Alex Chiri's Blog

First thing to do as a new team!

Hand placing a dice in a cube of dices

Teams, the smallest work unit in a company, come and go. And in companies where there is a lot of growth, they see the necessity of creating more and more teams or re-organising old ones.

Long-live the team!

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Long-living teams are the ideal that few disagree with. The reason to strive for having long-living teams is that creating a new team, bringing complete strangers together and asking them to collaborate together towards a common goal and many times working together in the same units of work, takes a lot of time. It is an investment. For the company, but also for the team members. You want to profit from that investment as long as possible.

Since there are no identical people, with identical preferences, identical contexts and backgrounds, people need to get used to each other (in time), but also need to learn what is the best way to interact with each other. With no explicit rules, each person will assume things about the others based on their perspective of others and of the world.

Team norms

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For all these reasons, I believe that one of the very first things a new team should do is to have a conversation about team norms. The purpose is to bring out the perspective about work of each team member, agree on ways to work together based on these perspectives and make it ok for team members to hold each other accountable without generating frustration.

Basically the team members should agree on the following things:

  1. How do we like to do things in this team?
  2. What do we consider inappropriate?
  3. How should we hold each other accountable?

For example, running meetings over time might be something some team members dislike a lot (inappropriate), so the team agree that they will never run over time, that they will always stop 5 min before time and evaluate if a new meeting is required (how we do things). Anyone in the team should bring it up if it seems a meeting is dragging on without point or if the 5 minute mark has passed (accountability).

This might seem an impossible exercise at this point in team timeline, because there might be little trust in the team and maybe some people won’t be completely honest, but with some facilitation it should be possible to get a good result.

It’s important to have everyone express their opinions and preference and avoid having the loudest person in the room dominating. It is also useful to give some preparation time, either before the meeting or during the meeting, not everyone can come up with things like these on the spot.

The answers to each of these questions could be different for everyone. And that is fine. If the members of the team want to get along and work together effectively, then they need to take all these preferences into consideration. If they do not, or they don’t discuss about them, then the differences in opinion and perspective will come up when the times get tough and they will cause frustration and separation (also team productivity will drop).

P.S. A connection of mine on LinkedIn said recently that software development would be less complex if done by machines (AI). I tend to agree, but until we get there, we need to remember that we are not machines and try to work out our differences in the open.