GTD for Teams & Holocracy with David Allen
Don't cram plenty people on Zoom. Fluorescent light at office all day long. You know, you probably are gonna work from home.
Hello and welcome to the next episode, episode 43 of the No Office podcast. We've had a break, but now we're coming back and we'll be coming on a more loser cadence over the next months.
but we will be recording a podcast so stay subscribed to No Office Podcast and
make sure that to recommend it to your friends. And this episode already is a
very special one. It's, as you would paraphrase David Letterman, "My next guest
needs no introduction because he's David Allen of the Getting Things Done fame
name, and David Allen, the author of the book, the author of The Movement. And I have a pleasure
of speaking to him. I met him several times in my life and most recently on the GTD Summit.
So on a conference for geeks, getting things done, geeks like myself in Amsterdam in 2019.
right before the pandemic. So then we saw each other. It was a blast. We've had a blast.
I met lots of like-minded people, many Nozbe users who use Nozbe to implement Getting Things Done.
With that, now after the pandemic, I convinced David to talk to him and interview him for this
show to just get an update of what he still thinks, what's going on with GTD, how GTD
evolved, how the pandemic forced people to use GTD more and to really get organized.
Also we talked about Holacracy, which is a very interesting subject of making the companies
self-manage, which is something I've been trying to do in my company.
David is challenging me.
He's asking-- I mean, I'm trying to ask questions,
but he's actually asking me to go one step further.
So it's a very interesting conversation.
I hope you'll enjoy it and you'll love it.
Without much further ado, here's David Allen
of Getting Things Done.
So David, thanks for agreeing to talk to you.
As you mentioned, we have seen each other at the GTT Summit
in Amsterdam three years ago in 2019,
So right before the pandemic, it feels like a decade ago.
- What happened to those three years?
- So after this decade of three years,
tell me, what do you think is like the main,
like, do you see a change in the world of business,
in the world of getting things done because of the pandemic,
because of the world happened?
- It just spreads some things up in terms
of how many people needed to manage themselves better.
- Okay. - That's all.
Okay, so you think that just people realize that they need to get stuff done better?
Well, it undid a lot of the structures that allowed them to be comfortable, that in that structure they could be told what to do.
Or they could go to the office and then say, "Okay, I'm in the office, therefore I do these kinds of things."
If they don't have an office, back to the whole idea of hybrid, like, "Okay, if you're not in the office,
How do you manage office-level work when you're not in an office?
And for a lot of people that was quite stressful because they weren't used to that.
I mean, come on, any salesperson or consultant has lived a hybrid world for years.
It's their career. So it's not a new event.
It's just new about how many people have to then deal with that.
And I remember one of the things that, you know, when I read your book for the first time many, many years ago,
so the kind of new thing that I learned was then, you know, I mean, I learned many new things and getting things done,
but one of the most striking thing was the context concept, right, that you work in different contexts.
And there is the context at home, there's the context at office.
In the pandemic world, these contexts are very intertwined.
Yeah, you got a deal?
Yeah, you got a deal with this.
And I think for me,
for example, the surprising thing was when I was talking to business,
to entrepreneurs, to fellow entrepreneurs,
what was their surprise
when the pandemic hit and all that stuff?
It's like they were surprised that people
are actually, when being forced
to juggle it all
at home and everything,
they're actually working.
I mean, when people are forced
with stress, they have to
have to just figure it out. And many people did. And I think it was surprising for many
folks, for many entrepreneurs that their people can actually cope with that and they can work
pretty effectively even when they don't have to go to the office every day.
As long as they have keys for managing themselves in terms of their commitments. And
You know, Michael, given what I teach, you should be able to you want to
time for kids.
Go to do kids.
Don't be bothered by the rest of your world time to do work.
Just don't be bothered by the rest of your world.
So how do you arrange your life so that whatever you're focused on is not
distracted by the rest of your world?
Well, you got to manage the rest of your world so that some part of you can put
that to bed.
But again, that's the essence of GTD has been from the beginning.
