Tools for your Founder Toolbox: Backbriefs
A summary of a received briefing, given by the briefed person to the commanding officer, to ensure that instructions have been properly understood.
Get backbriefs early, often, and from all levels of your team to avoid critical miscommunications.
A backbrief is literally just asking someone to explain back to you the things you said at their face. Or I guess today it means what you said to the pixel bits representing their face during your zoom meeting. It’s an immediate, closed feedback loop check that quickly gets everyone on the exact same page about stuff and things that need to happen now, soon, or in the future. It saves time, clarifies confusion, and speeds up cycles of iteration by dramatically cutting down on energy loss wasted on tasks that are not exactly what needs to happen. And somehow it’s like collectively not really talked about in a lot of business environments?
To be completely honest, while in the Army I thought this was something the military had taken from the private sector. After doing as part of my daily operations for years, it feels like a completely natural thing thing I really can’t imagine myself not using them with every team I’m ever in charge of for forever.
The application flow is simple:
You or you team receive some data/stimuli that needs addressing with some sort of action or series of actions ← NOTE: The leader/owner needs to point this out and delegate to the appropriate party or level.
Can be explicit - “Me (boss) has task for you”
Can be implicit - “We just had a great meeting with Client X, so what’s next?”
Give the delegated party a second to process/gather their thoughts
Ask them to explain the task/next step back to you.
You can do this however you want (5 W’s, etc) BUT…
I typically ask for 3 things:
What’s the ultimate goal for this set of tasks? ← this reminds everyone of what you’re ultimately trying to do and not get distracted by the short term also called Commander’s Intent
What’s the next thing that needs to happen? ← this gets everyone to take at least the first step together
If there is any misalignment between you and the delegated party, you can address it on the spot (with enthusiasm for how this great little tool has helped save everyone from wasting time on the wrong thing and not in a “You clearly didn’t listen and you can’t do anything right” type of way). Positivity during spot improvements and only focusing on creating a shared understanding rather than the person’s failure to answer the question right is how you create a culture of growth rather than fear. Pretty important tbh
If possible, repeat the process at some point later in the day or the next morning so you can double check with the person that they didn’t immediately brain dump what they’re supposed to be doing.
Repeat this process at pre-determined check ins/progress reports
It doesn’t need to feel as rigid or hit every step in practice as it’s written here, I just want you to see what an explicit full flow feels like so you can be fully prepared.
Here’s what it looks like IRL -
Employee (Jeff) - “Jessica, that’s great news. I’ll get to work right away”
Boss (Jessica) - “Awesome, can you walk me through what we’re trying to do here and what you’re going to get started on?”
Employee (Jeff) - “Yea sure - I was gonna wait for them for the signed agreement and go from there”
Boss (Jessica) - “Ok, glad we did this. They don’t have an agreement yet, can you send a draft contract as a first step? Remember that we ultimately want to cross sell them all of our other SAAS products before the end of the year so we want to close this as fast as possible.”
Employee (Jeff) - “Thanks for clarifying! I’ll get that over to them ASAP.”
Then Jessica should check in with Jeff later in the day or the next morning to make sure the first step got done.
It might feel a bit contrived, but this is real I swear. I’ve lived this as Jessica. People are people and they’re not perfect. Sometimes they’re not paying attention, sometimes you didn’t explain what you wanted properly, sometimes people just connect the dots differently than you do. That’s just life and that’s just working with people.
Also, always remember the Pragmatic Founder’s Axiom (which I’m pretty sure I made up).
No one cares as much as you do about your startup. No one.
Sorry, not sorry. It’s a mini personal tragedy when you realize this, but it also puts the responsibility for making stuff work squarely on your shoulders. So it’s up to you to quadruple check that communications are clear and consistent up and down the chain with tools like backbriefs.
The coolest thing about all of this is that once you start doing it (and keep with it), your team will start being ready for them (supercharging communications) AND they will probably start doing it with their own reports as well. It becomes part of the culture of your company and eventually becomes the standard way to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Always.
I hope this added value to your day.
If you want to shout at me or liked this then follow me on Twitter @frozenfire42
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