Fifteen Fives at SEP

April 16, 2020

At SEP we rely on face to face interaction. Team huddles, standups, retros, pairing at a desk, walking by each other in the hallway, playing a game over lunch – we see each other all day, every day. Each of these interactions is an opportunity to see how the other person is doing. Like, really doing as a human being. What’s on your mind? Are you having an up day? A down day? Is something bothering you? What are you proud of?

Sometimes you don’t realize how much you rely on something until you lose it. When we shifted to working from home, we lost most of those opportunities. Yes, we’re all on webcams for a good portion of the day in video meetings, but most of our interactions there are as a group. We focus on the work we’re doing. But we’re missing the deeply human connection.

One thing that most teams leverage at SEP is the basic 1 on 1. This is where we can get human with each other. A group of us asked, “How can we ramp that up a notch?” We did some digging and found an old technique that can be traced back to Patagonia in the ‘80s. It’s called the “Five Fifteen”. (More recently, most folks call it the Fifteen Five.) The concept is simple – each week everybody takes 15 minutes to reflect on their week and send it to their Team Lead or Manager, and each Team Lead or Manager takes 5 minutes to read and comment. There are a few standard components :

  • A survey to gauge morale
  • Accomplishments for the week
  • Priorities for next week
  • Challenges and blockers
  • Appreciative shout-outs to other team members

There are different ways to pull this off. Some companies use e-mail for their Fifteen Five. There are also a few SaaS options. We’re trying one of these options, we were impressed with the focus on positive psychology in the system we chose. We started with a small group on our team to test it out. Then we made some adjustments and rolled it out to the whole team.

So how’s it going? Pretty great so far. We’ll take the temperature in a few weeks and decide whether to continue. I know I’m enjoying the insight (as a manager) into what’s going on with this large, 37 person team of teams. In a lot of ways, I feel like I have a better feel for what’s going on than I did before. I’ve also heard from several people that the reflection is helpful even at an individual level – offering a natural way to focus on priorities. One unexpected side benefit has been appreciation component. Seeing a feed of pure gratitude between team members as they offer shout-outs (called “high fives” in the system we’re using) to each other is a wholly uplifting experience. So good.

That’s not to say we’re without detractors. Some folks are feeling like it’s yet another to-do item for the week. And that’s okay, we’ll work through it! We also recognize that the success of this will depend on timely review and follow through from the Team Leads and Managers. (We made sure to get that buy-in before we started.) As we do with most things around here, we’ll find a way to customize on a team by team basis.

By and large, the Fifteen Five is giving us a chance to get deeply personal, reflect on our week, and connect with each other at a human 1 to 1 level! Have you recently added Fifteen Fives to your team’s routine? I’d love to hear how others are incorporating it. Reach out at