I found myself looking over the shoulder of a 10 year old who was watching YouTube videos. Teams challenging each other in competitively created Minecraft worlds. I get curious about what other people see. Maybe an even better word is ‘perceive’. By being so, I also get to learn. As this particular video series unfolds, the same competition is recorded by each of the two teams involved. A perspective from each side. After the winning team series was viewed, he continued to watch the same contest from the losing team’s perspective. ‘Why’ resounded in my mind. “What did you learn? What did the team, that won, – do better?” This elicited such a thoughtful look that I then asked if he could write down just exactly what made the winning team a good team. I share this list with you, not only because I believe that it was good, but it is also how we spend a majority of our lives. From kindergarten and even after retirement – we interact in groups. Teams if you will. Esther Derby noted the good characteristics of a thriving team. As well as struggling teams exhibiting something different. What do you and your teams strive for? I am going to go over this young professor’s list.
Effectiveness in being visible with what resources we have. Many of the reality survival shows take a group that will depend upon the openness to share what they have. Tools, knowledge, food, sources of inspiration. Everything is fair game. What if we consider the members of the group itself to be a resource. We are sharing of ourselves… Pair programming for example. Teaching or helping to perform a task. Load balancing the team itself and how it works with what it has. Even creating things that the team will need and help it to thrive.
There it is. We need to plan… we start out with one. Agile also tells us that this is the starting place, and we cherish our ability to adapt and alter that plan as the struggle ensues. Some of the goals remain unchanged, but the little adjustments along the way point to our ability to absorb changes as reality proves itself to be divergent from our imagination and preconceptions. The plan helps our expectations converge. It is something that we leverage to rally the team. Typically we even have multiple levels of planning. Our coordination begins somewhere.
Help Each Other
This is one of the main reasons we are in a team. It is also why we emphasize self-organization. What can we do to be a part of the solution and move the team towards success. Helping drives the interaction of the team. Trust is integral. I sometimes have to remind members to assume good intent and focus on the goals. No matter how hectic and chaotic the circumstances are, watching a team calmly work through the tough situations with a focus and clarity allows them to analyze and critically process. Better decisions and great solutions will result from a team like this. The opposite end of the spectrum is a team in a defensive or reactive mode as a loose grouping of individuals that simply do what was heard to be the loudest. It may get you through some short term fires, but there is usually a cost to the team and organization in the longer term. Team building is the best by-product I have ever witnessed as a result of any agile program.
Tell each other what they’re doing – so people can help and support them.
This sounds exactly like a stand-up. Even in a larger sense how the entire team is being visible and open with the work we are doing. Especially the problems or opportunities along the way. This is how our coordination continues. We work on our communication daily. Being face to face is still the widest broadband form of communication around… but it may not always be feasible. An active team usually has a buzz or chatter as tasks are worked. There is little trepidation at relaying the information of what is happening and our progress towards our goals. Everyone here is trying to get the team ahead, through the thought-work, through the software, hardware, processes,tools… Many people are connected by a headset as part of a team and rely on this coordination to achieve work for the team. For teams this is another line of sight – making our work visible. Great teams make decisions based on information passed along quickly. It is part of their reaction time. Going off into a mine and being isolated for a very long time may not always be in the interest of the quick pace at which a team needs to be informed, move and react. Speak up, we need ideas from everyone.
Defend each other
Now hopefully, no one on the team is being attacked physically and directly to where we need to shield our mate from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Yet there are other things to defend against. From the perspective of the author of this original list – this would include bullying. Software is hard problem-solving. Usually instead, we are probing for work being done on the wrong thing that might not be highest priority. Providing a solution might prove too fragile, or hold us for far too long. Defending takes the support for someone just a bit further. Defending is the type of behavior that promotes swarming. Not everyone may start out knowing when to ask for help. Swarming on tasks the team knows to be critical should come naturally. What about sustainable pace? Defending each other against burnout, or helping to ensure the quality of the code is high. Perhaps even ensuring that the acceptance criteria is well understood or that a definition of done is met. What about improving or automating some repetitive task so that another team member can contribute more?
Great teams have a gift for this. Innovation by it’s nature takes some risk taking, vision, drive and creative tenacity. Seeing what could be is far more powerful than why it can’t. I often think that this is the singular most powerful characteristic someone can possess as jobs change. The speed or the rate of technological and scientific discovery will continue to quicken and broaden. Without creativity, the possibilities, unorthodox connections and navigation of shifting paradigms should otherwise ever prove to be a challenge. Adventure time.
My profound thank you to a growing ‘coach’ that is understanding and looking at teams in a way, that I didn’t start exploring, until I was far older.
What would make your team’s list?