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How to fill your happiness metric

Knowing how people think or feel about a certain subject can be very helpful in building trust, creating a team and to reveal impediments. Of course it can be very difficult to get team members to express their real opinions, especially when a team has just started. I think with patience and the right approach trust can (and will) be built and it will be easier to get real issues out in the open. The following practice can help you start this and make explicit what individual opinions in a team are.

I have used the following retrospective practice for several years now:

Ask your team members to be quiet for 5 minutes and write down a number between 1 and 6 on a piece of paper. The 1 usually stands for ‘something too good to be true’ and the 6 stand for ‘total disaster’. So if you want to find out how people feel about being part of a certain team, 1 stands for ‘I want to be on this team for the rest of my life’ and 6 stands for ‘I want to get the hell out of here, today!’. Also ask them to think about what has to happen to get your score up by one point (so towards 1):

Mark: So Bob what is your score?
Bob: A 5, our code base is a disaster.
Mark: Ok, what has to happen to make this a 4?
Bob: Time to refactor during the sprint.

Repeat this for all team members and write them in a histogram, it will look something like this:

3 X
5 XX

What change would improve your score?

5: Code-base is a disaster -> Time to refactor during the sprint.
3: Nice team, project can go much faster -> More automated testing for iPhone.
2: Traveling to work takes a lot of time, everything else is very cool! -> 1 Day to work from home.

I use writing down a score to avoid socially acceptable answers and use the silence to ‘force’ members to think about their grade and what to change. It seems to be very difficult for groups to keep silent for 5 minutes, but I really try to make a point of this. While silent, people don’t get distracted and can give the topic serious thought. It usually takes some time before you have disconnected from your daily work and are taking a step back to think about your opinion.

The numbers 1 and 6 are usually exaggerations because we tend not to give a 1 or a 6 anyway. Also there is no ‘middle number’. If you would use 1 to 5, it is very safe to give a 3. Although this might be comfortable, I think it is better to be a little bit optimistic/pessimistic (e.g. 3 or 4 on a 6 point scale).

Remember that there is no good or bad score. The most important part is that the team members realize what is needed to give a better grade and the possibility for anyone to address these problems. The second most important part is that after this session, everyone knows what the opinion is of his or her colleagues, people will have a better understanding of each other.
There are also no bad improvement suggestions. Even things that seem unrealistic or just silly have to be written down. Things that seem silly to one person, might be normal to another. Things that might be unrealistic now, might be attainable tomorrow. Respect people by taking every suggestion serious.

A weak point of this exercise is that it is difficult to keep everybody’s attention during the discussion. A suggestion of a colleague of mine, was to let team members ask the ‘What has to happen to improve your grade?’ question to each other (still one at a time).

Of course you can use different themes, ‘How likely do you think it is that this functionality will delight our customers’, ‘Will this Scrum-thingy work in this organization’, etc.

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