The typical concept of Swarm in Agile is not something every team can execute to. Swarming, in oversimplified Agile terms, is having the team focus on one story at a time as a group.
My interpretation of swarming is slightly different. For me, it involves helping out a teammate when their story or task falls behind. The key is to make this innate, but the challenge is how do you get there? It’s not that simple.
In my opinion, team building is a key piece to making progress toward my interpretation of swarming. It continually builds the foundation that is needed before the team gravitates toward appreciating and supporting each enough to support in a self-directed manner.
Team Building?!?! No, do not run away! I’m not talking about traditional team-building activities such as:
These are tried and tired. While they do have their place and are absolutely tools for certain types of goals, they don’t always resonate with teams.
And the purpose isn’t to just check the boxes for various goals such as:
Don’t get me wrong, I definitely still want to achieve the above, but they are NOT the sole focus for team building for me.
We want to build support, understanding, and caring as a culture of the team.
I am fortunate to enough to be part of a Core Engineering team at Audible, where the above viewpoint is shared. Team building is more than the above. Our perspective on team building doesn’t just influence your way of work, but how you work with others. We aim to build a link that will get the team connecting daily and outside of work so they truly understand and appreciate each other. This will drive natural instincts to support each other, and in the end, my version of swarming. We want to build support, understanding, and caring as a culture of the team.
We are looking to influence culture by focusing on the following:
Let’s walk through some of the events we’ve done and how the aforementioned benefits apply.
Escape the Room
This is certainly a popular team-building activity. Not only is it something fun that drives problem solving as a collective team, but it brings a fun kind of pressure that’s a nice break from the normal delivery or support pressures that teams can experience. This was an example of Disruption, where a group is challenged to use their problem-solving skills under pressure in a different way. You’re able to see the strengths of the team utilized at the right times, and more importantly, the team sees the strengths of each member and appreciates that.
Bubble Soccer / Skeet Shooting / Archery
The team has used voting and prioritization to select various activities such as Archery, Bubble Soccer, and Skeet/Trap Shooting. These varied events were not just fun activities, but displayed the team’s Diversity & Culture. The team appreciated the different themes driven by each other’s different background, curiosity, and interests. Another key factor was that the team and/or individual’s Resiliency was highlighted when dealing with the challenges presented. Some of the team members returned to Skeet/Trap shoot the very next weekend and invited others to join them.
Our annual Core Engineering overall organization team event was a NYC Hudson River boat trip, followed by happy hour near Chelsea Piers. This was our second go-around at this particular place and it is tremendously well received. Wait—how does a fun boat trip help with the goals? I make it a point to converse with teams and individuals that I don’t get an opportunity to work or interact with at the office. You get exposed to thoughts and discussions that lend to building your Diversity lens for the overall organization, and not just your team. You’ll also get to understand more about Culture.
Team Dinners/Happy Hours
After each event, we typically have a team dinner or happy hour. How do you achieve progress toward the goals in these scenarios? You have to put on your listening ears and you will get insight into each individual’s Culture and background, which helps you gain Empathy toward their unique situations. This event brings you an opportunity to get Feedback outside of the office. At the last event, I walked away with two critical feedback data points that were easy for me to address, but I was completely unaware how certain actions were perceived. This was invaluable feedback that I may not have gotten via 1:1s or skip-level meetings.
The team participated in an Audible Cares volunteer event with “Habitat for Humanity”, a clear-cut opportunity to continue to build on the goals above, while also helping our local community—in line with our “Activate Caring” People Principle. Read more about that here.
This may not be a recipe for everyone, but it’s an approach that has worked for me in the past and continues to work for the Core Engineering team as we continue to build our culture. If you’re looking for ideas on how to build a team culture, I would suggest trying some of these approaches.