Learn how to create 5-15 reports in Google Docs, Gmail, Google Spaces, and Google Forms that take no more than 15 minutes to write and 5 minutes to read.
What is a 5-15 report?
To improve internal communication in an organization, the simplest and most elegant method 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, once a week employees spend 15 minutes writing a three-part report.
- The first part covers what the person accomplished during the week.
- The second section deals with the morale of both the person and their team.
- The third segment looks for an improvement, a proposal for a change aimed at improving the work of the organization.
Each person writes a report towards the end of their work week, and each manager promptly reads every report from their direct reports.
The specific sections and frequency of 5-15 reports may vary. At an organization I managed that was going through a significant financial crisis, I asked employees to fill out a similar report daily, capturing the day’s accomplishments, identifying obstacles to getting the job done, and identifying their primary task for the next day. I didn’t need to know morals, which I knew were 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 that included achievements, concerns and obstacles, and suggested changes. Other variations of 5-15 report content may include identifying things that are working or not working, lessons learned, steps taken to implement actions, or points that need further discussion.
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The regularity, brevity, and reflection required to produce a 5-15 report each week makes this type of system useful in a very different way than a to-do list or a series of status updates. The ritual of taking a few minutes to focus on accomplishments, morale, and ways to improve things—and sharing those things with the person you report to, or even your team as a whole—reminds the People to focus on the broader context of their work. Most importantly, the flexible format allows 5-15 reports to accommodate the vast range of human concerns and ingenuity, rather than foolishly trying to reduce all work to data on one dashboard.
How to 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. When you start using 5-15 reports, you can discuss the different 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 using Microsoft 365 or Apple apps might explore similar alternatives on those platforms.
How to create 5-15 reports in Google Docs
You could write your weekly 5-15 report in a google doc (Figure A), which is then shared with a manager or colleague. If you want, you can edit your document every week and save the updated item as a named Google Docs version.
Alternatively, in an organization using Google Workspace, a standard template could serve as the source for a new file that is created each week. A single file of versions minimizes the number of 5-15 report files, although a dedicated folder of 5-15 reports for each person, possibly grouped by year, is likely to be easier to browse and reference in the long run.
In any case, I suggest you store 5-15 reports on a shared drive configured to allow team members access as needed. Once a Google Doc has been updated, use either an @ mention or the | Email option to notify people of updates.
How to create 5-15 reports in Gmail
In email-oriented organizations, a 5-15 report can be generated and sent to the appropriate people in Gmail. To save time each week, you can keep the default 5-15 structure as a Gmail template (Figure B).
Start a new email, select your customized 5-15 template, fill it out, and then send it to your manager or a group of colleagues. Using a standard subject line could allow people to attach 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 however you like.
How to create 5-15 reports in Google Spaces
You can also create all your team members and then add them as members to a Google Space designed for 5-15 reports (Figure C).
This allows any team member to access the reports. Additionally, it allows people to reply to a specific 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 for collecting and reviewing 5-15 reports. Each entry can be validated either in the original form or as an item in a table. This can be useful if you want 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 pretty formal — you’re asking people to fill out a form, after all — and that can make people feel less inclined to freely air concerns and ideas.
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What is your experience with 5-15 reports?
What method do you use to encourage employees to regularly reflect on the achievements, potential improvements and future actions in your organization? If you’ve used 5-15 reports, how well have they worked for you and your team? Ask people to share 5-15 reports widely – with some or all of their peers? Or are 5-15 reports more of a private matter between a person and a manager? message or mention me on twitter (@awolber) to tell me your experiences with 5-15 reports.