At the Beverly Hills-based United Talent Agency, technology adoption manager Christopher Johnson has held monthly staff meetings with the entire IT department for some time. The meetings each had a different topic and staff lead and usually presented one of two inefficiencies: The agenda was unclear and lacked focus overall, or the lead did not cover the topics the rest of the attendees wanted to hear about, resulting in a dense Q&A portion afterwards. But in February last year, Johnson introduced his team to Balloon, and the monthly stand-ups were transformed.
“By using Balloon, we started approaching these meetings in a much more methodical way as opposed to just coming at it from all over the place,” Johnson said. “It's been very, very helpful for us.”
The pre-meeting flights are short, simple, and quite effective: They consist of only one to three questions, tweaked slightly each time to address the specifics of that month’s meeting. Johnson also deliberately schedules them so his distributed team can complete them synchronously, allowing him to keep them quick and focused and adjust the time in each stage when necessary.
“It started off as 30 minutes, but we refined it down to 15, about seven minutes for stage one and eight for stage two,” Johnson explained. “On the calendar invite for that 15-minute flight, which we usually call ‘Monthly IT All-Hands Questions,’ I’ll have the questions in there beforehand, so everyone already has those questions in their head. Then, by the time they sit down to actually respond to the flight, everyone’s ready and prepared. Putting the questions on the calendar invite in advance of the meeting helped that immensely.”
"There was also this newfound feeling of ‘I'm being heard.’ I definitely saw some more honesty and cohesion among the team afterward."
— Christopher Johnson, technology adoption manager, United Talent Agency
Johnson emphasized how Balloon has noticeably boosted not only efficiency and focus in the meetings’ agendas but also team engagement and overall value. This was particularly evident in August, when UTA’s CTO led the all-hands for an ask-me-anything session and as the first guest host to join. Ahead of the AMA, Johnson ran the flight with this single question for the team:
- UTA’s CTO will be attending our upcoming IT All-Hands. You have an opportunity to ask a managing director questions that he will be able to speak to during the meeting. What questions would you like the CTO to respond to?
Because Johnson ran this flight several days before the event, he was able to report back to the CTO with the results directly—that way, the CTO could structure his presentation around topics and questions already proven to be of interest to his audience, increasing attendance, interest, and even a sense of trust and community within UTA.
“At that point, and even still now, there was certainly a degree of uncertainty and fear toward the future. So hearing a C-level executive response directly to what people were concerned about, I think, gave everyone a sense of security and peace of mind that this isn't a ship where you have to remain below deck and never get an opportunity to speak to the captain. You really had the freedom to ask something and get a response to it,” Johnson said. “I think that there was also this newfound feeling of ‘I'm being heard.’ I definitely saw some more honesty and cohesion among the team afterward, so that was a very memorable moment for me.”
Beyond a “much meatier, much more direct” all-hands in terms of content, as Johnson put it, he also noticed a social shift in the meetings that has brought the entire department closer together as people.
“In October, we had a security presentation, and the flight question was phrased in the way it always is: ‘Ernie is going to be presenting on security. What questions or topics would you like to see covered?’ But one of the top responses was, ‘So tell me about you. What's your background?’” Johnson said. “As presenters, I think most of us always focus on the content, not the people. But everyone felt like they got so much more out of Ernie’s presentation from knowing a little more about him as a person and team member. That was a really important moment, because without using Balloon, we wouldn't have incorporated that human aspect, but it really made a difference.”