alexchiri

8 minute read

I think this is quite an obvious thing to say. At the same time, it is quite common to forget what this fact means. What does it mean that this team that provides a service, or builds a product or works on a project, what does it mean that it is made of people? And to the extent of that, what does it mean that the users or the stakeholders are also people?

Any person has ambitions and needs. Some of them are quite basic like eating and being loved or being part of a group and some are a bit more abstract, like feeling respected or accomplished. We spend all our life chasing one or the other. And unless you are a Buddhist monk in one of the most deserted corners of the world, being self-sufficient, then you will need other people to fulfil your ambition.

So your users (internal or external) are people like you, with ambitions and needs, who expect great service and are busy chasing their own path in life. With this in mind, let’s focus a bit more on the team.

What does this mean for the team?

I assume that the people you have in your team are there by choice and they made this choice because it somehow contributes to their ambitions. This being said, here are a few things you should have in mind when in a team of people.

Human chemistry and trust

Different personalities, different ways of communicating and interacting with each other, some just collaborate harmoniously, some need a little bit of work.

Very few people work well with complete strangers. So make sure the members of the team feel comfortable with each other. Run all kind of exercises like personal maps, go out for beers, team building, whatever it takes to break the ice. Team members don’t have to be best buddies, but they should be comfortable enough with each other in order to collaborate effectively for a big chunk of the time they are awake every day. The next step is to trust each other. This is not about being open about the most personal things. It’s about being comfortable and have enough trust in your co-workers so you can feel safe to make mistakes and be wrong about some things.

Be aware of the four stages of forming a team, the team will reach the level of high performance much faster if you consciously address issues typical for any of the stages.

Identifying personality types in the team could be an interesting idea to explore. There are many many many tests and guidelines out there. As long as you take them with a pinch of salt and stay away of labelling everyone with their dominant traits. The biggest outcome of knowing this is to be aware that there might be certain tendencies in the team towards different behaviours or that members of the team tend to be more open towards certain behaviours.

A team of people needs a an environment where they can feel safe to fail and admit when they’re wrong. They need trust.

On-boarding

Whenever you get a new person in the team, the team’s culture is put to a test. A person with a fresh perspective is joining the team. Take this opportunity to rethink the way you do things. Don’t see it as a threat, but encourage the new person to challenge everything, but maybe in a controlled way.

Make sure you have a simple but somewhat structured way to bring the new member up-to-speed with the team’s knowledge. Personally, I love the idea of having a set of topics the team masters written on cards. Whenever a new person joins, he/she receives a copy and he/she is responsible for learning about those from the other team colleagues. Maybe add some time restrictions and make sure you mention what is the goal of the knowledge sharing and time restrictions, if any.

Encourage mentors that are (preferably) not direct managers of the new recruits to help them get settled and advise them in their career inside the company. It pays off for both the mentors and the mentees, which in the end benefits the company.

A team is made of people who need to feel that they belong to the group and receive the proper support in order to excel and develop their skills.

Simple process based on context

The discussion about how to organise efficiently a group of people is probably as old as human life on Earth.

Nowadays, lean and agile are the most common hypes and misconceptions in the IT industry. Or rather the misconception that they might be universally applicable to any environment.

The only universal truths I know about this is that you need to be transparent about your intentions and apply everything in the context you are working in. I learn new things about agile, lean and ways of working every day. That doesn’t mean they can instantly be applied to my context. Learn, adjust, experiment, gather feedback and start again.

It is best to start simple. Identify the kind of environment(s) your team has and the challenges it faces and take simple measures to alleviate those. There are a few simple patterns you can apply. Take some time to gather feedback and review the process.

Don’t react to every little spike that the team will face during that time. Record it, qualify it and count the similar ones, then take these into consideration in the periodic review.

Consider forming some useful habits in the team to reduce interruptions and number of decisions team has to make every day. Avoid this way time spent on less important work.

A team of people needs a set of simple agreements and healthy habits to be efficient and to keep themselves from stepping on their toes. These agreements are not more important than the people, should be kept to a minimum and adjusted as needed with everyone’s contribution.

Visualize!

It is very important to define a vision for what you are trying to achieve as a team. Why is it important?

Well, first you make it clear to the whole group the direction you are heading in with your product or project or company. Everyone is on the same page and understands what the future holds.

Second, having perspective increases autonomy of the individuals in the team and everyone can think how can they better use their skills to contribute to the goal of the group. This can motivate people and give them the sense of purpose, if your vision is something they feel passionate about.

_A team of people can only be creative and autonomous if they understand what is their purpose, goal and what is expected from them to achieve. _

Measure

In order to make sure you provide the value the user are expecting, you need to measure it somehow. Ideally, you would get this data directly from the users, through all kind of surveys or user behaviour.

Regardless of the way, make sure you invest in gathering this data and measure impact of the features you deliver. In the end, what is the point of working on things that nobody uses or wants? It is a waste of energy and money and it could hold you back in the race with the competition.

Displaying this data somewhere in the team area is something that can motivate the team, by giving a direct feedback on their work, proving them that what they’re doing has an impact and it is appreciated by their users.

A team of people needs feedback in order to improve and keep themselves motivated.

Make sure you know your stakeholders and respect their needs

Know your users

Internal or external users, the reason your team exists is to fulfil a certain need of these users. For external users, a detached product team could mean them dropping the service for the competitor’s which could put you out of business. The impact on internal users is many times harder to quantify, but it could slow down the company by certain orders of magnitude without anyone being able to pinpoint to the problem.

Know your users, either personally or virtually. Based on how many they are, go meet them personally or create representations of the most common profiles of your users, so called personas. Put these profiles on display in the team area and take these in consideration into your decision making process.

Be transparent

Make sure you are transparent towards your users about your service issues. Keep them up-to-date. You are holding them back from chasing their ambitions and needs, give them an explanation and show them you are working on fixing it.

If you receive notices from a big chunk of your user base to ask you why your service is broken, you are not doing it good enough. Sometime something as simple as having a status page with a message can go a long way.

There are people on both sides of the delivery pipeline. A team of people will put themselves in the shoes of their users and if they don’t like what they see, they will loose focus, interest and commitment.


There are many other topics relevant to the subject of teams and people and this is merely a smudge of thought on a large paper.

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