don't worry, it's probably fine

Notes from the Week #3

05 Oct 2018


This week we formally welcomed our 6th member of the team, decided to ‘pull the cord’ on a piece of work, and I had a bit of a think about how our team works with the rest of Product Development.

Welcome sessions

Our team is lucky to have a developer who has a background and interest in social anthropology, before she switched path to software development - Sarah has a lot of insight into team dynamics, and the way we work together, that I had never even considered before. Check out a interview she did on the Unruly blog this year!

She suggested for new developers, rather than passively welcome them into the team, we could make an event of them joining and take time from our day to do ‘team stuff’ (see Use the first day as a defining moment as an example).

These sessions have their philosophical roots in the nature and ways of ‘initiation ceremonies’ you find within almost every culture - we share stories of the team, our triumphs and failures, to help them feel welcome and part of the team.

This time we:

  • Asked ourselves a question and physically oriented ourselves along a scale - for example ‘When confronted with a new problem, do you dive in straight away or sit back and think?’. The team gets an insight into the way the new team member thinks and feels (so we can tailor the way we pair together) and they get to learn the same but for us.

  • Picked pictures from a deck of cards that identified with what we each considered for ourselves a Need, a Value, and an Identity. For example, I need to feel like the work I’m doing is valuable to other people, I value fairness and psychological safety in my team, and part of my identity is that sometimes I need to just exercise my curiosity and go and solve a problem for its own sake.

We, of course, took measures before the session to make sure the new team member was comfortable with these things, and everyone agreed that they could stop if they felt discomfort or that they were unsafe.

Consider running these for your new team members, and view it as an easy and fun way to learn about each other before starting work.

Knowing when to pull the cord

Yesterday, after a day of working on a story slice, we realised that the scope and intent of the piece of work was wrong. Rather than just trudge along with it, we immediately ’pulled the cord’ and stopped work (origin of the phrase comes from Toyota)

For anyone to be able to ‘pull the cord’ requires a good amount of psychological safety - we need to feel comfortable saying “No, I think this is wrong”, and that group-thinking along without properly challenging whether the work is appropriate is something we don’t want to ingrain or encourage.

It opens the door for reflection in our retrospectives:

  • How did this bit of work get prioritised?
  • Why did it take until implementation before it was questioned?

This was the right decision for us to take, and spending 1 day of discovery is well worth not sinking even more time into something that’s wrong.

Building social capital as a team

Imagine this: you’re a new team, you’re small, and you’ve got a vision for how to improve how we think about and run our infrastructure. How do you convince other teams that the work you’re proposing is worth collaborating on?

This was the problem that we faced nearly a year ago - extolling the technical benefits of an approach or a bit of technology is less than half the endeavour.

Each team has their own concerns (like people, they also have their Needs, Values, and Identities!) and we needed to generate enough social capital that the core product development teams fold us into their processes and research.

Oh yeah, they helped us solve problem X a few weeks ago, let’s ask them about problem Y! – someone

Part of our team’s vision was to be known for our shared infrastructure expertise and best practices, so we need to gradually build that impression, and that requires a constant level of investment, to incrementally gain trust.

This is a hard problem, and we don’t have any prescribed solutions, other than ‘Go where the problems are, and empathise with our fellow developers’

Update: Wipeboard

As part of the welcome session, we cleaned and rebuilt our wipe board, and we did end up including a section for me to put my responsibilities :)