Creating an Environment of Teamwork

A colleague asked my opinion on the various teambuilding activities she was considering for a new-to-agile team, to help them get to know each other and work together.

All the activities she considered were simulations of various kinds. I suggested she reconsider the simulations and focus on the work to help people learn to work together.

I'm not against teambuilding. However, I wonder if we overdo simulations, especially in new-to-agile teams where people don't have the context.

I recommended she consider pairing, swarming or mobbing as a way to build a team. I recommended she ask the team(s) to consider experiments. They were new to working as an agile team. They're new to the idea of team-based collaboration. When teams try pairing, swarming or mobbing (especially if the idea is to improve the products), they have many opportunities to work as a team:

  • To learn to create hypotheses, with the requisite measurements. In my experience with new-to-agile teams, this is a brand new way of thinking.
  • To consider alternatives for their board. I suspect they are new to visualizing their work.
  • To see what they can do and what they can't do as a team. This is also a new way of thinking for new-to-agile teams.

I recommended she ask the team to consider three days of experiments: a pairing day, a swarming day, and a mobbing day. I was thinking of that order, but maybe a different order would work better.

I suggested she facilitate a debrief at the end of each day to help the team see the results of that day's work. And, a debrief at the end of three days to see if they like any of these ways of working.

Maybe it's time for an open space to see if they have better ideas. Or, ideas about why these possibilities won't work here.

My colleague had several assumptions, primarily that the team members wanted to and could work together. In some organizations, people are called teams, but they're not measured as teams. Best to understand the real issues in the organization when people attempt to work together as an experiment than to have them try a simulation that doesn't work in their real world.

I don't find value in teambuilding activities that don't correlate with the work the team is supposed to deliver. I find learning to work together useful.

4 Replies to “Creating an Environment of Teamwork”

  1. This is good. Yes, the best teambuilding is to simply work as a team. Except that it’s not simple or people would naturally do it. So techniques like pairing, swarming, and mobbing can both provide a useful framework for working together and be a way to boost productivity.

    I did take my team out to race go-karts in November. It was a nice adjunct to our normal teamwork — it let us see each other in a competitive situation, and created memories that bind us together a little bit. But that by itself is not enough to create teamwork back in the office.

  2. Yes, these techniques you mention could be found an important and best use in creating environment for your team and boast their productivity but in my opinion what I suggest would be simply value each other, have effective communication, try to develop or maintain some tradition, and set ground rules for the team.

    By doing so you will be able to maintain or create effective and productive team environment/culture.

    1. Al, thanks. I like it when the team decides how to value each other, how to have effective communication and what their ground rules are. I’m not big on tradition, because agile approaches invite change all the time.

      I have a little nit with your comment. You said “simply” and then listed things are that quite difficult to do! (I hope you can see me smiling here.) I didn’t get into software because I had such terrific interpersonal skills. I work at those skills, and so do many others, all the time. I practice them so I can be effective at valuing my colleagues and communicating so they can understand. I find that interpersonal skills require deep understanding, learning, and practice. I hope you understand my concern.

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