Fail at the Start

A couple of weeks ago I kicked off a Tech Council in the part of the organisation I am responsible for. The main purpose and mission for the Tech Council is to own and drive quality standards which — through the organic growth of the company — had a somewhat local nature.

My organisation develops and supports a wide range of software systems on which the company grew for over fifteen years. I envisioned the Tech Council as a representation of every department and development centre (we’re spread between four European locations) so we could have stronger buy-in for their decisions and to benefit from having go-to people available in every site.

Election of representatives went well and here we were with the group of tech people “ready” to get to work.

I think that no one in the group had previous experience of setting up or facilitating such a forum so very quickly we realised that some help in this area was needed.

After couple of sessions of Tech Council meetings one of my colleagues pointed out that we have made a mistake in how we formed a team.

We wanted the Tech Council to represent wide group of teams. Through our election and selection process we wanted the Tech Council to have credibility and respect among all the teams. So our Tech Council got formed out of technical specialists who also can collaborate really well.

I forgot however that these people hardly ever worked with each other so far. They came from different departments and usually had no common challenges to face. The fact that I knew majority of them made me blind to the problem that they had: no working relationship through which they could learn how to work together effectively. No social capital to build upon.

And to make things even worse they needed to collaborate over geographical distance right from the start.

We discussed the issue within the group and decided to find a date for an off-site facilitated meeting which would enable the whole team to meet in person and build working relationships.

So what did I learn from that?

Mind the Team

To be able to progress with the work effectively the group needs to become a team and that requires conscious effort and planning. The kick-off session should have a form of f2f meeting through which all new members of Tech Council would have the opportunity to build relations and accumulate social capital.

Design for Success

In our election process we did consider strengths and personalities of individuals but we actually forgot to see how they compliment each other. I think we are lucky to have a good team but I would feel a bit better if we did consider also that aspect and had some idea how these people could help each other to fulfill their mission. The right mix of skills should include in this case also facilitation of meetings and a bit of an admin.

Respect the Timing

We planned the kick-off of Tech Council for quite a long time. Things got delayed multiple times and we ended up in the summer holiday season for the first sessions of the Tech Council. Holidays made it simply impossible to find a relatively close date for an away day for the Tech Council. Next time I need to get things prepared and scheduled during the year so the initial, foundational part of the work of the team can be performed as much as possible in person.

Seems like a leadership and team-building 101 but somehow we see such things with greater clarity with hindsight.