Exploring where OKR magic happens

by Gill Arnott | Sep 03, 2020

time icon 3 mins

Giant Talk is our regular OKR podcast in which we dive into the OKR methodology and talk OKR best practice. Each month we bring you a live episode with our friends from Koan. This month we explored where the magic of OKRs really happens – the team level.

We were joined by our Giant talk regulars, Lawrence of team TBG, and co-founders of KOAN, Matt and Scott, with the episode hosted by Jenny. If you missed it, here’s a recap of the chat.

The episode kicked off by looking at why some teams and individuals don’t take OKRs seriously. Is it just the irrational fear of acronyms? Maybe not! We came up with a few reasons as to why:

  • When teams have seen OKRs mismanaged and fail in the past
  • Teams have worked with similar frameworks that have not been successful
  • Perception that senior leadership are not taking the OKRs seriously either
  • Leaders come up with grand ideas but don’t want to put the work in to achieve goals
  • OKRs are not providing value as something is going wrong within the process
  • There is a disconnect between top level OKRs and the individuals’ work

Teams generally will not take OKRs seriously if there is a feeling of “what’s in it for me?”. If senior teams don’t invest time, where is the value in a team dedicating their time to it? When one person feels this way, others soon follow. This will quickly derail the whole process and hinder OKRs from thriving.

How do we get teams to take it seriously?

When teams are involved from the outset, they begin to take the process seriously. Involve the whole organisation early and help them to understand why the company are implementing OKRs, what is in it for them and what the business is trying to achieve.

Facilitating conversations with teams will allow management to obtain important information, as team members are often the ones with all the information! When senior teams are keen on OKRs but the team is struggling to buy into it, there is usually a break in communication.

A scene needs to be set:

  • what OKRs mean to this business
  • why they are being introduced
  • what change the company hope to see
  • how they will be tracked
  • what is considered as success
  • what the impact will be on people
  • how it will affect how they work and who they work with

Communication needs to be coherent to keep employees engaged.

Although there should be one owner assigned to an OKR, there are numerous people that influence a goal. Contributor functions help to track collaborations, keep teams engaged and part of the check in system.

The Check-in Process – Where OKRs Live and Die

The check-in system is the lifeline of the OKR framework, what makes it unique to other strategies. It is what keeps everyone involved and teams supporting each other. The process makes people aware of what is going on and what their dependencies are. It opens conversation and access to support.

Establishing an OKR champion to overlook the strategy for the whole organisation is key to avoiding the ‘set it and forget it’ approach. Appointing one employee to focus on keeping the OKRs alive and healthy, adjusting if necessary and shepherding change. If the past six months have shown us anything, it is that reflection and flexibility is important. But don’t forget to design a plan for the champion to follow as they will often be new to the process too.

Linking Performance Management to OKRs – help or hindrance?

OKRs should be strategic in nature and not a to do list. So, it’s antithetical to tie them to performance. However, OKRs should be stretch goals and the link can encourage top management to aspire to these goals to perform well. But it will overcomplicate the process if it is carried through the whole organisation, as you will fall into the trap of giving every individual an OKR. Linking these should not hinder teams, but not having consistency across the board will. Therefore, it is important to decide the strategy before implementing it.

Final Top Tips to get Teams to Take OKRs Seriously

  1. Design the process, know the answer, then communicate thoroughly – Lawrence, TBG.
  2. Allow team members to craft their own goals to connect with process – Scott, KOAN
  3. Frame OKRs in a positive light and highlight how they will value teams – Matt, KOAN


Listen to full episode

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