A while ago, I was asked to assist Snappet during their Development Gathering. Snappet is a software development company in Utrecht, The Netherlands. Snappet is also an adaptive educational platform that challenges every pupil to develop himself or herself in an optimal way. They have around 23 people working in their software development department: product owners, UX people, graphical designers, testers and developers. They include a team working in Russia, where there are six developers. In the last six months, Snappet was able to hire relatively many new team members in NL. They now have three development teams going and all teams are fully distributed. The Russian developers are part of distributed teams just like the rest of the crew.
Snappet has been working with the developers in Russia for several years. The developers never yet visited The Netherlands and only some of the Dutch team members did visit the Russian team. Because of the many new hires and because no Russian developer visited The Netherlands, now seemed a really good idea to organize a Snappet Gathering in The Netherlands. All developers from Russia would fly in and finally, everyone was able to meet face-to-face.
In a few blogs, I want to share some of the activities we organized and what we all learned from it. In this first blog post, I will talk about team values and team names.
I believe it is important that team members know their team values. What do you find important as a team? Do you believe innovation is important, do you want to have fun every day, or is being a professional something you value as a team? When you have the team values clear, it helps you understand what you can expect from each other. When you recruit new team members, you can discuss the team values up front to find out if there is a match between the candidate and the team. If being skilled, for example, is an important value, then you can expect team members to spend time on growing their skills, e.g. by taking up work that is out of their comfort zone.
Most of the people in a team, however, never talk about their values. Yes, there are often company values and it is likely that they were decided on by a higher management team. You may find those values on the walls, at the reception when entering an office or even printed on the little cocktail flags that a chef puts in the burgers in the canteen, etc. But are those values always the same as the team values? I find that hard to believe. Perhaps some of the corporate values are also quite important for the team but it is also likely that the team has more applicable values of their own that they find much more important in their work.
One of the things that I find very important and that I try to do in every job I take on is to make things explicit. When a team explicitly decides to have a daily scrum of 28 minutes and they are all OK with it, then I am OK as well with it. The same goes for team values. I believe it is important for a team to bring things into the open and as a group decides about their values: what is important to a team, what is good and what do they want to be.
As I described before, it can help them focus when they need to decide on where to go, they can use it to discuss work agreements, or people are able to make decisions because they know what to expect from the group.
To make things explicit, I organized a value workshop for every team. The goal was to let them find out about their team values. I used the sections Value Stories & Culture Books: Define the Culture by Sharing Stories and Work Expo from the book Managing for Happiness as an inspiration for the workshop. The setup was as follows:
- Share stories in your team about things that happened in the last months.
- Think about personal values: what is important for every team member.
- As a team, decide on your team values.
- Think about wish values.
- Visualize your team values.
- Close off by naming your team.
Let’s take a look at the different steps.
As a person, I believe you become who you are because of all the things you experience in your life. When I was young, I read a lot about World War II and all the terrible things that happened. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why I never try to judge people on the things they do or say (I am not saying that is easy). Maybe also because of what I read, I really don’t like autocratic behavior. But enough about me. The same holds true for a team: a team becomes who they are because of the things they experience in their existence as a team.
I asked the teams to share stories, things that happened to them in the last months. It is hard to just tell a story so I put story cards on the table to trigger ideas about stories. It worked quite well and new team members starting talking about how welcome they felt in the team. When you share stories, you are able to find out about what your personal or team values are. Some of the teams discussed some of the conflicts they had.
The next step was that everyone had to think about his or her personal values. The book Managing for Happiness contains a helpful list of some 250 values… Well helpful, I don’t even like going to Subway because of all the decisions you have to make before getting a sandwich… So let alone a list of 250 values. No need to say that some people find it a bit too much. I used a smaller list from the Management 3.0 book, which still contained 50 values. I printed them on paper and gave all team members a page with the values. Next time though, I will add an empty row at the bottom… Why an empty row? Well to make it clear to people that they can also add their own values. Otherwise, people will feel constrained in deciding on their values.
After everyone had decided on their values, the next step was to share these values and to put them on a flip chart. I asked them to put their personal values in the outer circle. I also asked them to shortly explain the personal questions and to reflect on how these values come back in their work. The feedback I got from some of the team members afterward, was “now I understand my teammates better” and “nice to hear from people what drives them”.
Next thing was to decide on the team values. The only thing I told them was: “OK, next step is to decide on your team values, just go and organize yourself.” Some of the teams grouped the values and decided to move values with the most sticky notes to the center. Another team did a dot voting after grouping them. Other teams just looked in silence to the flip chart, till some team member made the remark they should really work on the value Initiative :).
Of course, the question came: “how many values are we allowed to select?” Well, I don’t know… 3, 5, 7 or 10? Although that would maybe be a bit too much but you decide yourself. These are your personal and/or team values.” In the end, most of the people and teams came up with 3 to 5 values.
After deciding on the team values, I asked them to think about Wish values. “Which values do you wish you had in the team?” I made three stars on the top of the flip chart. Maybe I should not have done this because this already set an expectation of max three wish values. One team came with one wish value, the second team with two wish values and the third team with three wish values. I don’t know how much three stars guided this discussion. However, next time I will just write the words “Wish values”. They decided on the wish values just by discussing the values, and what they as a team want to become. I noticed that for most teams, a wish value was hard to talk about. So I would advise teams to talk about Wish values a few times a year, to really get the concept and also to reflect on them.
The final step of the team values was to ask the teams to visualize the values. Words are powerful but I believe when you are able to turn words in physical symbols, they can sometimes be even more powerful. Turning values into symbols should be done by the team themselves, not by another department. I also asked the teams to make two copies of the visualization. One copy for the Dutch office and one for the Russian office. Oh, and before I forget, please take into account that the visualization has to pass the security check at Schiphol Airport… so liquids, sharp metals etc. are not a smart idea ;). They had a budget of 50 euro and had to share their visualization by the end of the week.
One team has Mastery as their most important value and for them, a small Yoda was the perfect visualization of Mastery. They ended up buying two Yoda’s, one for both offices.
Another team created a poster that shows their team values. When a team creates a visualization, it is by default a good visualization. You cannot say it is not good enough or that it does not show all team values. As the values are owned by the team, the visualization is also owned by the team.
During my preparation, I had some talks with the Scrum Masters and Product Owners of Snappet. During these talks, they talked about team Teun, team AlexanderM and team AlexanderK … OK … Did you name the teams after individuals? Yes, they are the leads and we never thought about it. OK. I met Teun, AlexanderM, and AlexanderK during the Gathering and they are great guys but naming a team after them… so the last step in the workshop was asking the teams to come up with new Team names.
We did the value and name session on Monday and they had until Friday afternoon to visualize the values and come up with a new team name. I asked the teams to fill in a survey after the Gathering. One of the questions was: “How happy were you with the team value session?” The answer was 1, 2, 3 or 4. Where 1 was Not so happy and 4 Extremely Happy. 65% gave a 3 or 4 as an answer. So overall they liked the session. The new team names are: StravTempo, PoscoSkillus, and HyperMonkeys Go!
Does it now end with this single session about team values? No, the teams should regularly talk about their values. Discuss them maybe in a retrospective: are we still living up to our values or did we change? Because I also don’t believe your team values are set in stone and will never change.
So next time you are involved in a new team, think about team values and a team name. I believe having clear team values and a real team name makes a team stronger!