Again, I still remember in my first seminar with you, where we met for the first time, I still remember that
when you said that when you do your weekly review, so you think then, and then you'll know that next week you'll think again.
But in the meantime, you'll be just executing. So to me, this kind of idea was kind of foreign.
Like you think once and you prepare everything and then you have the confidence to trust that
you're going to think again in a week.
Can you just, you know, I'm right on that.
No, you said it well, you know, that's it.
If you're not thinking once a week, you're trying to think all the time, but not finishing it.
So I go, you know, why waste your time trying to think about what you ought to be, that ought to be thinking about how you ought to be thinking about what you ought to be thinking about how you ought to be thinking about 24/7.
stop once a week, finish that process so that some part of you could then just trust your intuitive strategic choices about what you do.
So in this chat, I want to discuss more of this concept of how to teach or introduce GTD in a team, how to work together.
And one of the things that we did in my company is that on every Friday, we make weekly review kind of mandatory.
But I mean, not really mandatory because you cannot force anyone to do anything.
But we encourage people on Fridays to spend the time on a weekly review.
And we've had mixed successes with that. Not everyone is doing that.
Have you seen how leaders have tried to introduce weekly review to their teams?
Or have you seen them struggling with that?
Do you have any tips for me and for other entrepreneurs how to introduce weekly review to the team?
The best example I have is a very, very senior guy at Hewlett-Packard HP, big GPD fan.
And once a week when he had a weekly team meeting, he put up his brain, the brain he used, the mind mapping.
He said, by the way, guys, here's my world right now.
Here's what has my attention.
Here's what I'm doing.
And he essentially did a weekly review, at least professionally, in terms of all of his
He said, so you know why I'm making the decisions I'm making.
He didn't have to do anything else other than that.
I mean, modeling is the best educational form you can do.
So if you do that, it might believe you showed up and said, "Hey, guys, let me show you my weekly review,"
da-da-da-da-da, at least what you're willing to share with them. And here's how I'm doing that.
If they don't, then they can do it or not do it. But I guarantee you they'll feel a little embarrassed if they're not.
- Yeah. We have this thing that on our company Slack, people are saying,
"I've done my weekly review," or "I am about to do," or whatever.
but I think the sense of embarrassment is not there yet so I think you're totally right I should be more
transparent with my weekly review exactly so not just that I did it.
And say guys I don't give a fuck whether you do this or not.
You know it's like if you want to play my game here's how I play that game
and if you're not doing a weekly review I'm not sure I'm trusting you and making your priority choices right.
I'm not sure you're not letting stuff fall to the crack that might need to fall to the crack so
If you say you're doing this by the way, I had very,
very senior person at one of the big, uh,
global news networks, big champion of my stuff. She had my,
by the way,
she's the kind of person that I walked into her office and she had my workflow
diagram under her glass on her desk. Wow.
She says, David, when I'm nuts, you know, this just makes me sane.
But what she did was every Friday afternoon, you know,
once she cleaned the deck, she said all her emails were zeroed
out. She'd done her review. She said, then she sent a note to
all of her staff and said, By the way, my email is zeroed. Now
yours isn't. That was such fun. She made that a kind of a game
with everybody. But I don't know how you could force people to do
that. I don't know that I ever would.
So one of the things we do, actually, I mean, in this vein, this is what we do exactly on Fridays,
that people who are not doing their weekly review, because, you know, we use Nozbe and we share tasks
and projects, so they get all the tasks. So everyone else has the tasks, the activity cleaned up,
but then the ones who don't, don't. So it is kind of a game, you're right.
this is uh that's that's pretty smart well come on you need to enjoy this it is a game
no it's like a game to empty my in basket it's like you're like wow it's like sure let me see
what's that i'm gonna do with that what do i do with that see the problem is if you haven't had
the game defined it's hard to play the game right and so defining what the game is like
It's just a critical element to how you make sure those things kind of work.
