November 6, 2019

Team Guidelines

Team guidelines are used to define what is acceptable in the team. Done properly, it can save a lot of headaches and get the team to operate smoothly.

Team Guidelines

At my previous gig, one of the team members mentioned that it would have been useful to have some sort of team guidelines in place so that everyone was on the same page with regards to what is acceptable in the team. Unfortunately, it was towards the end of that gig so we never went through this process, but in hindsight it definitely would have saved us a lot of headaches in the long run.

Creating Team Guidelines

When you are creating team guidelines you need to make sure that you first have all the members in the room. The next step is to show everyone that there is a need for having these guidelines. Some people may think that this is overkill and that they don't really need them, but you need to change this thinking so that people realize that there is a real benefit from them. Their buy in is vital in order for this to work. In order to do that, you can use the following steps:

  1. Ask everyone to think about the things that they didn't like in the previous team/job. People often struggle to remember what they liked on a team, but they vividly remember the pain points so those are much easier to recall. Typical examples of this could be:
  • "People often arrived late to meetings"
  • "We had too many meetings that provided no value to me"
  • "There was a lack of accountability within the team"

    As people are calling these things out, you can write them on a whiteboard.

2.   The next step would be to then ask the team members which behaviours they would like to be part of the operating guidelines. This will help prevent the previous actions above from repeating themselves. Again, you should write all the suggestions down on the whiteboard and there will probably be quite a few. Some examples of these would be:

  • "Meetings are to always start on time, even if all the people are not there"
  • "If you feel like you don't have enough context for a meeting, or feel that you have nothing to contribute, you can decline to attend"
  • "At stand up if someone’s work hasn't progressed, anyone should be able to ask why & if they require any help"

3.  Once you have all the behaviours listed the next step would be to start filtering them by grouping and eliminating similar ones. This part of the process is the most important because as people discuss these behaviours, they start to describe what the behaviours look like and mean to them. It paints a picture for everyone in the room.

4. Once you have whittled down the list to a maximum of about 8 items (If it goes over, it becomes a difficult to manage), you then need to go around the room and ask each person explicitly if they agree or not. If someone hesitates or says no, go to the next person and then at the end come back to those people who said no or hesitated. You then need to understand why they said no and together as a team resolve the issue. You then repeat the process until everyone is in full agreement.

Everyone has to agree, else they aren't team guidelines

One piece of advice is to make sure that you try to do this work as soon as possible when forming a new team. In addition, whenever someone new joins the team you will need to redo this process again, as they are now also part of the team.

These guidelines gives you something to fall back on when holding people accountable for their actions. You can say "There were the guidelines that we all came up with and agreed to" and in doing so it makes the "storming phase" of your team much easier to navigate.

The Artwork on the Wall

What often happens next is that the guidelines are printed and placed on the wall, liked a prized piece of artwork, never to be looked at again. That’s the last thing that you want, especially after spending so much time in creating them. In order to prevent that you should setup a monthly retro where you go over the guidelines and each person rates how each of the items are going from 1 to 5. You can even send out a survey beforehand and then just discuss the results in the meeting. This will give you some measurable way to see if you are improving or not.

If you find yourself in the situation where everyone consistently rates an item 5 for a few retros, then that is showing you that you have that guideline ingrained as part of your culture and you are able to pick another guideline from the list you originally created.

Don't let team guidelines turn into artwork

Lastly, it is important to remember that this is a living document and that items will be added & removed as the team progresses. In all instances where you think items have gotten better or worse, you need to make sure that you provide specific examples so that you have concrete evidence of these scenarios so you can improve on.

Until next time...keep learning!