The Ways of Working Canvas

“We know our tank’s weaknesses, quirks, all the faults it’s going to have and how to solve them,” says Major Ridgway. “Sometimes all from a different engine noise.” This level of familiarity is essential for what the military calls “small unit cohesion” — the mental and physical codependency that improves not just morale but efficiency and quick understanding in combat situations.*

There’s a great feeling that comes from working in a small team made up of the same people for a long time. Everything clicks, you’re a well oiled machine where everyone knows their part and that of their teammates, working together unthinkingly to move forward as a unit.

But that level of intimacy — codependency as the military puts it — can take a long time to develop. Sometimes it feels like we’ve just got there when the project team is disbanded.

At Market Gravity we work in small teams for short, intense projects. We have to deliver a high volume and high quality of work in a very short amount of time, often working in a team with people we’ve never worked with before.

The quicker we can become a cohesive unit, the quicker we can produce great work.

I developed the Ways of Working Canvas as a way for teams who work in high pace environments to accelerate that process of cohesion.

The Ways of Working Canvas. Download it now.

4 Steps to Tighter Teams

Here’s one way I’ve used the canvas to great effect. It could work for you too!

1. Each team member fills out the canvas on their own (they’ll need some time to prep this)

2. On the first day of the project hold a session for each team member to present back their canvas to the whole team

3. As the presentations go on identify similarities and areas of conflict and note them on a flipchart

4. At the end of the presentation, return to the flipchart and determine what actions the team will take and what behaviours you will adopt to work cohesively

My take on the Team Canvas for small, fast paced projects. Download it now

I also recommend taking the output from this session and using it as an input into your favourite project kick off process like the Team Canvas, NOBL’s Project Charter or my own take on the canvas designed for small, fast moving teams.

A tip

Project Aristotle, Google’s research project into high performing teams, found that sharing something personal at the start of a project can go someway to creating the psychological safety required to do great work as a team.

This has been borne out in practice. When filling out the canvas I push myself to be as open and transparent and possible, and encourage my teammates to do the same. The more honest you are, the better this works.

Download the Ways of Working Canvas.

Download the Project Team Canvas

I’d love to hear how you use the canvas and any suggestions you have to improve it. Drop me a line.


Thanks to Tammo Wiersum for early feedback and support on this project.

Thanks to The Team Canvas for inspiring me to build on it.

*Quote from Fury: All you need to know about life in a tank published in The Telegraph, October 2014, which got me all fired up about ‘small cohesive units’.