% said no; that number has been under 5% ever since.

A chart showing Digital AMA satisfaction over time. March and April mapped to this scale.

Our AMAs, like our organization, are constantly changing. With a new Chief Digital Officer on board, we’re putting some of the things we learned doing the Digital AMA into overdrive: we’re starting weekly all-hands meetings so everyone always knows how we’re contributing to our shared vision.

It’s hard to get communication right in an organization that is undergoing lots of change, but it’s definitely possible. Our Digital AMAs are one way we’re addressing that, and we’ll be sharing more about them, and our other tactics, as we grow.

Want to join a team that’s growing, learning, iterating, and responsive to the needs of all team members? We’ve got new jobs posted — please do share them, and apply!

Alex Lougheed is a datamancer and digital advisor on the Ontario Digital Government team. He’s interested in how better data, and the use of that data, can help government make better decisions.