Posts tagged ‘best practices’
May 12th, 2020
Seabeck Systems, LLC
In our blog post how to manage remote teams we focused on the best practices that would be helpful for teams undertaking remote work for the first time during the COVID-19 period. Great communication and efficient processes are two key elements empowering teams to achieve their targets, more so when everyone is working from home. Thus, we would like to share the simple but efficient process called SCRUM that many IT companies are using to organize their teamwork. In the article, we will take a close look at one of the key elements of SCRUM – an all-team meeting that helps professionals self-evaluate their work and come up with a plan on how to improve their performance. It’s called a retrospective meeting.
How could a Retrospective meeting help your team improve its performance while working remotely?
We already mentioned that the main goal of the meeting is to allow your team to analyze their work and come up with ways to become more efficient. Our belief is that most of the times people are not able to perform at their best not because they do not want to but because of process-related obstacles. For example, they may not have up-to-date information, or might not have expertise in a subject and thus need more time to fulfill a task, etc. These are all problems that you as a manager can resolve. Following up on the mentioned examples – you can ensure a way for everyone working on a project to get up-to-date information (SCRUM daily standup meetings can help you with that) or that a team member gets training/help from a more experienced colleague. However, in order to help your team, you need to first understand what is slowing them down, Consider using a retrospective meeting for that. In retrospect, together with your co-workers you will identify existing problems and come up with ways to overcome them. In due time this will not only improve the team productivity but when your team observes that others listen, they will become more engaged and motivated. The retrospective should not result in a list of tasks only for the manager; group involvement is a key tenet of the retrospective process.
How to do retrospectives?
So, if we’ve convinced you in the benefits of introducing a retrospective meeting in your team workflow, here is what you need to know to run it:
- The retrospectives should be a regular meeting – schedule it once per week or biweekly. Leave an hour or more depending on the size of your team. If you have a large organization, it is better to hold smaller retrospectives by project or department to keep focus and to ensure the team can take action on their own improvements. Remember, investing time in this meeting now will help you save time later on.
- It’s good at least in the beginning to start every meeting by explaining what is the goal (to become better as a team) and acknowledge the project/ projects you are working on. The next step is for everyone to share 3 things – what went well, what could have gone better, and what can be improved by the next meeting.
- In the beginning, it might be hard to encourage your team to be honest and open. Establishing trust is a slow process and your colleagues may feel that you are looking to assign blame rather than solve a problem.
- So, what could you do to make your team feel comfortable and come forward with some problems? Here is the advice of two leaders experienced in working with SCRUM teams:
“Take a leap of faith – as a leader you need to show everyone how it’s done. Admit what went could have gone better and offer an analysis of why it didn’t go as expected… Make a commitment to be better.”says Peter Loos, Managing Member at Seabeck Systems LLC .
“Personal connection is very important, talk to the team members in person before /after the meeting to encourage them to step up and take participation.”shares Pirin Karabenchev, Sofia Dev Studio Founder & Manager
- Once everyone has shared what went well and what went wrong you need to agree as a team on the improvements you will focus on until next meeting. Don’t try to tackle all problems at once, this is a continuous improvement process. Prioritize those that are the most important but also easy to achieve (we call them the “low hanging fruits”). There must be a champion for each improvement initiative, otherwise it is very likely that nothing will change until next Retrospective meeting.
- Introducing change is never easy, so as a leader you have to demonstrate commitment to the process. Be active and engaged during the meetings, be sure notes are taken and facilitate the process if the meetings stars to shift focus.
- Even more important is to show that there are outcomes from the retrospective. Listen carefully – is a person inspired by the tasks they are working on, are they the best fit for a task (do they have the necessary skills), how do their career interests change over time? Take action to help your team members achieve their best.
- In the beginning, the retrospective meetings might be quite tough, people may argue or accuse each other but do not give up. If you stay consistent, your team will understand the value of the process and will embrace it.
What are the tools you should use for a Retrospective meeting?
There is no specific tool you have to use when doing a retrospective – the important part is to record the outcomes of each meeting and share them with the team. We recommend you to use tools that your co-workers are already utilizing. The introduction of a new process and a new tool at the same time could be quite challenging. Still, if you feel that your team will benefit from introducing something new, we can recommend several tools we’ve been using throughout the years – FunRetro Board, Trello, or Jira.
