Diana Larsen (author of Liftoff: Launching Agile Teams and Projects) suggests that for a group of people to come together as a team they need to:
- Understand what they are expected to produce and why (common purpose).
- Know the organisation holds the team responsible for delivery (joint accountability).
- Understand how their variety of skills and backgrounds will help them accomplish the purpose (interdependent work).
- Agree upon a way of organising the work (shared approach).
- Sustain high bandwidth communication (small number).
- Learn how they perform as a group (mutual history).
I’d also add that the team benefits from producing something together and getting something to “done” (I’ll call this shared experience).
All of the above contribute to creating an environment of psychological safety for the team; removing the fear of failure and encouraging trust, respect and empathy.
So, how could those principles be incorporated into team forming?
How it could be…
All team members co-locate for a week at company HQ to form the team and take part in various activities, for example:
- The Scrum Master deliberately frames the week as an opportunity for the team to build trust and respect through collaboration.
- Collaboratively create a team name and identity e.g. a logo.
- Team Mission – a session guided by the Product Owner, perhaps with a Product and Company Vision in mind – the outcome from the session is that each team member can explain why the team exists. “This team exists to…”
- The team creates some team rules and remote working agreements; they agree what tools they want to use for different communication types – which tool for “always on” communication, a different tool or channel in the same tool for informal chat, how they would manage documentation changes, etc.
- Use a Scrum Master or Coach to facilitate some collaborative sessions to foster self-organising and cross-functional behaviours. A good example would be the Journey Lines activity which reveals the variety of skills, experience and background on the team.
- The Scrum Master facilitates sessions on technical process/practices that the team might use e.g. how planning will work, user stories, how they might estimate, strategies for splitting user stories.
- Product backlog sessions including an explanation of the product roadmap and vision by the PO. These could also include user story mapping and perhaps a design sprint type activity.
- Meet the main stakeholders and discuss vision, expectations, requirements.
- Create something! Get something done! – even if this is just working on a prototype or proof of concept…when the team creates something, it generates trust amongst the team and highlights individual’s strengths and weaknesses.
While nothing connects a team like spending time together face to face, if you really can’t co-locate your team for team forming, then most of the suggested activities above could be done remotely with a few simple tweaks.
Some tips to try right away:
- Test equipment upfront. Setup quick sessions with all team members before the main sessions to test that all equipment works as expected.
- Always use Video. Seeing your team mates will really help with team bonding.
- Create a “Social” channel. When you first start team forming, create a channel in your group chat system (MS Teams, Slack, etc.) specifically for getting to know each other. Team members can then ask each other questions e.g. “what did you do at the weekend?”, “how was your holiday?”, etc., giving them a forum to follow-up on discussions from team forming sessions and to talk about things that they might not otherwise talk about during team meetings.
- Show up early to meetings. Make the most of the fact that you are all meeting and start the video conference a few minutes before or after the scheduled meeting time to chat and build rapport amongst the team.
- Tools. Experiment with different online tools! There are so many tools available now, try different ones and see what works best for your team. Inspect and adapt.
Some other things to try…
- Would your organisation benefit from a Team forming Definition of Done? A repeatable set of steps that could be used across the organisation when forming new teams.
- As part of team forming activities, create visual boards to put up on the wall at each location with photos of each team member on and perhaps some personal details for example “this is Steve, he likes cricket, playing darts and has a caravan in Weymouth”.
- Consider introducing tools such as the Squad Health Check or Scrum Checklist to “take a team’s pulse” in a repeatable way over time and help monitor team health.
- Would your team benefit from “Buddy calls” or regular “virtual coffee” sessions where random members of the team call each other to discuss work, love, life, cats, whatever they like for 10-15 minutes?