Right? So ultimately, when you can define the game, you can be playing the game and say,
"Hey, guys, here's the game to do," and make it kind of lightweight.
Don't make it so heavyweight for people.
- One of the things we practice in this weekly review also, and this is the best part,
and very often it comes from junior people on our team.
It's like they create, for example, let's say there is a project,
and they see that there's a project, but it's completely abandoned.
and there are no next actions defined, it's just there.
So what they do is they check who created the project,
and they create a task for this person.
For example, to me, let's say, because for example, I
had this idea, but I just completely
abandoned the project.
And there's a task I get from a junior person.
Michael, are we closing this project or what?
And then I'm like, aha, so now I have to decide.
And I think this is kind of this gamification thing
that we are kind of challenging each other to define the next action or to...
It's an important game. If you like football,
football player, soccer player to get on the field, what are the two things?
Where's the goal? What's the next play? Those are the two things that are the
drivers of what they do to be successful. And so coaching that
and just making sure people think, "Great, where's your goal? What's the next play?"
Yeah, I think so. I think, yeah, I think that, you know, especially then, you know, what's your next play?
Because, you know, where... I mean, but of course, if you don't know the goal, the same thing.
Your next play can be anywhere or anything. And I think this is what I... because I read your
article about, you know, introducing GTD to teams, and we're going to link this in the show notes to
this podcast episode. And here, link is also on YouTube. So, one of the things you said,
that to introduce GTD in teams, the important factor is the ownership. So, like you, like,
so that people have to have their like tasks or ideas or goals or projects, they have to have,
you know, clear owner. Otherwise, they will not be moved forward, right?
Well, the purpose of a team is to fulfill some purpose for the team.
So who owns that purpose?
Who knows what it is, the team aware of why they are a team.
You wouldn't be a team if there wasn't some reason to be a team.
So too many teams have either lost the vision of what their purpose was or never
even knew what it was to begin with.
What's their purpose.
And then who owns that because who owns that then has to determine a lot of how
of how the team then manages itself in terms of fulfilling that purpose.
Exactly. Yeah. And this kind of explains whenever I feel that we are losing focus,
it's because either me or somebody from my leadership team hasn't determined what's next and the why.
Yeah. And you can do it either way. You can do, "Well, what's next?" and then, "Why are you doing that as next?"
and then they get back at it back up to, okay, well here's the purpose of what
we're trying to accomplish. But you know,
being involved in Holacracy for the last 10 years, it could have been very,
very rigorously trained in how do you really,
really discreetly determine purpose not only of the team,
but the roles in the team and the people playing those roles and what are the
purposes of those roles? You know,
are they supposed to produce correct numbers on a consistent basis in a timely
Are they supposed to ensure that feedback from customers has been integrated and
recalibrated appropriately? Come on. What's the purpose of the team?
and then you've got a senior team and their purpose is going to be to fulfill
whatever the company's purpose is, you know, as a team.
But then each one of them probably has their own separate roles that then need
to be calibrated. So I've, I've, you know,
for 40 years inside learning role based organizational,
you know, organization, role-based stuff is great,
but in the last 10 years, I've gotten much more discreet
about roles, how critical that is, 'cause, you know,
you and I can like each other, but if we're unclear
about what role you have, what role I have,
and if they overlap, you know, we wanna shoot each other.
- Right, yeah, I remember on the GTD Summit,
Holacracy was one of the things that was,
was kind of, let's say, the secondary theme of the conference, because there was lots of talking about holacracy.
And especially, I think, in the Netherlands, it's being widely...
It's pretty popular here.
And after the conference, when I came back to my team,
so I read the book and all that stuff, but I didn't know how to
introduce it gradually to the team.
You don't you don't forget it either go all in
or forget it.
You can't halfway do holacracy.
It's either you have to give it up Michael and go look I will let the self organized
organization make the decisions about the company as opposed to me.
As soon as you pull the founders card,
it doesn't work.
As you say,
you should decide that.
But here's what I'm gonna do.
You're not gonna have a self organizing organization.
