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Listening out loud: how Season Hughes works on distributed teams

The start of the COVID-19 pandemic served as a forcing function to re-evaluate the way teams worked together. In fact, many companies are re-learning how to collaborate with their teams. As some move towards being a fully distributed workforce, Atlassian included, we are interviewing those who have worked on distributed teams before so that we may learn insights and share them with customers along the way.

In the sixth interview in the 2020 "Listening Out Loud" series, Season Hughes, Scrum Master at Dolby Laboratories, discusses her practices while working on distributed teams. A few themes from our chat include:

  • Adjusting to distributed teamwork WILL be awkward until new processes are picked up.
    The start of any new situation should be awkward because the "lift and shift" of work processes should not be a perfect fit.

    For example, it's like picking a pathway in the hallway when two people are walking towards each other and don't know who should be the one to dodge. When holding meetings with attendees in different locations, more than one person may try to speak after a speaker finishes their message. Or, perhaps no one will be sure whose turn is next to speak. But eventually, a new practice of the speaker calling on the next speaker can be adopted.

    Be patient and willing to try new practices, else you will continuously be "dodging people in the hallway."

  • Adopting new practices isn't always natural to develop.
    It takes proactive sharing to learn from each other which practices work best for a team. Season suggests a diversity of employees to share what they've learned across multiple teams in hopes of scaling what works well in one company. 

  • Informal spaces may not just yield higher morale, but inspire team advancements, too.
    The rigidity of time-boxed interactions, focused on accomplishing specific outcomes, loses a human element. When less structured, teams make room for unexpected observations and can learn about each other or inspire new ways to progress team health or product development.

  • Creating informal spaces requires listening to your individual team needs.
    Even though effective team practices can be shared across a company, what works for one team may not be perfect for another. Therefore, it is critical for team gatherings or other informal activities to be developed after team members can voice their preferences. And if member voices aren't clear, create a mechanism to find out what people need (e.g. surveys, directly ask people, chat prompts).

  • As a Scrum Master, Season has found that sprint retros aren't just about reflecting work during a period of time, but how team members are feeling.
    Beyond uncovering growth opportunities, it's also about validating that people experience the same struggles.

  • Final words of wisdom:
    Focus on yourself, too. This new way of working isn't just a team collaboration change, but one that impacts individuals. 
    Ask questions, challenge the status quo, and be good to yourself in addition to your fellow teammates.




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