(Remote) Team Building: Start on the Right Foot with the Team Member Canvas

Building a team is hard. The group inevitably needs to go through the stages of forming, storming, and norming before they can reach the performing stage (see Tuckman’s stages of group development). My job as manager of any team is navigating them through these stages and helping them cope with set-backs. Advice on this has been given in numerous articles on the Internet, for example here, here, and here.

I don’t want to repeat what has been explained well already elsewhere. My article merely offers you one potential tool to apply during the forming stage of a new team to lower the turbulences of the approaching storming stage: the Team Member Canvas.

What’s the Team Member Canvas?

The Team Member Canvas covers questions that I like to ask in my first 1-on-1 with a new direct report. The answers to these questions give me a first, rough impression of how I can work with a person.

  • When do you feel a sense of achievement at work? When do you get grumpy or frustrated?
  • What was the last thing you learned? What would you like to learn next?
  • Do you prefer to receive feedback verbally or written? Instantly or with delay? Would you like to be recognized for your accomplishments privately or publicly?
  • What are your strengths? Where do you see potential for improvement?
  • Where do you see yourself in three years?

I thought of these questions recently again when I started to build a new team assembled with colleagues coming from three different teams. They knew each other to some extent already, as they had been working in the same organizational area. However, they had not worked with each other, yet. I was wondering, do they know what makes each new team member tick? I certainly did not.

This was at the time when the pandemic caused by COVID-19 turned Babbel like many other software companies almost over night into an all-remote company. My task to build a new cross-functional team suddenly turned into a challenge: building this team remotely with most of us lacking experience in working remotely for an extended period of time. I feared that the remote setup would make it harder for my new team to get to know each other.

That’s why I put the questions mentioned above on a canvas. I asked the team members to form pairs and interview each other to fill out a canvas for their respective partner. The results were then shared with the group.

I am under no illusion that the team members now fully understand each other and that there will be no inter-personal friction in the storming stage. I am confident, though, that the canvas can help to lower the turbulences. Ask me again in a few weeks 😉

Make it your own.

If you find the Team Member Canvas helpful, feel invited to copy my Google Slide template or download a PDF version.

Make it your own. Modify it to best fit your purpose. For example, if you are embarking on a new project together with colleagues, you might want to replace some of the questions and instead ask for the motivation of the respective colleague to join the project or when they would consider the project to be a success. In fact, I got the idea to create the Team Member Canvas from my colleague Sarah Hause, who created a similar canvas for Babbel’s newly founded Works Council.

What’s next?

A reasonable follow-up activity could be to fill out a Team Canvas by Alex Ivanov together with your team.

Engineering Manager @ Babbel