Want to organize the team and get them working together? After the Kick-off meeting, put them under stress.
At 11 years old, I joined Boy Scout Troop 36. Many boys joined at the same time, and the troop formed 8 of us into our own patrol. For those of you who weren’t scouts – a patrol is a small self-contained team, led by the boys – not an adult. Our patrol was new, and we didn’t know each other very well, so we planned a hike for the next Saturday. On the hike we quickly discovered some of us were fast hikers, some slow, some brought a lot of gear, one boy, Bill, forgot his lunch – and mooched off of everyone else. In short we learned much more about each other on the hike then we did in the patrol meetings.
By the next outing, fast hikers were paired with slower ones, gear was evenly distributed to bring what we needed but no more; and everyone reminded Bill to bring his lunch. We had a great time together fo the next several years of outings.
My point focuses on strengthening the team by allowing it to self-organize under moderate stress. What brought our BSA patrol together, and helps project teams to get moving as well, is appropriate stress. Not a Kick-off meeting, not a training course on the latest Agile techniques, not a pep talk by the manager, stress.
With the scout patrol, a poorly prepared-for hike provided the stress. With project teams, look for a bit of work the team can sink into right at the start. The key is to find a group task that you can assign as a whole, without assigning individuals to roles at this point. Best if you can find a task that doesn’t have to be perfect, because it allows the team more leeway in self-organizing. A little failure, a little frustration at this point is a good thing. Of the tasks I’ve tried; setting up a team project room is my favorite. I might give them 3 hours, tell them I want the room perfect for our team…. but don’t tell them what perfect is. Then I disappear for 2 hours. I return during the last hour and help out without taking charge, mostly listening, complementing, and encouraging them to do more. Often problems with network connections, not enough suitable chairs, or just not enough space bring stress into the situation and give them opportunities to work together. Once done, we take a break, then start into project tasks formally.
It doesn’t sound like much, but it will make a difference in the team culture, improving the way they work together.