Posted on 21st of October, 2020
Scrum 101: The importance of establishing your Team Identity
If you are familiar with Scrum, you are possibly no stranger to the values and practices that go hand in hand. For this week’s blog post we decided to dive deeper into this side of working in tech, by consulting with our in-house expert, Scrum Master Elena Vladimirova. According to Elena, Scrum is a framework that helps us make work as productive and enjoyable as possible. She says, “It is very team-centric and aside from promoting efficient ways of working it is very helpful in establishing a healthy culture within an organization.”
Earlier this year, Elena introduced a new practice to the Bricks, centred around Team Identity. The purpose of this was twofold: to define a mission and vision for each team. This seemingly simple initiative has already made an impact within the (remote) office.
Read ahead to find out the method she used, the purpose of this practice, and its importance.
Could you please introduce yourself to our readers, and tell us about your role at SALTO KS?
My name is Elena and I have been a Scrum Master and Agile Coach for the last 10 years. I’m originally from Bulgaria but moved to the beautiful city of Amsterdam 6 years ago and I still love it, despite the occasional month of endless rain. I’m currently working as a Scrum Master for three of the development teams at SALTO KS.
What are the ‘Scrum values’?
The five Scrum values: commitment, focus, openness, respect and courage are guidelines to help the team build trust both inside and outside the team, which is the foundation that the Scrum framework rests on. Putting a bunch of people to work on a product together doesn’t automatically make them a team, they need to go through different phases of adjustment, conflict and ultimately adaptation and performance; the fairly well-known model of forming, storming, norming, performing.
If you have very different working styles or personalities within a team it’s sometimes difficult to align those. But if you have a clearly expressed common purpose, helped by the Team Identity and clear values that the team members need to uphold, everything becomes much easier.
What led you to think about starting an initiative around Team Identity?
One of my teams felt some frustration and a lack of direction for a few reasons: they were relatively new to the company and the team (still in the storming phase), and they were working on multiple products at the same time, so their priority was not that clear. I’d say they had a bit of an identity crisis, so I thought it would be good to start fresh with a very clear outline of the mission and the vision for the team.
How did you go about this inspiration?
I first shared the idea with my manager and he told me to go for it. Then I made some preparations around this; like setting up a survey for the team to fill in their initial input and setting up a brainstorm board on an online visual tool which we could use during our interactive session. Of course, we had to do it online because of the COVID-19 circumstances, so I needed some digital version of a whiteboard with sticky notes. It was a bit scary because it was the first such workshop I had done online but the results were great and people loved it. I shared my findings with our team’s other Scrum Master Geert Visser, and we prepared to roll this out to all of the teams.
In your opinion, why is it important for teams to identify their team’s mission and vision?
I think that having a common understanding of what the team is about, what they should focus on, knowing their vision and how everything they work on aligns with that vision can be really priceless. There is a common misconception that engineers don’t really care about the business side of things and that is really not true. Pretty much everyone has a need to know what the big picture is that they’re working towards and hitting the goals. Seeing the results of your work reflected on the product and users is extremely fulfilling.
What distinguishes ‘team mission’ from ‘team vision’?
‘Team mission’ is about the question “Why do we exist?”. To determine the reason for us to have a team focused specifically on our self-service tools, or on our core components, etc. It’s a great go-to reference if you’re asking yourself “Why do I show up for work in the morning?”.
‘Team vision’ is much more about where we want to go as a team. The horizon is usually 3 to 7 years and it’s a shoot-for-the-moon type of statement. Whether we want to fully automate some tool, or we want to have the fanciest commissioning process in the world, the sky's the limit. It’s the best thing for giving the team a direction. It’s also a great source of inspiration and ideas.
What are the challenges that defining ‘Team Identity’ can help overcome?
In my experience, this exercise has definitely boosted morale and motivation for the teams. Since I’m first requesting people to give their own definitions in the initial survey, it has been a real revelation about how the different team members might have a different idea of the same team. It definitely brings everyone together, not only on the idea of what the team should be about but it also gives us the opportunity to address those different perspectives and come out with a common understanding.
“Whether or not you decide to go full Scrum, discussing and building your team’s identity is always a great starting point for a new team.” - Elena Vladimirova, Scrum Master at SALTO KS
How did the team respond to this exercise?
I had some sceptics at first (and of course, some people admitted their hatred for filling in forms) but the results were great. It felt that it really kick-started the performing phase for the team. After this, we set up the same exercise with a mostly similar structure for the rest of the teams and we had some great results and feedback.
How will the results and progress of this initiative be measured?
As part of the sessions, we also asked team members to come up with business metrics and engineering metrics that they think our team should care about. All of these we essentially tied up to superior user experience; whether your user is an end-user or a developer. We’ve set up some dashboards around these metrics and will be reviewing our progress on a regular basis to also check how features we implement affect them.
Can this practice be adopted by non-Scrum teams or even teams in other creative or corporate fields?
Absolutely. There are very few fields that don’t incorporate the use of teams, and whether or not you decide to go full Scrum, discussing and building your team’s identity is always a great starting point for a new team. That and beer pong.
Elena, thank you very much for sharing your project with us! We look forward to witnessing the importance of defining our identity, mission and vision together.
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