All great teams need a tune up.; Navy SEALs do “After Action Reviews;” orchestras tune their instruments. But for many digital teams today, everyone is so busy it can be hard to make time to take a breath or level up.

That’s why I’m so excited to team up with the digital transformation folks at Notbinary to offer a new one-day high-impact “Team Health” workshop. The goal: offer teams a fast, practical way to reflect on how they’re currently working together, identify a few small but mighty improvements, and level up their agile skills.  And of course: have fun and a great day out doing it.

Along the way, the team also learns some powerful agile and team health techniques (like effective RETROSPECTIVES, POP, DARCI, USER STORIES, etc.) — but these are baked right into the process, so that everyone learns by doing and makes the best possible use of their precious time together — as opposed to traditional “training”-style training.

Testing it out with innovators at the FSA

We just ran our first version of this new Team Health workshop with the good folks at the ODD (Openness, Digital and Data) a digital transformation team working at the UK Food Standards Agency. The work they do is vitally important, and they’re often busy and  over-stretched. So here’s how it worked, and how a similar approach could work for your team.

5 Key Muscles & Mindsets

What do we mean by “Team Health?” In a nutshell, it’s all about becoming smarter, happier and more effective. Or its ability to “energize, align and renew itself” (Keller & Price, 2011). Healthy, high-performing teams tend to have five key muscles:

  1. PURPOSE — your team’s WHY. The ability to set goals, align around what success really means, and bring passion and energy to your work. (Versus: sleepwalking, fuzzy goals, or bullshit.)
  2. AGILITY — you’re team’s HOW. The ability to focus, get things done, and continuously improve. (Versus: chronic overload, toxic multitasking, brain-fry and burnout.)
  3. EMPATHY — you’re team’s WHO. The ability to really understand your clients and end users, listen to them, and make things they actually want. (Versus: flying blind, crappy products, or “HiPPOs with hunches” [Highly Paid People w. Opinions])
  4. TRUST — your team’s EMOTIONAL SAFETY. The ability to boost creativity and brainpower, be real with each other, and take risks. (Versus: hiding, game playing, or the “Stupidity Paradox.”)
  5. OPENNESS — your team’s TRANSPARENCY. The ability to make your work visible, breakdown silos, and make it easier for others to help and learn. (Versus reinventing the wheel, the Fog of Work, or Death by Org Chart.)

How do we strengthen those muscles?

We started with a Team Health Scan. About a week before the workshop, we asked the FSA team to each individually answer a simple questionnaire. The questions are practical, reflective (meaning there’s no wrong answers), and only take about 5 minutes to complete.

Once everyone on the team had answered the questionnaire, we compiled the data into a “Team Health Report” that we shared back with the team. This shows where the strong muscles versus weaker muscles are, like an “X-Ray” of how the team feels they’re currently working together and where they’d like to improve.

Generating improvement ideas together

Armed with this data we collected in advance, we kicked off the workshop by discussing the results of the Team Health Scan. We dug deeper by facilitating a team RETROSPECTIVE, where the team worked with our facilitators to surface challenges, strengths, and generate potential improvement ideas together.

The emphasis is on small but mighty improvements that feel good for the team and that can generate fast results. We avoid “boulder problems” (big heavy stuff that’s too hard to move) and instead try to focus on “10% solutions.” (“How could we make this problem even just 10% better next quarter?”)

Note our highly innovative use of plasma-screen technology!

Optimizing the team’s heartbeat

One of the insights from the team was around how they might streamline their weekly and monthly meeting cycle, or “heartbeat,” to be more agile and spread learning across the broader organization. We encouraged the team to treat it like a “service design” challenge, where they are the end users.How could they be improved to make life better for the team, and to widen their impact on the rest of the organization?

No insight left behind

By the end of the workshop, the team had generated a list of actionable improvement ideas, and had clear next steps for each. For example, they decided they wanted to:

  • Highlight multi-disciplinary projects to tackle together in Q4. (Which we then did together during the workshop.)
  • Make it easier to view and track the status of “blocked” projects. To easily see where things are stalled or stuck.
  • Strengthen how they identify & communicate dependencies with other teams. To work faster and better together.
  • Make the criteria for prioritizing projects clearer to the team. So that the “Why” behind decisions was more transparent.
  • Experiment with new bi-weekly department-wide retrospectives, to share learnings and improvements beyond the team.
  • Review these action items in the team’s next face-to-face meeting. To make sure they didn’t fall through the cracks.

In our experience, a lot of value and good ideas like these get left behind at most workshops. Team members have great ideas, capture them as sticky notes on the wall, and maybe take a picture of those stickies on their phones before they leave. But then a few days later… [cue tumbleweeds and crickets.]

To ensure that no good idea gets left behind, we transcribed all the team’s work from the day and shared it with them as a written report immediately afterwards. This also makes it easy for the team to quickly share their ideas and insights with others who weren’t there. And we used tools like DARCI to ensure the roles and accountability for each action item were clear.

Helping great teams help themselves

The main takeaway: provide a framework, some data, and good facilitation sherpas to help the team generate its own good ideas and help itself. And keep it fun but practical — the nitty gritty of setting goals, deciding priorities, communicating clearly, and getting things done. As opposed to the usual “team-building” malarkey, which we all know doesn’t actually work — trust falls, Meyers-Briggs, Agile Theater, Lego Serious Play, and all that over-facilitated baloney.

A HPPO in its natural habitat

Curious about a Team Health Tune Up for your team?

We’ll be running more of these Team Health workshops together in the UK in the near future. If you’re curious about whether they’re a good fit for your team, get in touch with the Notbinary team. Or learn more about the Team Health Scan at teamwork.guide. And huge thanks to the FSA team for being the first to prototype this new offering!

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