So it takes a bit of courage for whoever is the owner founder or whoever
runs the thing or owns it has to be willing to say I will give over
to the process and it's quite a rigorous process.
So you know, I'm not a big, I'm not voting that you or anybody else would
find this easy.
You have to be called to it.
But it's a trend, you know, you know, come on.
The trend started when organizations started to flatten.
people had to be expected to manage themselves a lot more than whatever and
change was happening faster and faster.
And so the requirement for people to be able to manage themselves, you know,
you didn't, you didn't have a lot of resources to have, you know,
senior people hold your hands to figure out what your team should be doing.
You need to figure that out yourself. So it's a trend that's not going to stop.
I mean, so I don't know the last statistic, but it's always something like,
I don't know, in the next 10 years, 80% of the US workforce is going to be subcontractors.
Yeah. I mean, so for example, when we developed the application on the developer side, for example, what we did,
we, okay, so you said full on, I say, we tried to do some of it. So some of it means that in that sense,
Like, for example, we have a new Nozbe feature that we want to introduce, right?
So we decide together with the team who is the feature owner, so who's the person responsible for this feature.
And then this person, when they are developing the feature and coordinating the whole thing, the design and all that stuff,
they have the last say and they decide what to do.
So even though I am the founder and I am the boss,
I can give suggestions or whatever, but they ultimately decide when the feature is shipped
and how the feature looks like. I have no say in this. I can only give feedback,
but my feedback is as good as any other person's feedback on that.
So would you say that this is just the beginning of this?
Yeah, that's the idea.
Exactly. So that they know that this is their role. As you said, this is their role.
their role is to be the leader of this feature, of this part, of this bubble, like it was in the Holacracy.
And they have the last say, and they own this. And this is the process.
Yeah, as long as you don't undermine the process. But you could.
There's always temptation to do that.
So my challenge doing that was really to remind them that they are the boss, in that sense.
that sense. Because kind of, I don't know, so my people are really, as every founder would say, I have the best team. Of course, my people are the best. But what I'm saying is that they are the best. But I think the ingrained kind of the way people were brought up in the professional world is that they have to still adhere to the
hierarchy of the, you know, of the organization. And so it
bears reminding them that, you know, you're the boss here. This is your decision. If you
say this is, if you say this, you say this, that this is how we roll.
And I see that we have to keep on reminding them that to be able to
make sure that they finally get the message, that it's not easy.
I understand. I just signed a contract. You haven't done that.
Okay. They all know you could pull the plug at any time.
a difference. And I'm not saying you know, you're what you're
doing is great, fabulous. And if it work, good work. I'm just
saying, if you really wanted to do this, you have to sign a
contract to make sure that you will keep that agreement, that
they make that decision. And by the way, in a holacracy
framework, you could be given all the power you want to make
whatever decisions you want, as long as the organization agrees
to that. Right. So, you know, it's a it's a brand, you know,
came up with it and he's from another planet. I mean, he figured this thing out in detail. How
do you create organizational mind like water? He did it.
So basically what you're saying is that, because what I'm saying is that my concern is that because
people are brought up this way, they are not doing it. What you're saying is that,
Right, but because I haven't signed the contract, so they really have it, like they know,
that's why they don't, they are always kind of, they would be second guessing that may make
it not make you not being sure that I might pull the plan.
And by the way, even though I signed the contract, Catherine and I did,
it still took three or four years before people didn't want to go, "Oh, well, yeah, but Dave or
Catherine could still do X, Y, and Z." Okay.
the company. So it took a while for people to really get that we met what we
said because they're, you know, they're still going to go to you, Michael.
Yeah, I'm sorry. They will. And there's nothing wrong with that. That's the way
that's the way that game plays. But if you say yeah, and you know, but I have
agreed in writing, I have agreed in, you know, in principle, I've made a commitment
that the way we've now structured the organization…
It sounds like you may have individual relationships with these teams
and with the project, but it's probably not built into the organization.
