Why happy teams are productive and resilient teams

In a multi-disciplinary team working on complex projects, having the brightest people on board will count for little if they are miserable and can’t get along. In fact, a strong team culture and connection can be the secret ingredient which can make or break success.

Management leader Peter Drucker encapsulated this when he declared, “culture eats strategy for breakfast” — and indeed, fostering a positive culture benefits individuals, teams and organisations.

During my time working in product development, I have witnessed Peter Drucker’s sentiments come to life, and thought it worthwhile sharing the benefits of creating happy teams.

For instance, my current development team, which maintains and builds mobile apps for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age have successfully delivered what they committed to at every milestone. This is despite it being a large team — significantly bigger than the size recommended by Scrum, and with aggressive delivery deadlines. I attribute their success to their hard work, dedication and also the strong relationships between team members.

The team culture we have developed includes accountability, camaraderie and a fair bit of banter. In a project that has required constant daily collaboration (i.e. between iOS, Android, back end services and quality engineers), the personal connections and trust formed have made this collaboration smoother and more enjoyable. The psychological safety that comes with the family vibe means that team members feel comfortable raising concerns and know that these can be debated in a safe environment.

Smooth collaboration is also key to the core philosophy of the Agile framework. The first value of the Agile Manifesto is “individuals and interactions over processes and tools”, highlighting how clear communication can be more critical to success than many traditionally understood project tools.

So what are some of the benefits of happy and well-bonded teams?

Resolve team conflicts faster

At team retrospectives, teams who feel safer and supported can air any issues or concerns, satisfying the Agile ideals of transparency, inspection, and adaptation.

At Metro Product & Tech, the strong community we have developed has resulted in easier and clearer communication not only within teams, but also across teams.

Sometimes there are situations when the needs of one team clash with the needs of another, for example when a person is being stretched across multiple streams, or teams don’t have capacity to help out with an urgent blocker. We have found that the relationships formed can help in discussions which lead to solutions that work for both parties. No politics — just respectful debate and innovative thinking.

Learn from each other

People who are comfortable working together are more likely to be open to learning from each other. In pair programming or peer reviewing, or in any day-to-day collaboration, it is a great opportunity to expand knowledge by listening to feedback and suggestions from people with diverse experiences.

Let off steam together

When deadlines are looming, things are not going to plan, and the pressure is on, the build up of stress can make interactions more tense.

A strong team foundation makes it significantly easier to defuse the situation, either with a silly and fun activity at retrospective, an honest conversation, or a team break for coffee or lunch. Sometimes it just takes a laugh at stand up to take it back down a notch, and come up with a plan for the next steps.

Less turnover, stable teams

This one is good for the team and good for the business. People who feel happy and supported at work have an extra incentive to stay at the company. Over time they can get to know their teammates better, continue to grow as people and friends, and optimise the way they work together.

Better quality of life

Personally I am an advocate of workplaces where people can show their genuine personalities and need not maintain a professional persona at all times. If we can celebrate personal and team victories together and support our colleagues in times of need, then life is a bit better. Plus, having a laugh will help lower stress levels, and can contribute to better health.

And after all, we spend most of our time at work, so isn’t it worth making it a better place?

So, what’s next?

Keep an eye out for next blog in the series: tips on how to help foster a positive team culture.