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Team building activities: Atlassian Team Playbook review

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This is a guest post by Radosław Wyrzykowski – an experienced Business Trainer and Consultant who helps effectively maximize performance through communication and cooperation. He’s a power user of Atlassian solutions for efficient teamwork including Team Playbook, Trello, and Confluence. Loves analyzing, improving, taking responsibility, and sharing knowledge. Skilled video games player and almost-as-skilled drummer.

With today’s state of technology, we’re expected to work faster and smarter than ever. Yet increases in productivity are the lowest in 30 years. On the other hand, an Ernst&Young report states that 90% of companies are confronting problems so complex that teams are essential to solving them. With this information at hand, we can come to the conclusion that teams are the answer to all of our problems. If only it was that easy…

Teams = People + Practices + Tools

Even the best strategy, procedure, project, or methodology needs an effective and healthy team to use or execute it. But teamwork gets messy. Different priorities, different personalities, and even more so lately, different locations and cultures meet each other and try to collaborate. To overcome the logistical challenges, you must face the diversity paradox. While a variety of skills, ages, and backgrounds definitely helps teams perform better, it simultaneously makes the interpersonal dynamics more intense. If you want to have the right people in the room, you must pay the price of getting around different personalities and problem-solving styles.

According to Harvard Business Review, 75% of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional. 59% of teams claim communication is their biggest obstacle to success, 78% don’t fully trust their teammates, and 86% don’t fully trust a new teammate to adapt to changing situations.

On the other hand, Udemy’s Workplace Learning Trends 2020 report confirms that soft skills are being prioritized for training at work, now more than ever. Training in communication and problem solving can deliver a 12% boost in productivity and retention, yielding a 250% return on investment through increased efficiency. Managers who incorporate soft skills into their leadership approach see a 30% increase in team productivity. That’s why companies who serve project managers as part of their mission also try to help with this area where many people struggle at work. During the Jira Day 2019 keynote, Atlassian Head of EMEA Channels Feico Mol stated that to maintain a good balance in the world fulfilled with technology, we need the right mix of people’s characters, tools they use, and practices to enable communication between all of them.

Atlassian Team Playbook: the field test

Atlassian teams blended elements of agile, lean, and design thinking in developing, adjusting, or straight-up copying its Plays. The Playbook has been purposefully created this way to fit teams with diverse goals, skills, and personalities. There you’ll find easy to run, self-guided workshops to uncover your team’s blind spots, improve the team-building process, and kick off important conversations.

I’ve been using Team Playbook for almost two years now, so I’d like to share my hands-on experiences while working with teams in two different contexts.

Software team

First of all, it’s not all flowers and candies. If you ever thought that money is the problem, then think again. It’s time. Or the lack of it, to be precise. To make a team do anything other than fight with outpouring tickets, meetings, calls, and arrangements is a small miracle. When you finally do have them all in one room for an hour – and not a minute more – the fun begins.

7 people from a cross-functional product team took part in the workshop. We have run the Roles and Responsibilities play. We started with a small round on who was doing what in the project at that time, which helped us define the Roles in the team. Then we drew a table on the whiteboard, wrote down the roles, and added a Responsibilities section separated into two rows: What I think and What the others think. Next, everyone had to think about their three main responsibilities and one or two for the other roles and write them on the sticky notes. Then we continued the discussions.

Each role owner described their responsibilities, and then we went around the room to find out what the others think this role is all about. The role owner could either accept or politely decline and if so, they suggested which role should own it. After quite a hot discussion – and that’s a good thing, you want engaged participants! – we ended up with some responsibilities without an established owner. We collected them and decided to make a decision on how to handle them based on three outcomes: distributing inside the team, hiring new staff, or outsourcing altogether.

After roughly a month, we did an evaluation meeting with the team leader. The team had a lot of fun, got to know each other better, and really got a bigger understanding of each other’s work. That helped them to create stronger relations and patience when it comes to solving problems. 

Sports team

Another area of my expertise is Mental Performance Coaching in sports. I wanted to do a reality check to find out if we can translate team performance strategies from the IT world to the sports universe. I have an opportunity to work with the best teams and athletes in Poland since 2008. So, the second example comes from a professional women’s volleyball team, consisting of 15 players. We meet up every one to two months for a three-day marathon minicamp that combines work in the gym with mental performance development workshops. 

