Learn how to create 5-15 reports, which 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 enhance 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 “requires no more than fifteen minutes to write or five minutes to read” and credited Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia with creating the format.
In Hawken’s description, employees spend 15 minutes once a week writing up a three-part report.
- The first portion covers what the person accomplished during the week.
- The second section addresses morale, both of the person and their team.
- The third segment seeks an improvement, a suggestion of a change intended to improve work in the organization.
Each person writes a report near the end of their work week, and each manager reads each report from their direct reports promptly.
The specific sections and frequency of 5-15 reports may vary. In one organization I managed that was in a significant fiscal crisis, I asked people to complete a similar report daily and to cover the day’s accomplishments, identify barriers to getting work done and specify their primary task for the next day. I didn’t need to know morality, which I knew was poor; I needed to know what was going on and keep people focused on forward progress.
In other cases, I relied on a standard weekly report that covered accomplishments, concerns and barriers, and change suggestions. Other variations of 5-15 report content might include identifying things that are working or not, lessons learned, implementation action steps or items to discuss further.
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The regularity, brevity and reflection required to complete a 5-15 report each week combine to make this sort of system useful in a very different way than a task list or series of status updates. The ritual of taking a few minutes to focus on accomplishments, morale and ways to make things better — and to share these things with the person you report to or even your team as a whole — reminds people to focus on the broader context of their work . Most importantly, the flexible format allows 5-15 reports to accommodate the enormous range of human concerns and ingenuity, rather than dumbly attempting to distill all work down to data on a dashboard.
How to create 5-15 reports in Google Workspace
Google Workspace offers at least four distinct applications you might use for 5-15 reports: Google Docs, Gmail, Google Spaces and Google Forms. If you’re starting to use 5-15 reports, you might talk through the various app implementation options with people on your team.
Any of these four apps can work well, but different groups of people will likely prefer one app over another. Teams that use Microsoft 365 or Apple apps might explore similar alternatives on those platforms.
How to create 5-15 reports in Google Docs
You might write your weekly 5-15 report in a Google Doc (Figure A) that is then shared with a manager or colleagues. If you prefer, you could edit your document each week and save the updated item as a named Google Docs version.
Alternatively, in an organization that uses Google Workspace, a standard template might serve as the source for a new file created each week. A single file with versions minimizes the number of 5-15 report files, although a dedicated folder filled with 5-15 reports for each person, possibly grouped by year, will likely be easier to search and reference over the long term.
In either case, I suggest you store 5-15 reports on a Shared Drive configured to allow access to team members as appropriate. Once a Google Doc has been updated, use either an @ mention or the File | Email option to notify people of updates.
How to create 5-15 reports in Gmail
In email-centric organizations, a 5-15 report might be created and sent to appropriate people in Gmail. To save yourself time each week, you might preserve the standard 5-15 structure as a Gmail template (Figure B).
Start a new email, choose your custom-created 5-15 template, fill it out, then send it to your manager or group of colleagues. If you use a standard subject line, that could allow people to apply a Gmail label and automatically filter the email as desired. Templates and labels are optional: You can always just start a new Gmail and write your 5-15 report as desired.
How to create 5-15 reports in Google Spaces
You also might create and then add all of your team as members to a Google Space intended for 5-15 reports (Figure C).
This allows every team member access to the reports. Additionally, it makes it possible for 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 especially challenging interpersonal dynamics between or among members of your team, you may not want to make 5-15 reports public among team members in this manner.
How to create 5-15 reports in Google Forms
A Google Form (Figure D) offers a structured system to gather and review 5-15 reports. Each entry may be reviewed either in the 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 adjust the questions: Edit the form to add or hide fields as desired. However, to me, this format feels quite formal — you are asking people to fill out a form, after all — and that may make people feel less inclined to convey concerns and ideas freely.
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What’s your experience with 5-15 reports?
What method do you use to encourage people to regularly reflect on the accomplishments, potential improvements and future actions in your organization? If you have used 5-15 reports, how well did they work for you and your team? Do you ask people to share 5-15 reports broadly — with some or all of their coworkers? Or are 5-15 reports a more private matter between an individual and a leader? Message or mention me on Twitter (@awolber) to let me know what your experience has been with 5-15 reports.