Team Building

There is an aspect of team building in every organizational intervention we've done. After all, the goal of an organizational study is to analyze the communication in the organization, and such communication is the foundation of team dynamics. Team building can have the unanticipated side-effect of pointing out the necessity of change: hidden wounds come to the surface, where they can receive the treatment they need.

As described above in HowThePatternsCameToUs, role playing is a staple of our research technique. We bring the organization together in one room where they role-play one of their processes: the design-coding process, or the testing process, or the acquisition process, or the analysis process, or the field support process, or whatever it is the organization believes needs attention.

One goal of the role-play is to put the team members into the psychological roles they play on a day-to-day basis. If one succeeds in doing this in a large group, it helps the group as a whole see itself in action and see the patterns of interaction that emerge. Reflecting on those patterns, those communication structures in the group, is the main foundation of organizational growth and renewal.

But the formal role-play can sometimes be the key to more powerful modes of introspection or to ways that are more suitable to the organization's culture or comfort zones. At Allianz, we did some initial role-play exercises with two of the development teams. Those exercises supported a bit more dialogue and interest in the groups on organizational issues but themselves did not cause major changes in ways of doing business. However, those initial studies led to follow-up work to explore the application of DevelopingInPairs and other ideas from Extreme Programming [BibRef-Beck1999] under the leadership of Thomas Tik of Allianz, Jim Coplien, and Laurie Williams of North Carolina State University. We decided to have an off-site meeting with the engineering teams, where we created an environment for open, constructive criticism of management and a lot of unstructured time. In addition, we spent time teaching them about DevelopingInPairs. Those activities led to some management insights and realizations. Later, we were able to act on that experience to leverage change at the next higher level of management, and that broke a logjam that opened the floodgates of dialogue at the next level. Organizational improvement followed in its wake.

Similarly, at ParcPlace Systems [BibRef-Gabriel1996], we held a team role-play exercise. The vice-president of engineering, Richard Gabriel, had already started creating history time lines and having other forums that built on the team's frustration with its state and its desire to return to the environment of its glory days. The role-play was a watershed event to the extent that it underscored much of the dysfunction in the organization at that time and provided an external corroboration of the state of the organization. It also provided a forum where the team members could start thinking about patterns and talking about their dysfunction in terms of patterns. While the role-play exercise was only a fraction of the introspection, it was one of the main introspective events that involved the entire team, and offered foundations to support ongoing dialogue and organizational renewal. Yes, they even used some of the patterns in turning the organization around. But more important, they wrote their own organizational patterns and took charge of their destiny. This sense of ownership and taking charge, tied with the creation of a tangible body of patterns that they stood by, were perhaps the centerpiece of the organizational turnaround.

Techniques such as the organizational role-play can help develop the models and shared perspectives that can be seeds for the dialogue that strengthens a team. A retrospective [BibRef-Kerth2001] is a powerful team-building tool that yields both explicit and implicit benefits; the role-playing exercise described above is a form of retrospective. Most importantly, retrospectives help build a foundation for trust between the members of an organization. Seeing one's self in relationship to others helps people establish models of expected behaviors. These models either open communication paths or show where communication paths have broken down because of mistrust, environmental factors, temperament mismatches, and other factors. Team dialogue alone can identify environmental factors and some of the other factors, but it can actually strengthen the first and most important factor: trust. Using patterns such as those in this book can offer a rallying point for the team and can offer vocabulary for talking about the team's problems and potential solutions. But there are many other team-building techniques that can be equally effective.