We do believe that if you have not already implemented retrospectives, now is a great moment to introduce them in your workflow, especially if this is the first time your team is working remotely. Use the current situation to establish the process and philosophy of constant improvement. Such a shift will lead to long-lasting changes that will affect your team performance even after getting back to the office.
Please let us know in the comments section below or under the LinkedIn post if you have found this article useful!
The way we work has changed tremendously in the past 10 years – employees are looking for more freedom and flexibility in their working schedules and hiring remotely is a way to attract top talent and reduce costs. However, today working from home is not a privilege – it is a necessary measure all of us need to take to protect our society. We know that working remotely could be quite challenging for teams that do not have experience with it but there is nothing to worry about! Many teams from the IT industry have been successfully practicing remote work for years. So, we decided to share what we’ve learned from years working from home with remote teams in a series of blog posts.
Sharing information & fostering communication
The biggest challenge of remote teams is to make sure that everyone is on the same page. It is easy to get in a room with everybody working on a project and discuss your plan and progress but it gets much harder when you are communicating digitally. Thus, it is your role as a manager to foster efficient communication. Accept the challenge as a great way to push your team to build discipline. Here are some proven good practices:
- Instead of using a personal chat to share information, create a common one per project and add everyone working on it.
- Ask people to share important or urgent information via email, so you can prioritize it and react timely.
- Schedule online meetings with your team (there are lots of tools you can use – Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams). The great thing about online meetings is that they can be recorded, and can be used later as a reference point of what you’ve decided. Still, ask someone on the team to take notes with key information (targets/tasks/deadlines) and send them via email afterward. Thus, even if someone was not able to attend the meeting, they will be up to date with the development of the project.
- Keep in mind that online meetings could take longer than in-person ones. You can improve the efficiency by simply putting an agenda and moderating the discussion so it does not deviate too much from the agenda. Some online meeting tools also have a “raise hand” function, allowing an attentive meeting host and a well-disciplined team to hold a guided conversation.
Trust your team
Once the team is not in the office, a manager might feel that employees would work less or would get distracted with personal responsibilities. Keep in mind that building trust is the heart of every high productive team. If you have ambitious, talented people on your team, they will manage their time in order to achieve their goals. Instead of asking them to work 40 hours a week, set clear, specific targets and let them decide how to fulfill them. An increasing number of researches show that working from home could increase employees’ productivity with up to 8%. Sounds good, no?
“If I am on the phone all day, I get “me time” while taking care of tasks around our house throughout the workday. This “me time” affords reflection and keeps me fresh for the next call!”, shares Peter Loos, Managing Member at Seabeck Systems LLC and remote team manager for over 20 years.
A great moment to introduce lightweight team interactions
If trust is the heart of highly productive teams,
- Break the tasks in smaller chunks that can be fulfilled within a day or two. It makes it easier to follow the progress of your team and predict any delays before it’s too late.
- Set daily meetings with your team in a convenient time for everyone – think of them as a status report – everyone should share the progress they’ve done during the previous day, if they have encountered some problems, and set goals for the period until the next meeting. The goal is to help the team members stay informed and also ask for help if they need it to finish their tasks.
- Set a longer meeting at the end of the week/ beginning of next week on which the team will talk about what went well, what could have gone better during the previous week and ideas for improvements going forward. This is the moment to learn as a team how to ask the tough questions. Encourage everyone to be honest. In an upcoming article, we will share more details on how to structure and manage such a meeting.
Define a fun & open team culture
Working from home, though great, at times may feel isolated and lonely. Peter Loos has been working from home with many dispersed teams for more than 20 years. He came up with a number of strategies a manager can use to create an inclusive and united team.
- Encourage participation by asking every member on your team to make a short presentation. Create a schedule – each week a different person will share their experience with the rest of the team.
- Create a space for fun and jokes where everyone can share non-work-related content (it could be a common chat). Make sure that you post regularly at the beginning to show that it is ok to joke and goof around.
- Build trust throughout the team through open, timely, and considerate communication.
- Remember – lead by action, not by words.
These are some simple practices that will help you handle remote teams. Let us know what you think or if you have any questions in the comments below or send us a short message on Linkedin. In our next blog post, we will focus on some great tools and security practices to protect your data while you and your team and working remotely.