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Sincerely, "Thanks for sparring!"

Ashley Faus Atlassian Team Nov 12, 2021

Screen Shot 2021-11-10 at 9.38.16 PM.png

 

Do you spar with your colleagues? I do, and I love it!

Sparring is a well-known term and technique in the boxing world. Essentially, two (mostly) evenly-matched fighters go through the motions of boxing to train and improve their skills.

In the business world, we focus on sparring ideas. It's quite similar on its face: get two or more smart, capable people with different strengths in a room, and let 'em spar an idea to make it better.

The goal is not to "win", the goal is to make progress. Sure, sometimes that means the idea gets a little beat up. Sometimes there's a bit of verbal volley. But the goal is clear: MAKE PROGRESS.

So, how do you ensure you're sparring and not just fighting?

Guiding principles for effective sparring

- Ask the right partner. This person should have enough context on your work/the idea to provide actionable feedback, but have a different perspective.

- Keep it focused on the idea, not the person. Neither person should be saying, "You're wrong".

- Use phrases like, "I think we're aligned on [this element], but we have a gap on [this element]" to hone in on the problem that needs more focus.

- Time box the feedback and ask for specific recommendations on in-progress work (ie: closed questions vs. open questions). This is not "blue sky" brainstorming, it's honing a specific piece of work.


Sample agenda for your next sparring session

Allocate 10-30 minutes regularly in team meetings to cover at least 1 topic. Book up to an hour for bigger projects with more people weighing in.

The agenda usually breaks down like this:

- consume page/deck/video

- comment in-line/on a Trello card

- discuss big themes in the feedback, clarify any comments, ask deeper questions about the feedback

The key is that the work needs to be "done" enough for big feedback, but not "final draft" such that you're really just looking for a final stamp of approval.

 

Examples of recent spars + outcomes

- deck + script resulted in a suggestion to restructure the script and improve the balance of content depth (no nitty gritty wordsmithing or graphic design notes)

- customer interview questions resulted in aligning questions to themes and personas, and thinking about additional ways to extend the shelf life of the output

- proposed program and associated resource request resulted in restructuring the pages and trimming content (it was trying to do too much in a single document and had too many depths included)

 

A good spar improves the idea, project, and outcome. Done right, it leaves teammates feeling like they had an open, collaborative, and productive discussion. So, to my teammates, THANKS for sparring with me 💙


Sincerely,
Thanks for sparring

6 comments

Thanks for sharing this practice, @Ashley Faus! What's a variation or ProTip that you've seen work in your own spars? 

One technique I've liked in spars: "err on the side of asking questions when critiquing."

It may be counterintuitive, but asking questions like "what are you trying to communicate in this part of the design?" or "how are you anticipating that customers will engage with this part of the experience?" helps the person receiving the critique work through answers. That way, I'm not "solving" things for them, and instead, are helping them broaden their perspective on how I'm picking up what they've put down.

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Ashley Faus Atlassian Team Nov 14, 2021

That's a great addition! One common misconception is that you're playing Devil's Advocate. I don't agree that this "best practice" is always best because you're not debating or arguing. The goal is not simply to take the other side so that someone will see your point. It can be helpful to consider alternate paths, but that's not the ultimate goal of a spar. 

Instead, I think exploring the assumptions is helpful. Using your question technique, we might ask about different scale (1:1 vs. 1:many), different formats, and different time horizons. 

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@Ashley Faus  It felt weird to me seeing the word "Sparring" here as we do sparring in Taekwondo. In fact that sparring week I always end up with bruises more than any other time 😂

I hope your teams don't bruise the same way I do.

I understand that teams work in different ways. However "Sparring" should be done everyday. We have the daily standup(16 min - once every team member is done with their update) or sprint retro, we can share some great ideas. It is hard to dedicate some time to extra activities as we are already booked with meetings every day.

Also we all as team members should get into the habit of taking notes whenever we think this one could be a good idea to share with the team.

Best,

Fadoua

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Ashley Faus Atlassian Team Nov 14, 2021

Ha, we certainly don't come away bruised (I hope you heal quickly!) 😀 Great suggestions on timing and note-taking!

Like Fadoua likes this

Like this idea!

Like Ashley Faus likes this

Wow , thanks @Ashley Faus  for sharing. I think I have done similar thing earlier but you have showcased it and I think this would be great starting for group members to start and do effective sparring and it really improves productivity and critical thinking.

The example of boxing reminds me of Ed Sheeran Song -"Shape of You"...

Come on now follow my lead
Come come on now follow my lead...(Just Joking, the example reminded the song!)

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Ashley Faus Atlassian Team Nov 29, 2021

So glad it resonated with you, and love the Ed Sheeran tie-in 😀

Thanks @Ashley Faus , full credit foes to you. Love to hear more such experiences which really helps the community to grow stronger.

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Gaurav Community Leader Dec 27, 2021

Thanks @Ashley Faus for sharing this. I have done something similar, though not calling it sparring but brainstorming sessions. But the outline shared would help improve those sessions.

Like Ashley Faus likes this

Hi @Ashley Faus 

   I love this idea, the truth is I had not thought about it, I have to mature it and see how I apply it

Cheers

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