So tomorrow is Star Wars Day. May the 4th be with you! Thinking about Star Wars got me thinking about teamwork, and how it’s important to work as part of a team if you want to
Restore the Republic complete the big projects on schedule.
Star Wars Day is special to me for a specific reason. Just over a year ago I joined a team who were going to tackle a huge project with a very short deadline. The team were small and we would be using agile development to create something quickly.
Starting out, things were quiet. It felt like the team weren’t communicating. We didn’t know each other and I got the impression that we were all intimidated by each others skills. As a designer, it is important to be approachable. Developers should feel free to push back if they feel there will be a problem with an implementation.
Open communication between development, engineering, design and product management is absolutely essential if deadlines are to be met. In order to create something great, communication is key. I wanted the team to start communicating freely with each other, and I knew that I needed to break the ice.
I decided that a way to break the ice was to buy lots of Star Wars Candy to celebrate the 4th of May.
10 Steps to Improve Teamwork
So, in honour of the greatest team in film history (apologies to Mighty Ducks) here are 10 tips on how you can improve teamwork skills and be just like Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, R2D2, C3P0 and Yoda.
1. Make Yourself Approachable
I’ve written before about how it’s important to distance yourself from constant distraction while tackling tough tasks. It’s important to respect people’s time while they are working.
While it’s important to spend time thinking deeply about important tasks, the people on your team should feel comfortable about asking you if they need clarification about something.
Here is my advice: candy is a great start. I read before about how having candy on your desk makes people more likely to come to your desk to talk about a problem, and I can confirm this is a great idea.
2. Have a Stand-Up
Stand-ups get a rough time. Some believe that they exist only to make sure that everyone is working on something, but I disagree. Taking 5 minutes to make your team aware of what you are stuck on, or what you plan to do today not only increases awareness of where you are on the project, it gives you a chance to ask for help if you need it, or offer your help to someone if they need it. Stand-ups also create a sense of being part of a team – a great way to feel like part of a group.
3. Don’t Complain
Please, please don’t complain. Sometimes, the project can be stressful enough. Coworkers who complain only multiply that stress. The chances are, if you’re annoyed about something, everyone else is also annoyed about it too but they’re just trying not to create negativity.
Instead, be solution oriented. See if there is a way for you to take control of the problem and solve it.
4. Learn How To Give Criticism
Can you imagine how hurt you would feel if you were told your idea was rubbish? Actually, maybe you were told before something like this, maybe from a teacher or a former boss. Either way, that person has never learned how to give another person constructive criticism. A cornerstone of teamwork is being able to effectively give clear, meaningful feedback without offending anyone.
The important thing to remember is to acknowledge the great things about the work, as well as mentioning the points that could be improved. Stating what you liked about something sets the tone for a balanced and objective conversation. If you feel there is something that could be improved, start with these templates:
“I really love how you handled X, but I wanted to ask about Y – have you thought about trying Z?”
“I think this is the right approach to X, but I was wondering if I could give feedback on Y? I had a look at it using an iPhone 6 and I found a few small issues.”
“I was a little bit worried about the last sprint, I felt like we weren’t communicating well. Is there anything I can do to improve this before the next sprint?”
Teamwork is built on effective communication, and communication is worthless if people aren’t listening.
It sometimes happens that someone is telling us about an issue, but we’re miles away, still thinking about a different problem. I’m guilty of this, but I’ve recently learned to say “actually, right now is not the best time. Can we go for coffee later?”
Active listening is a skill that anyone can learn. Set aside time for the person, arrange a meeting or go for coffee together.
6. Be Respectful
There are no bad ideas, and everyone has an equally vital role to play in a project. I’ve found that very often, developers are the ones who come up with amazing design solutions. Respect the advice and suggestions from other people on your team. This will create an environment of trust, where it is safe to propose solutions without the fear of being ridiculed.
Very often, the introverted ‘nerdy’ types are the smartest people in the room.
7. Acknowledge Wins by Others
Funny story: on a recent project I worked on, the design details that received the most praise and positive feedback was the loading animation and the Order Confirmation animation. Both of those details came from the front-end developer. Every time someone complimented me on either of those details, I made sure to respond with “actually, both those ideas came from the front-end dev. The guy is a genius.” Make sure the recognition goes to the person who deserves it.
8. No Gossip
It’s work, not high school. Don’t gossip about your team mates – you should be standing up for them. Being part of a team means defending the team from negativity. If you are disappointed with someone, be a grown up and try to deal with it by having an open and objective talk with them.
Communication is not easy for everyone, but anyone can learn how to communicate more effectively. Clear communication is a key part of teamwork.
10. Celebrate the Wins
Trip to the cinema, team lunch, after-office tapas or karaoke are all great things to do with your team. Celebrate your hard work by taking the time to enjoy an evening out away from the screens and post-its.
Those are my 10 tips on how to improve teamwork.
If there are other things that you feel improve teamwork in your organisation, I would love to hear from you. As always, I’m on twitter or you can reach me through my contact page.
…and May the 4th be with you!