And I'm not saying you should, again, if you want a total buy-in,
that makes the whole organization function that way.
Otherwise, it's ad hoc, how you're managing that, but sounds like you're doing well.
Yeah. It's like, again, when we introduced, for example, Mighty Fridays. So Mighty Friday is the
concept we introduced in our company that on Fridays we don't do normal work. We don't do day-to-day
work. On Fridays we do weekly review, and on Fridays we focus on personal development. So you
can read stuff, you can read finally the GTD book, or go through a course, or whatever. So Friday is
is for that, right? And still I see, I feel like I have to slap people's hands every Friday because
they kind of go back to just, "I'm gonna just finish this task there. I'm gonna just finish
this thing." Human nature is bad. - I know, come on, but the rules are made when brains run out.
But let people do what they feel like doing. Just say, "Here's a big suggestion. Here's what I'm doing.
Any of you guys don't do this. You're going to be kind of behind my cloud, so
your choice. Yeah, I'm just trying to figure out how to
not only motivate them, but first, like, set a good example, but
still kind of challenge them, because
what I'm thinking is... Well, if they don't know what their priorities are and they can't
give you a complete current and accurate total up-to-date
project list, fire them.
I don't mean to... Look, I'm 77, a little old and cranky right now, but come on,
That's the truth.
You know, you don't have to say, go do GTD.
Just go show me your project list.
They don't have one called why the hell not.
How are you managing your life?
If you don't have a list of all the commitments at these levels.
So it's a CTD is just good business.
Why would you start a meeting without going?
What are we trying to accomplish by when you would, why would you end a discussion
with that thing?
So what's the next action?
Who's got it?
I mean, this is GPD.
just outcome and action thinking, you know, and making sure you manage that appropriately
in terms of organization and reflection and review. So, you know, that's how you get them to do it,
is hold people accountable to their business practices. I mean, use the word GTD, just get
out of your vocabulary. Yeah. You know, the thing is that, um, it's like with social media, like,
you know, when you, uh, when you don't know what to do with you, because like you're bored or
something, the first thing you open your phone and you scroll through social media, because it's the
easiest thing to do. It's like you lean on the easiest thing.
Yeah, well sometimes that's a cool thing to do because your brain needs a risk. If
you've been spending an hour trying to design a spreadsheet, your brain
is toast. Sometimes, hey go to social media, snack on email, if nothing
else, why not? There's nothing wrong with that. Just doing that as opposed to
something some part of you think you should be
doing. That's where you can run into the problem.
And that's how I feel about these Fridays very often is that
that people instead of just figuring out, as you said,
figuring out what they should do with the data
I'm giving them for personal development,
they can do whatever they want.
They kind of lean in on the easiest,
like, I'm gonna just finish the day-to-day tasks.
I'm gonna just still work.
- Yeah, I probably would too.
- Why would you? - You're telling me
to grow my stuff.
I'm not ready to grow my stuff.
I'm adult enough, thank you very much.
I'm not gonna do this other stuff.
So don't well, I don't know up to you if you want to take on the preacher role.
It's not only the preacher role.
It's like more.
Well, you might, you might, I don't know if you've communicated talk guys.
Here's why I suggest you do this.
Have you written that out really sincerely?
Yes, I have.
But maybe we should, maybe I should, I have done it like years ago and maybe I should revisit that.
How, how it's
or just have a meeting again.
And guys, here's what I suggest.
How are you guys feeling about this?
Should I just stop pinging you about this kind of stuff?
- I don't want to be a bother.
- I'm just trying to be an inspiration
because it worked for me and whatever.
So just be honest and open
and not push on that, Michael.
- Because you can be a pushy kind of guy.
- Yes, I can.
But aren't all overachievers like that?
- Until they learn better.
- Could be.
Yeah, you're right.
Well, they learned to achieve results through more subtle means.
Yeah, there is still a lot to learn from you.
So, David, just to wrap it up, so tell me how you've been.
As the company is right now in Holacracy and you're still running it from Amsterdam, right?
