TL;DR: Start a meeting and use 'Team Profiles' to showcase people's career achievements (past), their interests (present) and their passions (future). Get team to fill out a Team Profile and stick them all up on a wall, for 20 minutes the team can walk around the room, read and write positive feedback on each other's Profiles. Team members take home their profiles. Repeat quarterly.

"Teams that talk, work better together -> teams that let each other talk know each other" - Shane Devane

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Preamble

Good teams are those that communicate well [1].

Communication boils down to is empathy and respect between team members -- and a characteristic of this is that team members on great teams know each other and what drives each other.

When your startup is small, ad-hoc social events create these connections with people in a natural way -- as your startup turns into a scale-up you will need to think differently to have the same outcome of highly connected teams.

Article Focus

Facilitating a 'team introduction' meeting (or a 'futurespective') as a catalyst to help team members get to know each other and enabling better collaboration -- using a structured way based on people's past achievements, present interests and future passions.

Article Prerequisites

  • Dunbar's Number [2] - and people's limit of 'knowing' people being around the 50 mark [3]
  • Building true empathy in adults is possible but challenging
  • Good culture requires practice
  • Teal and Agile based organisations see job titles as an anti-team pattern

Think Differently: Increasing Empathy to Scale your Startup Team

...or Helping your team to get to know each other

I've been lucky to work in 5 different startups (2 pre-IPO) and in 13 different teams throughout my career. One of the increasingly common mistakes I've seen is when new team members join and their past experiences, successes and skills are overlooked due to the 'fixed' role that they have been hired for.

This is rampant in the tech industry whereby the most recent set of skills a person has is utilised by the team and the rest are forgotten. This can be more prominent when people have cross-functional skills like developer/designer, marketing/customer service, accountant/organiser et. al.

Great teams know each other, are aware of each other's passions, past skills and the contribution each team member can make to the innovation of the team.

As new team members join your startup the social events that connected the smaller group of people together become more sporadic. This is just part of the normal growing pains of a larger group of people.

However when smaller groups do activities together there's a natural tendency to exclude other people -- this adds to the illusion of bigger problems with your team and like a self fulfilling prophecy, the illusion becomes the perceived truth.

If part of the business strategy of your startup is to be able to scale, then the social connections that bond team members together needs to be incorporated into the culture of your startup.

"Teams that talk, work better together -> teams that let each other talk know each other" - Shane Devane

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What problem are we solving here?

Let's reframe that question -- what skills exist in your startup that are unrecognised or under utilised?

As teams grow the time people invest to get to know each other people takes longer. Add to this that different team members will be at different life stages and different personality types will be more open to different social situations -- this means that connections between team members is sporadic.

help your teammates get to know each other in a routine way -> to improve the overall communication and team cohesion [4]

Start a 'Team Futurespective Meeting'

Helping new teams members connect with each other faster. ie. don't leave it to happenstance for people to connect with others. Understanding each other's career interests and passions is what will drive innovation in your startup when you need it.

What's a Team Profile?

How to do it?

  • Book a meeting room, typically on a Friday or after a Sprint Retrospective
  • Get pens, bluetack and print out the 'Team Profile' sheet
  • Spend 5 minutes explaining culture and how it links back to innovation in your startup
  • Spend 5 minutes explaining what this team connecting exercise will be
  • Get everyone in the room to fill out their Team Profile
  • Get everyone to stick up their Profile on the walls
  • Set 15 minutes on a clock
  • Get everyone to walk around and look at other people's profiles
  • Get everyone to comment/mark/tick/(make happy faces etc) on each other's profiles
  • At the end of the 15 minutes get everyone to take down and take home their profile

Bonus: Culture Day

This is something taken from Vishen Lakhiani CEO of Mindvalley.

Setting up a special day each month for investing the culture of your startup. If something is important to you and your team, you should bring it into the routine of your team.

http://www.mindvalleyinsights.com/attract-ambitious-millennials/

How do you know if you need to have a 'Connection Meeting' or a 'Culture Day'?

Sometimes there is too much going on in your startup to pay attention to the subtle changes in culture that are happening.

Sadly there is no reliable metric -- only subjective and qualitative.

What to watch for:

  • less frequent social events
  • (many) individuals going to lunch on their own
  • people delaying making decisions when it comes to group social activities
  • the same groups of people socialising during the same time during the day
  • no new social events happening (with more people joining, comes more social diversity, and more subcultures and more different types social events)
  • 'drinking culture' or lack thereof (your startup realistically has one, ask yourself is it an open or closed group?)
  • people not including others in 'idea' stage or brain storming meetings

On-site team building vs off-site

So called 'team building' exercises are designed to aid teams in working together in an normalised activity whereby no one has a skill set and for the hierarchy of your startup to not show up.

These activities are typically done off-site and lend themselves to a lot of organisation, planning and expensive (happy to be proven wrong).

So I've mixed opinion on them -- I'm more of a fan of routinely building in 'team building' into Scrum Sprints or into quarterly retrospectives.

Some quick fire activities to look into

Thanks for reading

Got any Questions? Ask me on the Advice Page

Footnotes


  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/magazine/what-google-learned-from-its-quest-to-build-the-perfect-team.html ↩︎

  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar's_number ↩︎

  3. https://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/social-media-affect-math-dunbar-number-friendships ↩︎

  4. https://www.isixsigma.com/implementation/teams/high-performance-teams-understanding-team-cohesiveness/ ↩︎