Building a Team Playbook (Experimenting with The Atlassian Team Playbook to Make Your Own)

Atlassian made their Playbook publicly available in late 2016 and have been building on it since to provide a plethora of resources that are completely free. I highly recommend that your team at least takes a look through this high quality resource and experiment with its concepts. This post will not go into how awesome the Atlassian Playbook is (very), but rather how it can be used as a base template to experiment off of and mold your very own Playbook.

Our team began adopting parts of the Playbook gradually during the last few months. As we mastered the variety of plays we became curious about how to take it further. We eventually saw an opportunity to personalize this structure to better reflect our own team’s culture and values. Here’s the gradual practice we used:

  1. Gather Your Core Values. You know, those buzz words that sit in a company mission statement somewhere. These usually come in a set of 3–9 concepts that are essential to your team’s/company’s practices and product design. If these are not defined and your team is free to define these independently I’d suggest starting with this exercise first. Our team initially chose Flow, Empathy, and Trust.
Aggregate Results from Team Defining “Trust”

2. Rank Your Core Values. Run the trade-off slider play, but replace the software metrics with your team’s 3–9 core values. Your team should aim to have these core values distinctly ranked from most important to least important. We ranked ours Trust, Empathy, then Flow.

3. Add the Most Important Core Value to Your Health Monitor. On the next health monitor check-in add the top ranked core value along with a definition (determined in step 1) to the health monitor as a new attribute. Only add one at a time to gradually build up and thoroughly test new attributes on a solid foundation. There will certainly be redundancies and potential contradictions with the default set of attributes, but keep in mind that the spirit of this is meant to be experimental and iterative. Rate the new attribute’s health as your team would normally for the other default attributes.

4. Create or Determine 1–2 Plays to Address New Attribute’s Health. This is the fun part — with your team come up with some exercises to specifically address pain points related to the new attribute. This might be unnecessary if your team believes that the current set of plays is sufficient to address the attribute, which is totally okay. For example, one of our team’s new attributes Flow was defined as:

“The ability for the team to work with as little distraction and as much focus as possible. This will increase the likelihood that we reach a state of flow that result in higher productivity, quality, and benefits for our users.”

Some of this is addressed in existing plays — such as the daily stand-up when asked “what are your blockers?”, but we determined that less immediate environmental blockers get missed. To address this we created the Clean Your Room play where the team initially gathers for 15–20 minutes to discuss methods to better achieve Flow. We discuss questions like:

  • What is an acceptable disruption to Flow? (Family calls, service disruptions on production, etc…)
  • Who is currently been disrupting your flow, and has it been worth while? (email/slack notifications, team discussions that don’t require your input, etc…)
  • Has anything technical been technical been disrupting your flow? (slow connectivity, broken headphones, etc…)
  • How do you visualize your ideal flow state? (Are you alone? in a group? where is the rest of the team? How do you reach them if you need them? How do they reach you? what counts as an a reason to distract you or your teammates?)

After we discuss any strategies teammates have been using that have been beneficial to their personal flow. Once action items are gathered the team is given 40–60 minutes to “clean their room”. Our team is free to do anything physical or digital to alleviate any flow blockers that we might not generally feel comfortable during regular work hours. Some things that I’ve seen people use the time for:

  • Move or rearrange desks
  • Download browser extensions to limit notifications
  • Play with their phone settings to limit notifications
  • Tidy paperwork
  • Perform a computer defragmentation/disk clean-up
  • Organize their computer files
  • Restock drawers (stationary, food stuff, etc…)
  • Run errands (buy new head phones, or personal stuff that may be blocking them from reaching flow.)
  • Personal care (go to the gym, take a coffee break, go for a walk, etc…)

Basically anything goes as long as each member is back by the allotted time and they feel that their chosen activity will help them focus long term once the play is over.

5. Try Using a New Play From Step 4. If your team has determined that your new attribute needs some help, try out a custom play and observe how well your team engages in it. Note down any points of confusion or friction and get your team to write down anything that comes to mind.

6. Revisit Results in the Next Health Monitor Check-in. Perform a mini-retrospective on the custom play to see what the team thought went well, and what could have been done better. Also cross reference the attribute with the other attributes on the health monitor. Are there any adjustments needed? Should the new attribute remain in the health monitor? Is the team ready to experiment with a new attribute?

From our team’s Clean Your Room play we did iterate on the discussion questions as our environment evolved as a result of running this play. We managed to get a quieter office space for our team from the open space that we had before. This changed some of the dynamics and strategies we were interested in as a result.

7. Share. Part of the purpose and general ethos around this effort is to help unleash the potential of every team. Sharing your team’s results can potentially help other teams grow through your experiences. By all means, only share if your team is comfortable with it, but do take a look at the Playbook’s about page to get a deeper understanding of the motivations driving this innovation.

8. Repeat Steps 4–8 for Other Core-Values.

This practice is intended to be purely descriptive and not prescriptive. I hope other teams find this useful in growing their teams and show how the Atlassian Team Playbook can be molded to benefit teams of broad varieties. Always remember that great teams build great software and great businesses, not great individuals.