Have you worked with teams that don’t communicate well? Or teams that don’t collaborate? What about teams that deliver late or with poor quality? Or maybe teams that are in constant negative conflict?
How do you tackle these issues? It might feel like you can fix everything by changing some of the people on the team. Before you do that, consider how you’ve set the stage for your team. Will removing and adding some people really solve all your problems? Or will the new members find themselves in the middle of a dysfunctional team, and end up unhappy and not delivering to their full potential?
Here are some of the things you can think about when you work with teams to create an environment where they can succeed.
Laying the groundwork for teams
- Ways of working
The questions below will help you define a team’s purpose:
- What is the goal of the work that the teams are doing? Consider what the company vision and strategy are. How do they influence the goal for the team?
- How will the team measure how well they’re delivering towards the goal? Are you measuring this today? Do you know how to measure it? Are these measurements available to the team?
- What is the definition of success? Once you’ve defined your measurements you need to clarify what level indicates success. For example: Is it a 10% increase in conversion rates? Would you get a positive ROI with 7%, but a real boost for the company at 15%?
- What are the expected deliverables? Is it a product or a service? Are you also hoping that the team members will learn new skills? Knowledge sharing? Are there experiments or tests that the company as a whole can learn from?
- Who are the intended customers? Are they internal or external, or both? Are you hoping to create a new customer base? How will you get feedback from the customers? Do you have stakeholders? Are their expectations aligned with the points above? Do you know how you will work with them?
Ensuring a safe and high trust environment is key to team performance. Some points to consider:
- Define the team membership: Who is actually on the team? Use the purpose to help you set up a team, and include the team members in that decision!
- Create personal connections: Ensure that the team gets to know each other. Who are they? What are their interests? Do they have hobbies? Where did they grow up? What are their backgrounds? What motivates them? Do this in a way where people can decide how much and what they want to share.
- Professional background: What are the strengths and weaknesses of each of the team members? What skill sets do they have? What would they like to learn?
- Foster an inclusive environment: We’re all different, make sure that the language used in the group, the workshops that involve the team are inclusive. Set an example in the way you behave, and make sure to help others be more inclusive in the way they behave.
Once you have the purpose and team in place you can start working. Working agreements will change over time, and the teams will build them incrementally. Here are some areas to work with:
- Team values: What is important for this team? Quality? Inclusiveness? Creating a fun atmosphere? Creating a team with high level skills? Caring for each other? A place for safe competition? An excellent work ethic? Being considerate of others? Having an open feedback culture? Team values are as unique as the teams are themselves. There are no right or wrong answers, but it’s good to have these discussions so everybody is on the same page!
- Roles and expectations: Do you want to have roles? Do they define the people or the work being doing? What are the expectations the team members have on themselves and on each other? How do they know that they’re doing a good job?
- How will the team work together: How will the team decide what to work on? How do they communicate about the work being done? How do they handle bugs and new features? How do they split the work amongst themselves? Is the team running some form of work methodology (eg Scrum, Kanban, LeSS)? Which aspects are they changing/keeping/removing? Do they have their own individual process? Make sure that the team members agree on how they will work together!
- Personal development and growth: How will the team manage this? Do they have all the skills needed to help each other grow? Do they need classes? How will they keep growing professionally?
- Conflict resolution: What kind of conflict is good and necessary, and what kind of conflict should the team avoid? What should the team do in the face of negative conflict?
Defining a purpose, creating a good environment and setting up ways of working are activities that you need to repeat throughout the lifetime of a team.
Changes in the market, or to the company strategy can affect the team’s purpose. Some members may leave, or new ones may join, which will impact the environment and ways of working. Finally as the team learns and improves on their team work, their way of working evolves.
Make sure to be explicit about changes to the purpose, environment and way of working. Cultivate and evolve the team culture. When new people start, leverage their experience and knowledge. When the market conditions change use what you’ve learned to help you pivot. As you work together, let what you’ve learned influence your future work and the team’s purpose.
By creating clarity you create a place where people can grow, constructively discuss and disagree and work together to create something great.
If you would like to experience this way of working hands-on, sign up for my class this spring in Stockholm. Two fun-filled, intense days of experimentation to help you generate new insights and gain a better understanding for how to coach teams: (Link to class)
This blog entry is loosly based on my talk at Agila Sverige 2017.