I recently attended a presentation by Ruth Hallett at a Citizens Advice delivery event. We heard about lots of different ways to make your team meetings more engaging and productive.
It was a great session that got me thinking about how I engage my own team. Ruth’s presentation looked at different techniques and activities designed to improve engagement and help create a more comfortable culture. In this post I’m going to take you through a few exercises that help build connections.
Think of an elephant
I really enjoyed the first exercise which involved asking the group to think of a thing. In this example, Ruth asked us to think of an elephant and a few people were then asked to share their mind’s-eye view of their elephant. Of course, they were all different.
This is a great way of showing your team that all ideas are different, but valid. I immediately thought it would be a great exercise to kick off a design sprint to get people’s creativity flowing.
Checking in with your team
Checking in as a team rather than individuals has more value than I initially thought. It’s something I’d usually do one-on-one, but in a group it helps build trust between team members.
In the workshop we used a technique called the weather scale. This is where you ask people to write in the chat window how they’re feeling using weather-related terms like sunny or cloudy.
It’s interesting to use, in that you can get a feel for how others are doing in a group setting. That helps you to offer support or space to those that may need it. You could also use a traffic light system with red, green or amber used to reflect how each team member is feeling. Here’s how that could look in practice:
Me: To start our check-in let’s go around the group and share how we’re feeling using the weather scale. Remember, it’s just a general indication of your overall mood or state. Who’d like to go first?
Natasha: I’ll start. I’m feeling sunny today! Everything is going smoothly and I’m excited about the progress we’ve made.
Me: That’s great to hear! Keep up the positive energy.
Gary: I’m feeling mostly rainy. I had a rough weekend and it’s been affecting my focus and motivation. I could use some help to get back on track.
Me: I appreciate your honesty. We’re here for you, and let’s discuss how we can support you.
The weather scale is a simple way for team members to express their state of mind without getting into personal detail. It allows you as the delivery manager and the rest of the group to understand the team’s emotional wellbeing, identify concerns and provide support where it’s needed.
The spider of possibilities
This next exercise is a great way to reflect on a situation and brainstorm different solutions and possibilities. For this you need to draw a spider. You then ask questions about your chosen topic, like what’s the worst that could happen or what’s most likely to happen? Use each of the spider’s legs to show a possible outcome.
Finally, ask how you can make each outcome more likely. Knowing that there are different possibilities can be helpful, and it’s useful when it comes to accepting an outcome.
Fast 8s are an exercise that helps your team brainstorm a lot of ideas quickly. It’s a fast-sketching activity that challenges people to roughly sketch 8 distinct ideas in 8 minutes. It’s important to make clear this is a rough sketching exercise and no one has to have perfect drawings.
Here’s how it works:
- Give everyone 8 pieces of paper
- Everyone sketches a solution (or prototype idea) to your chosen problem for one minute
- Repeat this 8 times for different ideas
- Get everyone to share their ideas
- Use dot voting to pick ideas to develop further
The goal is to push beyond your first idea, which is often the least innovative, and create a variety of solutions. It’s a fantastic method to push the boundaries on what’s possible. You’ll get ideas you wouldn’t have arrived at by other means, and get the whole team working collaboratively.
Reflecting on my own practices
Overall I learnt a lot from Ruth’s presentation and I’ve since been reflecting on my own ways of working. I’ve already started to use exercises to check in with my team to get a feel for how they are as a group. It’s given me insight into their emotional wellbeing that I didn’t always have before. I’m able to identify any areas of concern and provide that valuable support when it’s needed.
Next up I’m planning to use fast 8s in a design sprint we’ve got planned on the next feature of our product. Brainstorming multiple ideas quickly and aiming for one or a few to be prototyped and tested with users will help us find what we want to focus on next.
One reason I joined Made Tech was to be part of a community of delivery folk. I love that I have that, and more. There’s so much value in a community of practice. As a group we have great people to learn from. We’re able to try new techniques and tools and share back to the community.
If you’d like to join the next Citizens Advice delivery event, get in touch with Sam Sharpe, Lead Delivery Manager at Citizens Advice.
(Thanks to Richard Clarke for all images)