Conversations at Obvious – Part 3: Team conversations and reflections

  • Monica Pillai
5 minute read
Screenshot 2021 01 07 at 11 09 15

Team conversations provide an opportunity to reflect on the previous week’s work and share important updates. More importantly, they create space to discuss and debate decisions that may need course correction. These conversations go a long way in creating alignment between team members and they're a great way to outline the direction for internal and external projects that will happen in the upcoming week.

The Why

Communication is vital to every project, and it is equally important that we dedicate time to bring the team together. When everyone is aligned, projects run smoother and more efficiently and lead to exceptional products. Team Conversations confirm that the team has a common direction, and everyone’s efforts are geared towards the same larger goal. We highly recommend the use of this framework to run team conversations effectively.

The Framework

Step 1: Reflect

Recommended time: 20 minutes

At the beginning of the meeting, team members update the project board with short snippets of what happened last week. Everyone then reviews their colleagues’ reflections in the context of the project plan and key metrics, quickly making notes, and the discussion begins:

  • What went well last week?
  • How can we do even better this week?
  • What did not go well last week?
  • How can we make improvements this week?

Step 2: Update and Clarify

Recommended time: 20 minutes

Next, team members look at what's planned for the upcoming week. They update the project board with new tasks and remove redundant ones. They also add comments about issues that might directly or indirectly impact the project. Here's an example:

Direct Impact: “We need to run a user study to test an idea that we’re not confident about. This will require 3 additional days that had not been previously planned”.

Indirect Impact: “I will be out for a week because of a family emergency. I will be working, but available intermittently”.

Everyone takes a minute or two to ask questions and seek quick clarification on updates that are not obvious. The team votes on which updates to discuss further. The topics should be ones that need the alignment of the entire team. Anything that can be resolved without everyone’s involvement should be handled outside this meeting.

Step 3: Brainstorm

Recommended time: 30 to 60 minutes

The available time for brainstorming is divided into smaller periods according to the issues that need ideation. If the length isn't enough, the number of topics is reduced through a quick round of voting. The team brainstorms on the topics so that everyone is aligned on the new ideas for the upcoming week.

While it is difficult to completely solve every problem in a short brainstorming session, the goal is to set a direction for each topic. Deeper brainstorming can happen later between those directly responsible for each task.

Step 4: Plan

Recommended time: 20 minutes

Using inputs from the brainstorming activity, the plan for the upcoming week is adjusted. The discussion creates a rough estimate of how long it might take to accomplish the new tasks and how much can be completed before the next iteration begins. From this, the team has prioritised tasks with estimations. The project lead ensures that the plan is pragmatic, achievable and aligns with the team and business goals.

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Tips to make the most of Team Conversations

These guiding tips may help to ensure an effective, collaborative and goal-oriented Team Conversation that does wonders for transparency and morale!

Keep Egos Out

Leave your ego outside the Team Conversation. Using the words “works/doesn’t work” instead of “like/dislike” keeps the conversation focused on facts instead of making it personal. It is important to keep in mind that the team is united by the goal of creating the best solution for the end user. It’s not about one person’s idea winning or losing.

Focus on Quiet Listening

Talk less, listen more. Instead of thinking of a rebuttal when someone else presents their idea, actively listen to the speaker. Ask for clarification to fully understand the concept, and then listen intently. Paraphrase a team member if you disagree to ensure that you have an accurate understanding of their viewpoint.

Play “Yes and…”

The premise of this common improv technique is to accept an idea as true and build on it. The goal is to refine ideas and gain clarity. Reserve judgement of others’ suggestions until you fully explore them. For example:

Person 1: I know this might sound crazy because we have an upcoming deadline, but running another user study before we make a final decision might provide the clarity we need.

Person 2: Yes, and then we can be sure that this feature is relevant for our users. Let’s talk to the product manager about pushing the deadline out a few days.

Time Box

Cap each discussion by setting time limits in advance. If a decision is not reached, decide whether to continue the conversation later or vote to resolve the disagreement. Consider using a Time Timer so that everyone stays on track.

Make Evidence-Based Decisions

At Obvious, we make decisions based on evidence, not gut feelings, and we'd pass on the same message to anyone reading. If an individual's argument lacks evidence, we ask them to let it go and trust their colleagues’ idea.

We also try to reach a unanimous agreement with decisions, but that scenario is not always possible. Ultimately, someone has to decide, and that person is the Decision Maker. When the Decision Maker has to step in, feel free to disagree, but commit to the decision.

The chemistry and collaboration between members of a team can make or break a project. We believe that these team conversations go a long way in helping everyone stay on the same page, feel heard and contribute their best, every step of the way.

If you’re looking to work in a company that invests in you, we dare say your search ends here. We’re looking for engineers, designers and researchers across all levels and would love for you to join the team.