The schedule goes as follows: for three days straight, the players get up at 6:30 am, go to the gym at 7:30 to do some weight lifting, take a quick shower, and have breakfast before the first mental performance session that day at 9:00 am. Three hours later at 12:00, they have lunch and a power nap or a relaxation session, and at 3:30 pm the volleyball training starts, followed by dinner at 6:00 pm. And for the dessert, another mental performance session from 7:00 pm to 9:30 pm. Only in those conditions, we were able to work on all four elements required to succeed in sport: technical, tactical, physical, and mental.

This time we have run My User Manual play. Its goal is to help teammates to understand the best way to work with each other. Everyone has the opportunity to share their individual preferences for how they like to communicate and collaborate. It can also be a great practice for getting to know each of your teammates beyond the work stuff.

We’ve chosen some questions from all available in the Play to best suit the team. For example:

  • What is the best way to communicate with me?
  • Which ways do I like to receive feedback?
  • What do I need to do during training and matches?
  • Which conditions do I like to work in?
  • What do I struggle with and what do I love during training and matches?
  • What the others should know about me?

Everyone wrote down the answers and shared their manuals with each other. First, we paired up into teams of two and took turns to share the feedback. Next, the pairs gave a short speech about their partners and what they’d learned about them. Finally, we have collected all the manuals and hang them on the wall in the team’s locker room.

Over the course of the season, we ended up working with some other Plays. In the individual interviews with the players and coaches, most of them stated that it helped them to integrate more and solve any interpersonal and organizational problems quicker than usual thanks to stronger relations which brought them closer together.

san_pajda_puchar-polski-2020.jpg

Source: Piotr Sumara/PLS

Comparison

Let’s run a short summary to compare software and sports teams. There are surely quite a few things that differentiate them, but when we take a closer look, we’ll see that they really have a lot in common.

  • First of all, both need to deliver. To do it consistently, they need to be on their jobs as much as possible. Meaning the time slots to do anything besides training in the gym or serving the client is basically nonexistent. To have a chance to balance in additional activities, they really need to stretch themselves.
  • Second, individual skills are essential for the survival of the team, but only cooperation and communication can make them thrive. This means they absolutely must create an open environment where they can talk to each other, get to know each other, and create trust. 
  • Third, the team member needs to know each others’ roles and responsibilities. Everyone needs to know what decisions should be made, and they should make it when the time is right. And the right time could be when they check the project budget, put out the fire on the customer side, or go talk to the coach about that poorly played game.

Lessons learned: is the Playbook for every team?

Going by personal experience using Atlassian Team Playbook, it’s a great tool but a tool nonetheless. It’s constantly under development, and you can feel it. For example, I had to re-estimate the time needed for running most Plays, as it differed from the one provided in the instructions, in fact. There are only three team types when you are running the Health Monitor, which makes it hard to do the assessment for a team that is not related to a project, a service, or leadership. You can feel that the environment and language used are IT-friendly, which makes it a little bit too difficult to apply outside the tech world. But with a little bit of imagination and self-commitment, the Atlassian Team Playbook can help you accomplish wonders with your team regardless of its context.

I’ve learned that the first step into the Playbook is the hardest, probably like most behavior change. So, the more Plays become a part of your workflow, the more your team will assume it is part of their normal routine. It will be uncomfortable at first when team members are not used to being so honest with each other, but the more Plays pop up as an expected part of a workflow, for example at the end of a sprint as a retrospective, the more team members get used to it. 

The Playbook can help diagnose your team’s issues and maximize its productivity. It’s a great life skills add-up to your Atlassian toolset, complemented with Confluence and Trello templates for teamwork. It can also serve your team regardless of the software you are using. With the right practices in place, tools just accelerate teams and should be used together. Great teamwork comes from the right people, practices, and products.

There are a lot of ways to grow, but only three ways to be a great place to work: trust, transparency, and openness. You can read more about the Atlassian research on what makes teams achieve high performance.

Rather than being famous for being BIG, be famous for being AWESOME. And that means being a great place to work in.

If you want to learn more about Atlassian Team Playbook, hear the other expert talks, and take part in panel discussions, be sure to attend Jira Day 2020 – Remote Edition on May 26-29 totally free of charge!

3 comments

Brant Schroeder Community Leader Oct 27, 2020

Nice article with some really good insights.  I agree that trust, transparency and openness are essential to having strong, high performing teams.  

Good article!

Sajit Nair Community Leader Nov 17, 2020

Team = People  + Practice + tools.
Get that on a tshirt. :)

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