360 Live Media
360 Live Media is an event strategy and digital marketing agency in Washington, D.C. serving association, professional society, and not-for-profit conferences.
Speak Freely Blog

One (radical) way to engage employees and improve performance

I didn’t believe him.


“I’ll be leading new, monthly meetings where I want everyone to share what’s on their minds. Little things, big things…internal, external…positive, negative—whatever you want to talk about. It’s going to be an open forum for the entire team. It’s called a Speak Freely.”


This was the bombshell dropped by Craig Wood, our Managing Director and Chief Engagement Officer, on his first day at 360 Live Media nearly two years ago.


I remember thinking: Is this guy for real? Be honest about everything? Is this just another one of those textbook employee engagement activities? I don’t see this happening.


I’m glad I was wrong.



(for you non-millennials, this stands for Too Long; Didn’t Read, and it means I’m about to summarize my key points)


Speak Freely meetings work because:


  • People feel heard
  • Concerns are addressed
  • Teams bond
  • Progress is made


How it works


First of all, as a company, we practice radical candor with each other and with our clients every day.


That is, if you sincerely believe your comment will benefit the group and you are coming from a place of caring, we welcome you to share it. This way of thinking is not something I had encountered before working here. But it is embedded in our company culture and the main reason why we all trust each other so much—we tell it like it is.


A Speak Freely is a focused session of radical candor. It starts out like most internal meetings with everyone gathering in a conference room.


Often, it helps to do it around lunchtime—people eat during the meeting and the vibe is casual. Side note: I’d say five to 15 people is ideal. You can get away with up to 20 people, but that is probably the maximum you’d want in the room. Otherwise, it’s tough for everyone to have a voice.


To begin, the leader (in our case, Craig) assumes the position of moderator. The leader gets the conversation started, guides the discussion and responds as best they can in the moment.


Good or bad, no topic is off limits. As long as we remain respectful of people’s opinions and feelings, we can discuss. It should be a safe place.


What to expect


Usually, the conversation starts out light.


People might have questions about expense reports, proper etiquette for booking a conference room or what is expected of someone when they work from home. Standard stuff with straightforward answers. Easy peasy.


As the dialogue continues, the group feels emboldened and the topics get meatier.


  • Are we holding too many internal brainstorming sessions?
  • How could that client meeting have been more effective?
  • Do we have the right team on that account?
  • Where do we stand financially as a company?


The questions can be tough for any leader to answer honestly, especially in front of the entire team. But that’s what makes it so impactful.


Why it works


When you work on a team, conflict is inevitable. However, if you don’t address people’s concerns or genuine frustrations in a timely manner, doubt begins to fester. Doubt leads to anxiety…and anxiety leads to disengagement.


Keeping your team engaged is critical to your collective success. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at the numbers:


“Top teams that address engagement needs in their everyday work outperform bottom teams by an average 20% in sales and 10% in customer engagement, making it a worthy pursuit,” according to Gallup.


By proactively addressing issues and providing a mechanism to release workplace angst, you can build a stronger, more efficient team.


Our monthly Speak Freely session is a great corporate culture example because it helps us gain a better understanding of each other and where our organization is headed.


What it’s not


A Speak Freely meeting is not a façade.


It is not a place where you feel one way but pretend to feel another. It is not an opportunity to kiss up to management, throw someone under the bus or harangue a peer for their quirks.


It is certainly not a waste of time.


What it takes


If you’re a leader who is considering instituting a Speak Freely environment in your organization, good for you. But make sure you have thick skin and confidence in your team.


You must be able to take a few unexpected hits to your ego to help the organization grow and adapt to the needs of your team. Be open, be present.


If you’re willing, it’s well worth it.