How to Conjure Your Team Magic with a few Stickies and the Playbook Exercise

Posted on August 14, 2020 by Riccardo

I'm in the office, standing in front of a wall full of stickies. I notice one that says:

My favourite way to treat myself is seafood, Netflix and strong piña colada

Then my eyes land on another one:

When I'm stuck on a task for too long I get grumpy. Please let me know or help :)

The more I read the more I feel a connection with my future team mates. It's like I already know them better than whomever I worked with in my previous gig. The last stickie I contemplate is mine:

I'd love to have a two-hour long lunch break to go to the gym

I'm afraid this time I went too far. This is an outrageous request to make to the team. But I asked everybody to dream big. And I like to lead by example.

Working as a team is a journey

A shared one made of challenges, setbacks and celebrations. It's a bit like going from A to B. Except, most of the times, there is not one but multiple correct paths to the destination. And it's the team's job to select the one to pursue. Not to count the fact that B is a blurry, moving target. This means people will need to re-group, re-align and re-engage often. Therefore, how you get there, counts.

What can be done to support the best work of everybody in our team? What are the aspirations and goals of each of us? What's the preferred way to share feedback? Or to celebrate a victory? What practices and values do we believe in? What makes people grumpy?

If we cannot give answers to those questions, we cannot expect to do great work together. People need to know how to be the best players in their team. Also, everybody should be able to contribute their practices, values and needs. Let's not forget our adventure towards success is shared. So, let me reiterate.

It's not enough to hand off a computer, a Kanban board and a git repository to make somebody part of the team. Moving tickets to done is not how we provide value. We need to support each other's work. Not having a formal structure doesn't make it easier, it makes it harder. This is true not only of others people's contributions, but also of ours. Luckily, the solution is simple.

Different people conjure a different team alchemy. Including the same team after somebody leaves or joins. There is no right or wrong, only different journeys. It's by embracing the friction, being curious and supporting each other's uniqueness that we make the team a power of nature. Because, let's be honest, the other option is to focus inwards on our personal productivity. But if we want teams to be more than the sum of their parts we better focus on enabling others first.

Create a playbook. Together as a team.

Reserve some space for stickies. Then, let everybody share their practices, values and needs. Whatever makes their workflow awesome. How peers can support their best craft. Anything they want to share about themselves. What are their goals and aspirations.

Personally, I give the exercise as little structure as possible. People should decide what they value and want to share, not the exercise. But adding a couple of questions works too. Here some ideas:

  • What makes you grumpy? How will we know you are grumpy? How can we help you when you are grumpy?
  • In what medium do you prefer to receive feedback? When do you prefer to receive feedback? How do you prefer to receive recognition?
  • What makes feedback the most valuable for you? What are your goals for the next 3 months / year? What do you need from your teammates?
  • What's your favourite way to treat yourself?
  • Are there any behaviors that you know you don't like?
  • Do you have any clear career goals that we should know about so we can help you achieve them?

Give people a few days to contribute with their stickies, then get together and give everybody a chance to elaborate. This would be a good time to compromise in case any stickies were conflicting. But, surprisingly enough, it doesn't happen much. Also, remember, the team magic changes when somebody leaves or joins. So make sure to update your playbook as the group setup evolves.

The best part of the team playbook exercise is that most outrageous things really are not. Strangely enough, when you support others, others will support you. Or at least that's what I think during my two-hour long lunch breaks while I'm working out. And it's not only me, since I started facilitating this exercise, I've seen many other people coming up with wild ideas, or so they thought, that ended up incorporated in the team playbook.

It's time to break free. It's time to dream big. It's time to write your playbook. Together as a team.


It's one of the selected few I follow every week – Mateusz

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