This is how I measure my team’s health
Healthy teams build meaningful products.
I didn’t meet anyone who disagreed with this statement. And there’s a reason this remark is widely acknowledged: If your team is not having fun and learning while shipping new solutions or releases, there’s a high chance they end up delivering a low-graded product.
It’s prevalent to associate health with behaviors. As human beings, habits like eating well, practicing exercises, and having quality time outside work are essential to keep our body and mind in good shape.
The same applies to teams: leaders must take care of their employees by providing an environment that fosters their best selves while offering good work conditions, instead of overworking them and draining all their motivation and creativity.
But how do I measure team health?
Before sharing my experience on how to make good health checks, I will first share with you how do not measure your team’s wellbeing.
I believe you have already heard of (or been part of) employee opinion surveys, also known as employee engagement surveys or employee commitment surveys. With all due respect to the professionals who prepare and organize these audits, I dare say I never saw people getting excited about investing time to answer their questions.
Employee opinion surveys are great tools when the goal is to provide a wealth of insights and a good baseline. But they can be challenging due to the lack of actionable data: does a 7.4 vs. 7.1 tell you anything specific?
This kind of data can be difficult to “make local” and relevant to the company, significantly larger organizations. In the last years leading engineering teams, I have seen different approaches to help to measure team health. Let me show you the ones I found more compelling.
Health Check 1.0
The R&D team at Shopify has a good reputation for organizing its teams. At the beginning of 2010, the department’s professionals wrote an article about their scaling system for agile teams. It describes how the company operates across a highly matrixed organization of smaller autonomous teams (squads) of cross-functional members.
Many teams could benefit from this system. It’s not a perfect process, but it has outstanding principles behind it. The same folks at Spotify shared a document designed to assess how their teams are doing. They call it the Squad Health Check model.
In a nutshell, everybody gets a red, yellow, and green traffic light card. The team then offers their opinion on how they feel the sprint is trending (improving, stable, or getting worse). Each person will vote based on how they perceive the project’s status across several areas.
- Support: do we get the help we need when we need it?
- Teamwork: do we work well as a team?
- Pawns or Players: do we own our destiny?
- Mission: do we understand what we are trying to do?
- Health of codebase: do we have a ton of tech debt?
- Suitable process: do we have too much red tape to cut through?
- Delivering value: do we move the needle?
- Learning: do we learn new things?
- Speed: do we get stuck often by dependencies?
- Easy to release: do we have good test automation?
- Fun: do we know how to play hard while also working hard?
- Communication: do we have honest and open discussions?
Like any other approach, you don’t need to do the same. It’s important to adapt this model to your own reality and your group’s skillset.
Health Check 2.0 — Adapting the model
I had excellent experiences running Spotify’s Team Health Check inside my teams, but I always felt that something was missing.
And then I realized: this model is excellent to raise awareness on what is working (or not) in relevant topics for the team, but they don’t give the ownership we need to come up with actionable items to solve the problems. Trying to find a solution to bridge this gap, I added two more teams’ activities besides the ones presented in the original model:
The first one is called assessment. In the assessment session, we allow all members to vote on how they feel about each category and how it is trending. Intentionally, we don’t discuss how to improve any area.
At this moment, we also asked for the team to vote in the areas they felt were most critical to focus on improvements. Every team member has up to three votes because, as Patrick Lencioni wisely says, “If everything is important, then nothing is.”
Once we finish this session, all participants are assigned to think about how to improve the areas that require improvement.
The second session is called “Who does what by when”. At this moment, any team member can speak up about their perception, but they need to suggest an action item that helps improve the problem presented. The purpose of this session is to have four to five action items with owners and a clear timeline to execute them.
The value we gather from it
Running Team Health Checks on a regular basis (at least once per quarter) will:
- Increase awareness of the current stage of the team;
- Offer good discussions inside the group regardless their health;
- Generate actionable items to seek improvement;
- Give leadership a clearer perception of how they can better help their teams.
- Show expectations and desired behaviors
Here in VTEX, we promote an environment that empowers teams to speak about the pitfalls they are experiencing in their current projects while offering all the support our squads need to get back on track and perform their excellent work.
If you are interested in being part of a company that doesn’t fear hard questions and rewards the people who ask them, take a look at our Career’s Page and see if we have an opportunity that suits you!