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Facilitating Team Health Assessments

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Teams can do health assessments to explore and discuss their team’s health and happiness. According to Gwenno Haf Hughes, it’s good to let teams create their own health check, understanding what healthy looks like for the team in question. As facilitators, we can help teams decide where and how to improve.

Gwenno Haf Hughes, an agile team lead, spoke about healthy teams at A Day of Organisational Psychological Safety by Aginext.

According to Hughes, a happy team is impossible without being first of all a healthy team. The healthier you are (both as a team, and as an individual) the better you perform, the better you perform the better you feel, and if you’re performing well and feeling good, you’re most likely happy.

Hughes explained how can we assess team health:

Back in 2014, Spotify published a Blog detailing a "Squad Health Check" which forms the basis of how I would suggest a team’s health is determined. In simple terms, a team is presented with a set of health indicators (what healthy looks like to them) along with good/bad examples for each. Then, the team is asked to vote on how well they believe they’re doing with regard to each of those indicators.

Spotify suggests that the voting takes place as part of a Health Check workshop to encourage conversation. By the end of the workshop, you should have an indication of how healthy the team is with regard to the indicators.

Hughes recommends not blindly using Spotify’s Blog as an instruction manual, but to instead use it for inspiration to create your own health check:

Personally, I like asking the team to use a tool such as MentiMeter to generate a word cloud of possible indicators. It provides a nice infographic of what the team values. Then comes the fun bit: coming up with the good/bad examples! This doesn’t necessarily need to be done as a whole team exercise, although you may want to pair up with someone to bounce ideas.

A tip: be mindful not to use real life examples, to use language that the team understands and to be realistic. The team needs to identify with them in order for the Health Check to be an accurate reflection of health.

It’s down to the team to decide how to improve the team’s health and happiness, and what can be done will look different every time, Hughes said. However, before any improvements can be made, we need to understand where they need to be made:

Once the Health Check has concluded, the team will understand which areas need focus. They should then propose a set of actions (and owners!) that they hope will improve the score of that indicator going forward. Personally, I’d recommend a separate workshop for this, following on from the Health Check, to ensure transparency and allow the whole team to propose ideas.

Hughes gave a suggestion as to how to facilitate this workshop:

Split the team into smaller groups of two to four individuals, focused around a specific indicator. Ideally the team would self-organise into these groups based on their areas of interest. The groups should discuss and create a list of up to three actions the team could take on to improve the indicator score going forward.

Following the separate discussions, the whole team should regroup, share their findings and propose actions before agreeing as a team which actions they would like to commit to. The smaller groups should give everyone a chance to participate and be heard, whilst allowing diving deeper into the topic in a set period of time.

Finally, Hughes recommended looking at the areas which the team deems themselves to be most healthy in to understand how and why they’re particularly successful in those areas and learn what could be repeated or scaled. This could be done towards the end of the session as a whole team to end on a high note, she said.

InfoQ interviewed Gwenno Haf Hughes about facilitating team health assessments.

InfoQ: How would you define a healthy team?

Gwenno Haf Hughes: Following some fairly basic research, I came to the conclusion that there’s not one overarching definition of a healthy team.

In the same way that the definition of health can vary between individuals, what constitutes a healthy team can be different for each and every team. There is no doubt that there could be common factors in each team - from purpose, to role clarity to empowerment for example, we should tread carefully when it comes to dictating what any team should look like when it comes to health. The important factor is ensuring that the team understands what healthy looks like for them and that the team is committed to working towards it.

InfoQ: What does a happy team look like?

Hughes: It’s all about what a happy team feels like. If you’re in a happy team - you’ll know it.

InfoQ: How can people create their own health check?

Hughes: Before jumping into the deep end and performing a Health Check, I’d recommend spending time understanding what healthy looks like for the team in question - coming up with a tailored list of around 10 health indicators and good/bad examples for each that help the team understand what those indicators look like in practice. How you generate the list can vary - it could be a workshop in itself, or an asynchronous exercise.

Once the indicators and examples have been generated, the team needs to decide how they measure up against them. There are multiple ways of acquiring that data - from anonymous forms to a workshop - however I’d always recommend facilitating a workshop at some point in the process to allow the team to openly discuss how every individual in the team feels the team is doing against those indicators, which may impact the overall score. The workshop can work equally as well in person or remotely. In person - you could make use of Spotify’s Traffic Light Voting Cards, or remotely you could experiment with Zoom’s Polling Feature or even a Miro if you’re feeling creative.

Myself, I tend to default to using Google Forms as you can better visualise the data - and even asking the team to vote twice: once before the workshop, and then during. The pre-workshop results serve well as a tool to feed conversation within the workshop, and I often find that the result changes once opinions are shared with the whole group.

Keeping psychological safety in mind, even if you do decide to facilitate a workshop, you may still want to allow individuals to vote anonymously. The Health Check depends on trust and honesty, and only those in the team understand how best to achieve that.

InfoQ: If people want to learn more about team health, where can they go?

Hughes: Here are some suggestions:

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