Learn how to create 5-15 reports that take no more than 15 minutes to write and five minutes to read in Google Docs, Gmail, Google Spaces, and Google Forms.
What is a 5-15 report?
To improve internal communication in an organization, the simplest and most elegant practice I recommend is the aptly named 5-15 Report. Paul Hawken wrote in his book “Growing a Business” that a 5-15 report is one that “takes no more than fifteen minutes to write or five minutes to read” and credited Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia with the format to create.
In Hawken’s description, once a week, employees spend 15 minutes writing a three-part report.
- The first part deals with what the person has accomplished during the week.
- The second part deals with morale, both of the person and his team.
- The third segment looks for an improvement, a suggestion of a change that is intended to improve work in the organization.
Each person writes a report towards the end of his working week, and each manager immediately reads every report from his direct reports.
The specific sections and frequency of 5-15 reports may vary. In an organization I managed that was going through a significant financial crisis, I asked people to fill out a similar report daily describing the day’s performance, identifying barriers to getting work done, and their primary task for the next day to specify. I didn’t need to know morale, which I knew was bad; I needed to know what was going on and keep people focused on progress.
In other cases, I relied on a standard weekly report of performance, concerns and barriers, and suggestions for change. Other variations on the contents of the 5-15 report may include identifying things that work or don’t work, lessons learned, action steps in implementation, or items that need further discussion.
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The regularity, brevity, and reflection required to complete a 5-15 report each week make this kind of system useful in a very different way than a to-do list or series of status updates. The ritual of taking a few minutes to focus on performance, morale and ways to improve things – and sharing these things with the person you report to or even your team as a whole – reminds people to to focus on the wider context of their work. Most importantly, the flexible format allows for 5-15 reports to accommodate the vast array of human concerns and ingenuity, rather than simply trying to reduce all the work to data on a dashboard.
Create 5-15 reports in Google Workspace
Google Workspace offers at least four different applications that you can use for 5-15 reports: Google Docs, Gmail, Google Spaces, and Google Forms. If you’re going to use 5-15 reports, discuss the different app deployment options with people on your team.
Any of these four apps can work well, but different groups of people are likely to prefer one app over another. Teams that use Microsoft 365 or Apple apps can explore similar alternatives on those platforms.
How to Create 5-15 Reports in Google Docs
You can write your weekly 5-15 report in a Google Doc (Image A) which is then shared with a manager or colleagues. If you want, you can edit your document every week and save the updated item as a called Google Docs version.
Or in an organization using Google Workspace, a standard template can serve as a source for a new file created every week. A single file of versions minimizes the number of 5-15 report files, although a special folder filled with 5-15 reports for each person, possibly grouped by year, will probably be easier to search and access in the long run.
In either case, I recommend storing 5-15 reports on a shared drive configured to allow team members access. Once a Google Doc is updated, use an @mention or File | Email option to notify people about updates.
How to Create 5-15 Reports in Gmail
In email-centric organizations, a 5-15 report can be created and sent to the right people in Gmail. To save yourself time each week, you can keep the standard 5-15 structure as one Gmail template (Figure B).
Start a new email, choose your custom 5-15 template, fill it out, and then send it to your manager or a group of colleagues. If you use a standard subject line, people can send a Gmail label and automatically filter the email as you wish. Templates and labels are optional: you can always just start a new Gmail and write your 5-15 report however you want.
How to create 5-15 reports in Google Spaces
You can also create your entire team and then add them as members to a Google Space intended for 5-15 reports (Figure C).
This means that every team member has access to the reports. In addition, it allows people to respond to a particular update with an emoji, reply to a thread, forward a post to your inbox, or turn a post into a Google Spaces task. However, if there are particularly challenging interpersonal dynamics between or between members of your team, you may not want to publish 5-15 reports among team members in this way.
How to create 5-15 reports in Google Forms
A Google form (Figure D) provides a structured system to collect and view 5-15 reports. Each item can be assessed in its original form or as an item in a spreadsheet. This can be useful if you plan to filter or sort 5-15 reports by people or dates.
Using a form also makes it possible to customize the questions: Edit the form to add or hide fields as desired. To me, however, this format feels rather formal – after all, you’re asking people to fill out a form – and that can make people feel less inclined to express their concerns and ideas freely.
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What is your experience with 5-15 reports?
What method do you use to encourage people to regularly reflect on the performance, possible improvements and future actions in your organization? If you used 5-15 reports, how well did they work for you and your team? Are you asking people to share reports 5-15 wide – with some or all of their colleagues? Or are 5-15 reports a more personal matter between an individual and a leader? Send a message or mention me on Twitter (@awolber) to let me know your experience with 5-15 reports.