Rules of Engagement


Teamwork is hard, but a winning team culture helps a lot. Collaboratively define the social norms that'll become your team's customized secret sauce.

AND I NEED THIS... WHY?

Ever looked from the outside at a team who are crushing it? You probably wondered how they do it. They're having fun while delivering amazing outcomes, so they must be doing something right! What's their secret sauce?

Chances are, they have (either consciously or not) built a positive culture of working together. A culture that's about more than having Friday drinks together and generally "getting along". It's about understanding what they value, what their motivations are, how they give each other feedback, how they challenge each other, how they honor each other's time commitments outside of the office, and so on.

This play draws your team's emotional quota (EQ) out of the closet and gets to the heart of how you'll work together. Things might get a bit contentious, but embrace it. You're creating a team and a place you want to go to every day, so working through a bit of conflict is worth it. This play is a small investment with a big pay-off. You'll establish empathy and build trust in each other so you can focus more of your energy on getting $#!τ done.

WHO SHOULD BE INVOLVED?

Gather the whole team and your exec sponsor if you have one. If possible, have someone from outside the team facilitate.

Read more Show less
People

6 - 8

Time

30 min

Difficulty

Moderate

Running the play

Run this play on it's own, or run an abbreviated version as part of a Project Kick-off session. 

Materials
  • Butcher's paper
  • Markers
  • Sticky notes in several colors
  • Timer
  • Rubber chicken
Step

Set the stage (5 min)

Tape a piece of butcher's paper to the wall and write "Rules of engagement" at the top. Don't use a whiteboard – it's important to have this in a detachable, portable format.

Explain that you're going to collectively articulate the kind of behaviour and results the team can expect from each other. In effect, you'll be establishing a sub-culture for your team that fits within the larger culture of the company.

Step

Brainstorm team culture ideas (10 min)

Ask the question: "What are the team rules that we want to abide by for the project/foreseeable future?". All participants then write their responses in the form of rules – one per sticky note – and put them on one main piece of butcher's paper.

As a facilitator, model what you're after by writing and sticking up an easy example (e.g. "Be on time", "Listen to each other", "Share early and often", "Thoughtfully challenge", etc)

Expect to see responses along the lines of...

  • We grow through sharing
  • Be open to new ideas, even if they run counter to one of your "darlings"
  • Constantly seek to improve
  • Honour commitments
  • If you foul something up, you'll lead the effort to un-foul it (but it's cool to ask for help)
  • Nerf dart battles only after 4pm, please
  • Headphones on means no interruptions
  • No-meeting Thursdays are observed with religious devotion

As people add their stickies, group similar ideas together so it's easier to discuss them later.

FOR EXAMPLE...

Here are some ideas posted up by one of our teams in Sydney. 

Step

Talk amongst yourselves (10 min)

Look at the groupings to see where there's already broad agreement, and quickly confirm those points with the team. Most of this time should be spent discussing contentious or confusing (or contradictory) ideas. Don't gloss over this part. It's important to leave this play with agreement and commitment from all team members, so embrace friction and a bit of healthy debate.

Allow each team member time to comment on their sticky notes. Prompt each team member to talk about what is most important to them, and why. However ultimately drive towards consensus.

Step

Bring it to life (5 min)

Spend the final 5 mins of the session to discuss how you'll bring this to life. What actions will this take in reality? Any changes to the way the team is working now? Do you have to re-schedule the daily stand-up to a more suitable time? Does the agenda of your weekly project team meeting change? etc.

Boil it down into things you'll do or changes you'll make. Then agree on any next steps to make it real.

Nailed it?

Be sure to run a full Health Monitor session or checkpoint with your team to see if you're improving.

Find your Health Monitor

Variations

IGNORE THE ORG CHART

Got a long term cross-team project you're kicking off? Run this play to establish the norms you'll follow. 

It works for temporary situations, too. Run it at the beginning of a multi-day offsite or any time your team is taking a break from your routine way of working. 

FOR EXAMPLE...

Here are the Rules of Engagement established by one of our development teams for their Innovation Week. 

Follow-ups

Follow through on your next steps (obviously). Also, hang the butcher's paper in your team's area. If you have remote team members, snap a photo and put it on the front page of your team's space or project page in Confluence.

Have it handy at various pulse-checking points like Health Monitor sessions or retrospectives.

Team health is contagious. Pass it on.

Go viral on social media, or email this page to your teammates.

Join the conversation

Tell the Atlassian Community how this play worked for your team.

Learn more