A couple of years ago, I started working with a new development team. As a coach, I spend the first few days observing behaviours and saying very little beyond a joke here and there.
Well, this team didn’t seem to have a process or technical problem, but I noticed a strange trend at their morning standups. People were being a bit “bitchy” to each other and focusing on people rather than on the work to be done.
You could hear things like
“well, my card is still there because I have been spending all day reviewing Frank’s pull request, not great…”
“I was writing the new stories but then Jack changed his mind… again…”
et cetera, I’m pretty sure you know the drill.
So on day 3 I went to the standup and I said, folks, let’s do an experiment. Before you say anything, you have got to say something nice about one of your teammates, shall we try?”
People looked at me like if I had seven heads, so I went “I’ll go first. Frank, you’re looking good today, I like your shirt, very smart”
People laughed. Then they tried.
I could see they were spending some time trying to find something nice to say, they were looking at something they liked about their teammates.
As humans, we are very good at finding flaws in people, on the other hand, we need to make an effort to find something we like about them, but if we try, we can discover something that we like, helping us connect.
Another consequence of this approach was that people realised their behaviour was not acceptable without being told and felt that they came up with the idea of reducing the bitching remarks.
All in all an easy win with very little effort.
WARNING: This approach won’t produce any positive effect if the hostility between team members derives from long-standing hatred, but it works very well with newly formed teams where people are trying to make themselves noticed sometimes using means that might be confrontational to their teammates.