As supported by the Agile Manifesto, team interactions are more important than processes and tools.
Teamwork, communication, positivity and morale effect cycle times more than anything else.
There are two types of interactions meetings. Forward looking meetings that focus on helping team members understand their differing communication styles and foster trust. And, retrospective meetings, looking backwards, in the pursuit to continually improve. This blog highlights examples of each of these types of interactions meetings.
Forward looking Team Interactions Meetings
DISC and the Team Wheel
DISC is quick and easy for people to learn and helps teams understand the various communication styles that exists on a particular team. It helps team members better accept one another and teaches them how to modify their communication styles to communicate more effectively.
Perhaps the most powerful aspect of this tool is the construct of the “team wheel” which depicts the entire team on a single diagram. This provides a lot of meaningful information to the team about the culture and behaviors of the team. From this wheel, the team can anticipate and understand why conflict is likely to occur on this particular team. It enables discussions as to why conflict is actually a good thing and how best to deal with conflict. Diversity of behaviors on a team invites conflict. But a team needs diversity in order to succeed. The wheel helps teams visualize their diversity and understand how to modify behaviors in order to reduce stress on one another.
This simple yet powerful activity helps teams build trust. Vulnerability Based Trust is the willingness for people on a team to be emotionally vulnerable and human with one another. The Influence Map is a personal drawing mapping out what influenced team members to become who they are today. Team members choose what they want to share and what they want to discuss. When people share emotions – whether positive or negative – they become closer.
Retrospective Interactions Meetings
The primary purpose of these team interactions meetings is to continuously improve. Areas for improvement may be related to communication, team behaviors, processes, technology or workflow. The more subtle purpose of these meetings is to continue to enhance team dynamics. A variety of meeting styles should be used to help maintain team engagement. Here are several examples.
Since this technique uses silent writing, it is especially useful on teams that either may not have a full trusting relationship or who have not fully mastered DISC and therefore the dominant behaviors control the meetings. Team members independently jot down things going well (pluses) and things needing improvement (deltas) – one item per sticky note. The team then groups similar items and discusses these common themes. The team creates plans to address any issues raised.
Dot voting is a good technique for the team to prioritize the groupings in order to make best use of the time allotted for this meeting. Everyone on the team simply gets 3 dots to vote on the themes they wish to discuss. Themes with the highest number of votes get discussed first until the time set for the meeting runs out.
This meeting is loosely based on the TV show Jeopardy. Each team member creates 1 or 2 jeopardy answers and places them on a board. An answer is 1 word or a short phrase that summarizes a problem or a good thing. The word should be the answer to a question they think of.
Examples of a jeopardy answer might be “slows us down”, “a waste of time” or simply “testing”.
Then, each team member independently creates their own question that goes with the answer. The team discusses the different answers/perspectives.
(Optionally) the person who added the word/phrase to the board writes down “the correct” question on the back of the original answer. Whoever guesses the correct question gets a point. Whoever gets the most points wins a small prize.
When done with game, the team votes on the top questions they would like to further discuss and takes any actions.
Prior to the meeting create 4 flip charts labeled Like, Learned, Lack, or Long For. Of course, this could also be done virtually for teams who are not collocated.
All team members write as many sticky notes as they want and place them on an appropriate flip chart.
Divide the team into four subgroups each taking an “L” flip chart to group/theme. Each subgroup selects a representative to summarize the themes to rest of the team.
The team discusses and creates plans to address the issues raised.
6 Thinking Hats
This exercise is based on the work from Edward de Bono. The team holds a facilitated discussion where the team pretends to wear a colored hat which indicates the style of communication while wearing that hat. The steps for this facilitated meeting are the following:
- Team is wearing “Blue Hat”. Briefly set objectives for this meeting.
- Team is wearing “White Hat”. Only discuss Facts.
- Team is wearing “Yellow Hat”. Optimistic: Only talk about the good things that happened.
- Team is wearing “Black Hat”. Critical thinking: Only talk about the negative things that happened.
- Team is wearing “Red Hat”. Emotive statements. Only talk about how you are feeling.
- Team is wearing “Green Hat”. Constructive: Ideas about solving problems. Out of the box blue sky thinking is encouraged.
- Team is wearing “Blue Hat”. Review of outcomes and actions the team wants to take.
Hot air balloon, Sailboat or other metaphor
Prior to the meeting, someone draws a large picture they place on a wall (or in an online sharing tool). The drawing may be a hot air balloon, a sailboat, or any other creative metaphor the team wants to use.
If the drawing is using a hot air balloon metaphor then team members will individually add sticky notes as “sandbags” to the diagram to depict what is slowing the team down. They would also add sticky notes as “flames” representing what is pushing the team higher. Additionally, they may add storm clouds to the top symbolizing what risks/dangers may lie ahead.
If using a sailboat metaphor, the team adds sticky notes to the anchors on the drawing representing what is slowing the team down. They add sticky notes to the sails in the diagram representing wind propelling the team forward. Additionally, there is an option to add rocks ahead symbolizing what risks/dangers may lie ahead.
The team discusses these sticky notes and creates any necessary actions as a result of the discussions.
It is important that teams hold forward looking interactions meetings when teams initially form and whenever team members change. This helps the team move quicker through the Tuckman phases and helps the team improve performance. While Kanban processes focus on visualizing work and minimizing WIP in order to increase cycle time, the best process in the world will not help a team that has distrust, unhealthy conflict, and lack of communication.
It may also be important to hold periodic retrospective meetings looking backwards and discussing ways to continually improve. The frequency of these meetings depends on the team and how well they are already openly communicating about issues during the course of frequent team interactions. To help the teams stay engaged in these meetings, this blog gave several examples of different, fun ways to facilitate these meetings.