So, how is this working?
I mean, and then people from my company are all over the world right now, as far as I know.
It works great. We shrank from 50 people to five because we became pretty much an IP licensing company more than anything else.
We still have some digital products and GTD Connect are sort of membership online stuff that we do.
But for the most part, I'm supporting all of our licensed partners around the world that are doing what they're doing.
And we're represented in 90 countries now.
Nice. So a lot of what I do is just, you know, as needed, you know,
little ad hoc things show up called, Hey, can you do this? Can you do this?
Whatever. And I'm still, now that the pandemic is over,
I just did a keynote in Nashville and just been contracted to do
another keynote in Virginia, you know, next month.
So surprisingly, you know,
my invitation to do my own personal keynote presentations are still
kind of a light and well out there at least a little bit.
So I'm still doing that. So that's a lot of what's going on.
I can't stop doing GTD. Anybody asks like you or anybody else go, Hey,
you know, come on. It's great stuff. It does nothing but improve people's lives.
And again at age 77 I don't know how many more years I got to crank this out,
but you know, and I thought at some point Michael, you and the, you know,
6 million other people who've got GTD and they go, okay, now what? Yeah, well,
I'm done, but they keep coming out from under the rocks.
I've done 2,000 podcasts and interviews in 2001
since the first edition of "Getting Things Done,"
but I still do one or two a week.
- Yeah. - Who knew?
- Who knew, right?
That's why I invited you,
'cause I think it all burns repeating,
and it all burns, you know,
and I'm sure there will be lots of listeners of this show
to just like, "Okay, so who is this David Holland?
What is this GTD? Like, they will be like, they will see it for the first time.
Anybody who's read the book, read it again, it'll be a whole different book.
Right? But these are the books I keep on coming to, like the GTD book,
The Essentialism by Greg McKeown.
Like, there are a few, just very few books that I keep on rereading,
and keep on reading back, you know?
And keep on, and the best part is, with every read, I learn something new.
Well, you're a new person every time you read it, so you see it through a different lens.
So your different lens notices different things in the information.
Exactly. Well, David, thank you so much. It's been a blast.
Yeah, I'm going to just record the outro later. So just say thank you to everyone.
Yeah. God bless everybody.
And thanks, and please send my best regards to Catherine.
Yeah, and hope that maybe we can see each other for a coffee or beer in Amsterdam at some point.
Maybe you'll get a new GTD summit conference at some point. We'll see. Never say never.
Yeah. Bye-bye. Thanks for tuning in and hi, I hope you enjoyed this conversation with David Allen,
the author of the book "Getting Things Done, the Art of Stress-Free Productivity." As you know,
"Getting Things Done", this book, was the sole inspiration for me creating Nozbe.
And Nozbe was built in 2007 to help me implement "Getting Things Done".
I mean, for example, the view of priority was initially called "Next Actions".
And the whole idea of contexts, projects, it was all born there.
Now, the new Nozbe that we just introduced a few years back,
The new Nozbe is focused on helping not only you get things done, but also the teams get things done together.
Because as David said in the conversation, if you don't see other people's project list,
and if you don't know their priorities or their next actions, it's hard to say, it's hard to decide what to do and where to go next.
That's why with Nozbe, we're trying to make GTD more collaborative,
but on the other hand, inspire everyone on the team to do their weekly review on Friday,
to review their projects, to review their tasks, and to make sure that they've got the priorities straight
and they know what's next for them for next week.
So that's it. Thank you so much. And till the next No Office podcast.
And if you have any questions or you would like to give feedback, please rate us on iTunes, on the podcast.
And also you can comment if you go to nooffice.fm/43 as in 43rd episode of the show.
Over there you'll find this episode also as a video and you will be able to add comments.
And I'll be happy to respond to these comments so make sure to not be a stranger and let me know what you think.
And if you have discovered getting things done for the first time make sure to read David's book.
And if you want to implement GTV, use Nozbe.
Okay, thank you so much, and till the next one.