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7 easy ways to improve team’s health

First let me start by explaining what is the team’s health. A lot of factors got into it, but generally speaking it is the combination of motivation, cohesion, synergy and positive attitude. If your team is not being productive, people are fighting with each other all the time and no one seems to be particularly excited about the project you are working on, something is wrong. There are numerous possible reasons of poor health, and in Agile Apothecary we have developed a tool - Team Barometer - to help you diagnose the diseases and identify the right remedies. In this blog post I would like to give you a few tools that should help you improve the team’s health regardless of the reasons that caused the decline in the first place.

#1 Start doing retrospectives

If you are not doing retrospectives yet, this alone can have tremendous impact on your team’s health. If you are doing it but not regularly or if you are not getting any significant results, maybe it’s time to rethink your approach and adjust the style.
A good retrospective should be focused on identifying potential improvements for your team’s processes and defining action items. There should be absolute psychological safety for people to speak up and share their opinions - no finger pointing, no blaming and no shaming. Even if Bob screwed up last week, we are not here to discuss Bob’s personality or even actions - we’re here to discuss how we can adjust our processes, communication and safety protocols to ensure the same mistake is not repeated again.
Should I also mention that retrospectives should be done regularly. Even if the team members say that they have nothing to discuss today, get together still and see how you can become even better at what you are doing - trust me, there is also room for improvement.

#2 Run a team workshop

Apart from retrospectives, it is important to take one step back once in a while and look at the team and the product from a different perspective. If you complete the Team Barometer on our site, you can get a guide on running a Team Barometer workshop designed to have an open discussion with the team about all the issues Barometer identified.
I also quite like Atlassian’s Team Health Monitor, and you should be able to find a whole array of different team workshops on the internet. The idea here is that you force yourself to look at your team from a few different angles - say, prioritization, product quality, daily processes etc to make sure you are following the best practices and are continuously improving.
Workshops also should be a fun way to bring the team together and discuss topics you don’t get to talk about on daily basis. Use it to engage people in the conversation and encourage them to bring new ideas. In a healthy team everyone is involved, contributes and feels like a valuable member of community.

#3 Discuss team norms

All teams go through forming, storming, norming and performing stages (see Tuckman’s model), but sometimes you might get stuck in storming or norming. This often happens when team members change too often or don’t communicate much and work in silos. Of course, the best thing to do is bringing the team members together, keeping the team structure unchanged for a while and letting them gradually get to performing stage. However, it’s not always an option, especially when it comes to frequent changes. People just don’t want to stay long in unhealthy team where no one talks to each other, so they will be going in and out.
Get together and brainstorm team norms - what are the rules that you would like everyone else on your team to follow (and you are willing to follow yourself)? The goal is not to create a rigid bureaucratic organization, but rather to help people feel more comfortable working with each other. The rules might be something like “no calls after 5pm” or “if I’m wearing headphones, I’m concentrated on work so don’t talk to me”. You can have rules around code deployment protocols or coffee mugs handling, about daily stand up rules or work from home arrangements. Rules won’t be set in stone - you will always be able to come back and review if they no longer work for you. But at least your team will have certain guardrails and structure in place, which would also help them to quickly onboard new members and get unstuck from continuous “forming-stoming-norming” loop.

#4 Change the way you are doing daily stand ups

It depends on how you are doing it now (and if you are doing it at all), but chances are there might be some room for improvement.
Daily stand up is a place for team members to share valuable information, discuss daily priorities and help each other if they are getting stuck. It is not a place to report work done, do demos or move tickets on Jira board. In a good standup everyone is engaged, listens to each other and only shares relevant information. Skip the status updates - we are not checking if everyone has been productive yesterday and is planning to be productive today. Rather, we want to know if anything that happened yesterday would be affecting our decisions and priorities today, and whether anyone on the team needs any help.
Remote standups are especially challenging - I have another blog post about it, check it out.

#5 Ensure you have all the right tools

Let me just clarify one thing first. No tools will solve your team’s process issues. Don’t rely on Jira, Slack or Teams to do all the magic. But at the same time, not having the right tools and using hacky solutions and workarounds might be quite demotivating for the team. The best way to understand if that’s the case is by doing retrospective and one on ones with team members.
Of course the tools would vary depending on industry and you might know better what is needed. Throughout my career I have seen almost any kind of work being done in PowerPoint - including data analysis, backlog management and even web design (yes, kidding you not, and it was in a global company). And I guess you can do a lot of stuff in ppt, but why all the suffering if there are more robust and advanced tools specializing on the task you’re doing?
A few tools I would definitely recommend to any team are Jira, Slack, Zoom and Miro. Start there and see what else you might need.

#6 Involve your stakeholders

Quite often a poor health is caused by extreme workload or chaotic requests from stakeholders. Whether your stakeholders are your clients, your leadership or other teams in your company, it is always a good idea to be open and frank with them and build connection between them and the team.
Depending on your situation, you might be able to invite them to the product demonstration, engage in product planning, share your roadmap or get their feedback. It is important for the stakeholders to see that the team is committed to deliver the best results, but also is dealing with a large prioritized backlog and can’t make everything happen overnight. On the other hand, it is important that the team sees that their stakeholders are real humans excited about product and waiting for the next iteration.

#7 Celebrate success and failure

It is important for the team’s spirit to take a moment once in a while to celebrate the achievements and important milestones. Hard work has to be rewarded and celebration events help to bring the team together. However, it is equally important to celebrate failures. I am talking about the experiments that didn’t bring the expected results, the unsuccessful launches and new features that failed to attract customers. Sure, when it happens it’s not great of business in short term, but the fact that it happened means that the team took a bold step forward, tried something new and learned a valuable lesson. Celebrating this kind of failures helps to improve the psychological safety in the team and encourage further exploration, experimentation and innovation.
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