One of the fun parts of running a creative HR agency like Bright + Early is being able to experiment with the way work works; not just for our clients, but for ourselves as well. As a team, we’re always examining, tweaking, and rebuilding our own systems and trying out new ways of collaborating. We’ve tinkered with four-day work weeks, creative hiring processes, democratized decision-making, and just about anything else you can think of. Not everything makes the cut; as it turns out, voting on everything can be a bit cumbersome.
One creative experiment that’s stood the test of time is a process we call “Out Of Tens”. At the start of our weekly team meeting, everyone ranks two things out of ten. Their current capacity (aka how busy they are), and their personal state. Why does this work so well? For us, it’s had the effect of normalizing ebbs and flows in life and mental health, developing psychological safety, and supporting each other. Here’s how it works, straight from our team handbook:
We rate this so that we can understand how busy people are at an individual and at a collective level. If someone is too busy, we can re-resource work or pitch in and help out. Yes, we generally try to assign an equal amount of tasks to everyone, but many things can have an impact on how much capacity someone has at any given time. So, understanding how someone rates their feeling of capacity is a good input.
Here’s what each rating means:
1: Zero work assigned, not helping others, basically no pulse. I have nothing to do.
2: I answered some emails and slacks today maybe.
3: I have one small project or easy client, but I’m way under-utilized. I am bored and want to take on new projects or clients.
4: I am at about half my capacity level, and have space for at least two big tasks or projects.
5: I am at about 2/3's my capacity level, but have space for a couple of small things or one big thing.
6: I am almost at the capacity I should be at, but I'm comfortable and could take on one small project or task.
7: I'm at the capacity I should be at. I still have time to help others and live my life.
8: I'm at the capacity I should be at, but am reaching my limit and have less time to help others. I am still mostly able to manage my workload and live my life.
9: I'm at full capacity and should not be assigned anything or asked for help with anything.
10: I am completely overloaded and need immediate relief.
We rate this so that we can develop empathy and psychological safety as a team, recognizing that people ebb and flow through high and low productivity based on various life and work factors. For example, knowing someone is at a low personal level this week might give you context, or allow us to step in with assistance or re-resource a project. There is no need or pressure to share anything personal as to why you gave yourself the rating you did.
Here’s what each rating means:
10: I'm feeling rested, fed, centered, motivated, clear-headed, engaged, and amazing.
9: I'm feeling pretty damn great!
8: I am feeling pretty good!
7: I am feeling okay, life is cruising along with a few bumps but it's nothing I can't handle.
6: I am just alright. I might be dealing with some issues that are pulling my focus away from my work, or getting me down at the moment.
5: I'm really not feeling alright right now, and am having difficulty working at a basic level. It is mentally/emotionally/physically challenging for me to even respond to an email or slack message. I need to take time off to recharge.
4: Something quite bad has happened or I have been feeling consistently bad. It is mentally/emotionally/physically exhausting for me to do anything work-related.
3: I am unable to work at all and may need to take a day or some time off.
2: I should not be in this meeting; I should be on leave.
1: I am unable to communicate at all.
Why has this worked so well for us? The key is not just listening, but adjusting. If someone is at a high capacity but a low personal number, we’ll often shuffle work around to someone with lower capacity ratings but higher personal ones. Trisha, our compensation lead, says that this system:
“Reminds us that there's more to the person than what we see on the screen. With a remote team, it's hard to feel connected without in-person relationship-building. So, by doing this, we're able to share things outside of work that make us a whole person.
This year personally has been a tough one for me - I've been doing graduate school in the evenings, so my mental well-being really took a toll on my work capacity when school ramped up. I was able to share this openly with my team and we created a plan that gave me more flex in my work schedule so that I could manage school better! Sounds simple, but feeling safe to openly discuss this and having something done about it made me feel so valued.”
Others noted that it helped give context as to why someone might be acting a little bit “off” or down, even if we don’t know why. We can focus on shifting work and anything else we can do to support them, and it avoids others taking these shifts personally.
If you’d like to experiment with Out of Tens yourself, here are our tips for getting started:
- Be clear on what the scale means. When we first launched, we didn’t really provide a guide and relied on everyone to understand and communicate their own rating scale. So everyone had a different idea of what a “7 out of 10” meant, exactly.
- Don’t demand psychological safety. When someone new joins our team, they’re often still developing trust. Personal ratings don’t require an explanation, and often, we allow someone to skip and observe for their first few meetings until they feel comfortable participating. Even in the safest environment, trust cannot be demanded.
- Model trust. As a leader, sharing about your own ebbs and flows can be powerful. If you’re having an “off” week, some stress at home, or just need a no-camera day, letting your team know will open up space for them to share as well.
- Step in. If someone is consistently at a high capacity level, do something about it. If someone is feeling at a low personal level this week, check in later to see how you can support them.
This practice isn’t for everyone; if your team is suffering from a recent organizational disruption or trauma that led to a decline in trust, you may have to build up that trust before asking others to share openly. But for teams where everyone feels safe and committed to building that trust together, Out of Tens can be a powerful tool in building psychological safety and preventing burnout.