Organizational OODA Loops

Organizational OODA Loops

February 23, 2024

Scaling meeting time sublinear to team size

I joined Canva just under a year ago, and my biggest learning has been how to build large (150+ people), healthy, and high-functioning organizations while being on the opposite side of the world from my colleagues—quite literally.

As with all leaders and people managers, one of the most obvious bottlenecks is time: there are only so many ways to split a 40-hour work week into 30-minute chunks while preserving your sanity. When I joined Canva, I knew that the time zone overlap would be one of the most unique challenges (4 days per week, 3 to 5 hours per day) and that, instead of seeing it as a downside, I needed to figure out how to use it to my advantage.

Alongside an incredibly gifted team of leaders, we’ve developed a simple and scalable model for organizational cadence and process that I think will translate well to organizations of all sizes, colocated or fully remote.


The Organizational OODA Loop

The OODA loop was invented by US Air Force Colonel John Boyd to explain how fighter pilots could gain a competitive edge in dogfights. His insight was that success wasn’t just about the speed of the aircraft but also about the speed of decision-making and adaptability of the pilot.

This iterative process, where a pilot observes the situation, orients themselves to the unfolding dynamics, decides on the best course of action, and then acts, proved crucial in gaining the upper hand in fast-paced, dynamic environments.

While the context is obviously very different, this mental model also works well within fast-scaling companies as a way to continuously assess a quickly changing business context to help you make better decisions.


Observe, Orient, Decide, Act

Step 1: Observe

There are two major forms of observation: Direct and indirect. Direct observation comes from firsthand information gathering through personal experiences and involvement in projects. Primary sources include real-time dashboards, reading internal documents, sitting in on meetings, etc. Indirect observations come through discussions with teammates and escalations of issues from across the business. Escalations can come in any form, and we also create a culture and cadence for eliciting these blockers as they arise.

Step 2: Orient

Once you’ve observed something that needs to be acted upon, the next step is to reflect on and assess the relevant information that’s been gathered. In addition to cross-referenced prior observations, we also gather new primary sources where relevant such as verified data, user interviews, and discussions with relevant parties and DRIs. A key outcome of Orientation is understanding the broader implications of the situation, including impacts on users, other teams/projects, etc.

Step 3: Decide

There are two types of decisions: Internal and External. Internal decisions can be made quickly by one or few people on a team, whereas External decisions require sign-off from a broader set of stakeholders outside the organization. Generally speaking, decision making is a structured process that should always be ratified in writing so that you can, “keep the receipts” for reference in the future.

The first step of deciding is clearly stating what needs to be decided, what the various options are (along with their pros/cons), and who needs to weigh in on the decision. Lastly, a clear recommended path forward is outlined and circulated to decision makers to formally give their remarks.

Step 4: Act

Action is the culmination of the previous steps. Once a clear decision has been made and documented, the recommended path is carried out. The decision maker or accountable party is then responsible for closing the loop with all relevant stakeholders once action has been taken and what its outcome was.

Applying the Organizational OODA Loop

High-functioning teams are able to apply the OODA loop at every level within the organization. Generally speaking, far fewer decisions are made at the executive level than at the individual level, and individual- and team-level decisions are more Internal whereas executive decisions are more External.

In the Discovery group, we’ve established guidelines on what needs to be escalated and what doesn’t to help maintain focus and efficiency. This is an evolving balance, however, as too few escalations are just as bad as too many.

We can tell the process is working when teams are able to swiftly resolve issues independently, and senior leadership are pulled into key decisions at the right point in time. Anecdotally, I can also tell that it’s working because I feel like I have an extremely high fidelity view of the work happening within my organization even though I’m not involved in the day-to-day of most of it.

The most critical cadence for our Organizational OODA Loop is Fortnightly project check-ins for key projects across the organization. For Discovery, my leads and I have fifteen 15-minute back-to-back meetings with the leads of our major project areas. Each set of leads fills out a doc 24 hours ahead of time calling out their progress, plans, and blockers. Then, ahead of the meeting, the leads review and write out a set of discussion items for the team. These meetings start and end promptly on time, and we will cancel them if there are no critical discussion items (spoiler alert: there almost always are!)


An additional benefit of these Fortnightly project check-ins is that it gives our organization a clear cadence for documenting and sharing our wins. After these meetings I’m able to compile a list of our top Highlights, which gets shared to the broader group as well as our stakeholders across the company.

Move fast and keep receipts

Formalizing our Organizational OODA Loops has been an absolute game changer for myself and the Discovery group, and I believe it will also be super useful to other leaders who’re looking for a way to scale their time and either can’t or don’t want to be in meetings all day.

Give it a go, and let me know how it goes!

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