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InfoQ Homepage News Helping Great Teams Form Using the Core Protocols

Helping Great Teams Form Using the Core Protocols

The Core Protocols are a set of ideas identified by Jim and Michelle McCarthyRichard Kasperowski will open the second day of the Agile Games Conference and builds on these ideas with his thoughts on how they can help a team move through the early stages of the Tuckman model of team formation to get into a Performing state sooner.   He also describes how these protocols can help distributed teams become more effective. 

He spoke to InfoQ about his talk at the conference and how these ideas can be useful for teams:

InfoQ: If there are such thing as normal teams, how would you describe a great team?

Richard: You can tell when you’re on a great team because it feels so good. You’re all aligned with each other, you’re heading in the same direction with the same big important purpose, you’re getting stuff done really well. You feel like and act like you’re friends—you like working together, you like being together, and you like getting stuff done together. And you’re great at what you do, objectively and visibly, to people outside your team, like your customers and other people who care about what you’re doing.

InfoQ: Besides feeling great in a great team, why are great teams important for people and business?

Richard: Many teams are mediocre. On many teams, people don’t think about the team culture. They don’t know how to create a great team culture together. They end up with a default culture that lets them be mediocre together, no matter how genius they are as individuals.

And yet there’s no interesting or important work today that’s being done without a team. And we have all these mediocre teams working on these important problems. To really do the important work, to really solve the world’s important problems, to really bring joy to all people, we need great teams.

InfoQ: You are using a concept called the "Core Protocols". Could you explain what it is and how it helps?

Richard: The Core Protocols are a set of behavior patterns that teams can use to obtain a culture of high-performance, to get them out of mediocrity. There have been a lot of studies over the last two decades on team performance. Researchers have identified around 200 characteristics of team performance. In the most recent research, they consistently find that attributes like psychological safety, shared vision, high empathy, and purposeful work correlate to high-performance teams.  So we know the things that correlate to high-performance teams.

The challenging part is that most people don’t know how to instill these characteristics in their teams. The Core Protocols are a set of learnable behaviors that teams can use to intentionally instill these characteristics in their teams, to intentionally adopt a culture of high-performance, to intentionally become great teams.

InfoQ: Speaking at the Agile Games Conference, how do you see games helping people build great teams?

Richard: The Agile Games Conference is a great conference. It’s all about playful ways to get work done, playful ways to learn important skills, and playful ways to obtain high-performance teams.

Playfulness is really important on great teams. When we are playful, our cortisol levels are low. We can think clearly. We can connect with each other and collaborated well. We are free to be our most creative selves.

At this year’s Agile Games Conference I’ll be sharing the Core Protocols in my keynote as a way to build high-performance teams. I’ll guide attendees through a set of playful activities to help them understand the Core Protocols and really learn them, to move the ideas from short-term memory to a kind of “muscle memory”, so people can use these skills immediately when the get back to work and continue building high-performance into their teams.

InfoQ: Many agilists use the Tuckman model of team development. Could you explain how the "Core Protocols" are different?

Richard: The Core Protocols are a way to accelerate a team’s moving through the Tuckman model. In the Tuckman model of team formation, there are four stages: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. In my experience, it takes a typical Agile team six months to progress from Forming to Performing—and that’s if there are no personnel changes on the team. Any time there is a personnel change—even just one person joining or leaving—it’s a new team, and they start back at Forming. So it takes six months to get to Performing, if you ever get there, and most teams don’t.

The Core Protocols are a set of behavior patterns that teams can learn with a few days of intentional practice. Many teams that use the Core Protocols advance from Forming to Performing in five days or less. And they have the skills to re-team quickly, so if the team’s configuration changes, they can get back to Performing really quickly. If you could accelerate great team building from six months to a few days, wouldn’t you want that?

InfoQ: In the IT industry, we still see a pattern of "distributed teams". What do you think can be done to create and maintain great teams in such a context?

Richard: Distributed teams are hard. So much of our communication is spontaneous and nonverbal, and we lose that with distributed teams. We miss important conversations at the coffee machine. We don’t see each other smiling, frowning, slouching—we lose body language.

In my best distributed teams, we meet and work together face to face for some time—maybe at a 5-day Core Protocols class. Then we use the Core Protocols to re-team with each other quickly. We start our distributed meetings with a Check In of our emotional state: How do I feel right now? Am I mad, sad, glad, or afraid? About what? We share, hear, and acknowledge each other. We immediately get back into that state of psychological safety and shared vision that are characteristic of high-performance teams.

InfoQ: If our readers want to better understand the concepts of "Core Protocol" and how to build/become great teams, what do you recommend to read/watch/do?

Richard: The Core Protocols are the work of Jim and Michelle McCarthy. If you want to know more about Core, you should read their books, Software for Your Head and Dynamics of Software Development. You should check out their web site and listen to their podcast.

In addition to that, you can read my book, The Core Protocols: A Guide to Greatness. You can attend a five-day Core Protocols class like this one coming up in Italy in June. You can invite me to do a short talk or class for your work team or meet-up group.

Finally, I invite you to ask me for help. I’d love to hear from you, hear your team’s stories, and offer ideas.

The Agile Games Conference will take place in Cambridge, MA, April 28-30 2016. InfoQ will cover the event with Q&A and articles                                         


This article was edited by Shane Hastie.                                                                  

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