Posts Tagged With: team building

Help your team to fire it up!

Summer time in Canada gives us the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors without having to worry about frostbite! One of my favorite weekend pastimes is to light up some logs in my backyard fire pit, pull up a Muskoka chair and listen to the crackling sounds, smell the pleasant aroma of the burning wood and gaze at the stars. But starting and sustaining a wood fire outdoors does take some effort, not unlike nurturing a team.

Enjoying a good fire normally requires starting with some type of accelerant or fire starter, then some kindling and finally the logs. Just using fire starter or kindling doesn’t work well as you won’t get a long lasting burn. On the other hand, trying to start a fire with just a log is amusing to witness but not much fun to experience. If you have the benefit of picking your team members it might be tempting to only pick people who get along with you, but you are likely to lose out on the many benefits of diversity including a reduction in the likelihood of experiencing groupthink.

Beginners often have a tendency to constantly fuss with a fire. They get worried that it will either extinguish itself or that burning embers might land on nearby flammable materials. Whether it’s incessantly blowing on the fire, smothering it with excessive logs, waterboarding it with fire starter fluid or poking and prodding it frequently with a poker, their micro-management spoils the fire and irritates those of us around them who might be trying to enjoy it. Other people are too hands off as they don’t see the warning signs of a starving fire and end up having to restart the blaze multiple times in an evening due to neglect. Teams work much the same way. Micro-management is one of the quickest way to suck the life out of your team but neglecting them is also a recipe for disaster. As with Goldilocks, our job is to discover what’s “just right” for a particular team.

It’s easier to keep a healthy fire going than it is to start one from scratch. With a long running fire, just when you think the embers have died out, the addition of some kindling and some encouraging puffs of air can bring it roaring back to life. Nurturing a high performing team takes work, but it’s a lot less than the effort required to guide a new team through forming, storming and norming.

Once your fire is going strong, there’s not much to worry about from outside elements. A good fire can withstand light rain showers and will deter most insects from bothering those sitting around it. Strong teams usually possess higher levels of psychological safety which can help team members to face challenges knowing they will be supported by the rest of the team.

It’s getting cold in here so somebody fire it up – Thousand Foot Krutch

Categories: Project Management | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Avoiding groupthink on long-lived teams

Long-lived teams are often presented as being superior to their temporary counterparts. The benefits of longevity include the avoidance of wasteful forming-storming-norming cycles, higher levels of trust and psychological safety within the team and a more accurate understanding of what someone means when they communicate with us.

But there is a potential downside to persistent teams which can erode many of these benefits: groupthink.

Groupthink usually refers to a situation where team members prioritize consensus over the quality of a given decision or outcome. We might all disagree with Bob’s recommendation on how to address a project issue, but we value the harmony of the group over the mediocrity of his approach and hence we don’t challenge it. According to Irving Janis, the social psychologist who is credited with introducing the term, groupthink tends to occur most often where there are high degrees of cohesiveness, external threats, difficult decisions or isolation of the team from others. These factors are often found on long-lived teams.

So how can we avoid groupthink on long-lived teams?

One countermeasure might be to use Delphi or a similar method of anonymously or simultaneously gathering input from the team. This will reduce the likelihood of any one team member winning a “first to speak” advantage and will provide a structured approach to surface and discuss differing viewpoints.

Another option is to have the group nominate one team member to act as a devil’s advocate. This selection should be made on a per decision basis. Since everyone knows that this team member is responsible for finding weaknesses within a decision it eliminates their fear of being perceived as disruptive. Care needs to be taken in selecting the right team member to play this role. Someone who is likely to have significant interest in the outcomes of a decision might not be the best candidate as they might consciously or unconsciously disqualify the group’s approach to further their own path of action.

Have the foresight to bring someone in from the outside who has no stake in the outcome. This approach can replace the previous suggestion if team members feel that none of them can impartially play the role of devil’s advocate. This method has its own challenges as it might take some effort for the outsider to gain sufficient context to be an effective contributor to the decision.

Finally, breaking the team into two independent groups and having each group develop a recommendation is a very explicit method of eliminating groupthink. Of course, this requires a team which is large enough that such a sub-division is possible. If this approach is used more than once, it is a good idea to have different people in each group for each distinct decision.

When all think alike, the no one is thinking – Walter Lippman

 

 

Categories: Agile, Project Management | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Shuffle up and deal with qualitative risk analysis!

While it is frequently used by agile teams to size work items (e.g. user stories), Planning Poker® can also be used to facilitate other types of decision making so why not use it for qualitative risk analysis?

A common approach to this process is to utilize a scale from very low to very high or even just low, medium and high to assess the probability and impact of identified risks. One concern with this is that at the end of the risk analysis workshop the team likely ends up with a significant volume of high probability or impact risks. This forces them to do a second pass to prioritize the risks so that risk owner capacity can be focused on the valuable few.

In many cases, determination of probability or impact is done through a group discussion. This means that the same biases which affect sizing when techniques like Delphi aren’t used will be realized. Whoever speaks first or speaks loudest anchors the remaining team members to their perception of probability or impact.

Finally, I’ve seen some teams analyze risks as part of the identification process. Not doing the analysis in a batch manner might seem to be better, but it also means that the team won’t benefit from the perspective which comes after they have had the chance to review all risks. Again, this might force a second normalization pass to ensure evaluations are consistent across the risk register.

So how can Planning Poker® address these challenges?

  • By using a numerical basis for qualitative risk analysis (yes, I know that sounds like an oxymoron!) we provide greater levels of granularity which should simplify the risk prioritization process.
  • Planning Poker® uses a non-linear (usually Fibonacci-like) sequence. This is important because risk impacts and probability do not scale linearly. When we use low, medium or high to analyze risks, we don’t account for non-linearity.
  • It removes bias from the initial individual assessment and provides a structured approach to surface and discuss differences in perception.
  • It requires us to normalize our sizing at the very beginning based on the complete list of risks to be assessed. Once the team has identified all risks, they will review each and determine which risk they believe has the smallest probability and which one has the smallest impact and use those as their basis for relative assessment against all others.
  • Finally, Planning Poker® can be a lot of fun – it gets people actively engaged in what can sometimes be a very dry discussion.

Scaling this technique with larger teams might be challenging, but for risk analysis sessions with up to a dozen participants it can work well.

The beautiful thing about poker (and risk analysis!) is that everybody thinks they can play – Chris Moneymaker

 

 

Categories: Agile, Project Management | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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