I have joined many teams and many organisations in the 4 years I have been at ThoughtWorks and one of the biggest issues I see within teams, and sometimes in the teams they have to interact with, is that there is a lack of alignment in goals across teams that have to interact and sometimes within teams themselves. After my second or third engagement I realised that one of the major problems is that sometimes teams have never actually agreed their team purpose (goal, raison d'etre, mission, call it what you will) or their team values.
My First Experience of Team Goal and Values
Two and half years ago I was staffed into a brand new team that was formed to answer a specific question in a short space of time, 12 weeks or so. We were tasked to demonstrate to the client that by forming a cross functional team, empowered to deliver on its outcome and not constrained to use the existing systems and frameworks to deliver this outcome (except where certain legacy systems encapsulated complex business logic), we could deliver on business outcomes quickly and therefore reduce the cycle time from around 12 months to a matter days.
As far as the client was concerned, this was a big ask and many within the client were sceptical of our ability to deliver. At the time I was staffed as an experienced member of the team but I wasn't leading the team. During the inception one of the exercises we went through was to agree the team goals and the team values. I wasn't really sure why we were doing this at the time (wasn't the goal obvious?) but I was curious to understand what the outcome would be and how it would pan out in the longer term.
A Goal Statement and Some Values
I can't remember the exact goal statement or values (and it would probably betray a client confidence if I did) but to the best of my recollection we ended up with something like:
We are the Process Workflows team. We will demonstrate how to return value to the business quickly through using cross functional teams.
We value understanding complex interactions over creating beautiful user interfaces
We value returning business value to the customer quickly over crafting the perfect solution
We value delivering our own outcomes over requesting help from expert silos
How did this help?
As I said, I was a little sceptical at first. When the team started working though, I saw the value. Firstly, the goal statement enabled us to reason about what the most sensible items to put on the back were. We had a vague product imperative from the business but that wasn't the major part of what we were there to do. The goal statement freed us up to deliver working stuff to the business without having to care too much about the long term. Sure, we took on (knowingly) a lot of technical debt but actually we weren't yet building a product. Look at the mission statement of the team, it doesn't mention building a product.
As for the value statements, those three sentences helped us to reason out what the most important story was and helped us to understand how much care, relatively speaking, we should put into each. For example, when we had a story early on that was dragging on a bit to build our deployment pipeline we were able to say, "we have to get this done somehow" because it was key to returning value to the customer quickly. Similarly, when an assumption we had made over the ease of implementing some front end functionality using a particular library proved false, we just dropped the library and made a rubbish looking UI. We could do this because we valued complex interactions (back end stuff) over beautiful interfaces.
Since that project I have only worked as the lead on any given team that I've been involved in. The very first thing I've done on joining a new team has always been to ask the team, "what do you do?", "what is the goal of this team?", "do you understand your team values?" I am yet to come to a team that had a consensus on the team goal and team values had never been discussed in any team I've joined. So within the first few days of joining a new team I've done a workshop to discover the team goal and values and I've made sure they are on display from that point forward. This has always given me a great base to continue forward with the team.