written by Iuri Matsuura
The majority of the iOS engineering team at ImmobilienScout24 is relatively new. Since last year it has grown from 2 to 7 engineers (more to come) and despite the fact that all of them are committing to the same code base and working with the same technology, they are part of different teams across the organization. Such strategy has great benefits but it also brings a few challenges we have to deal with every now and then.
During a retrospective meeting one of the engineers raised the concern that he barely knew the other new engineers. In fact some of them were seldom interacting due to the fact that they were assign to different squads. As a manager one of my responsibilities is to ensure teamwork and, in that moment, it immediately popped into my head the idea of having an iOS-specialists Offsite.
The plan was to be entirely disconnected from our day-to-day environment — no computers, KPI’s, stand-ups, code reviews etc. Instead it should be about the people and there was one single goal: strengthen our relationships.
The first activity was a short icebreaker so that each one of us could open up ourselves, get to know more about of each other and warm up for the upcoming activities.
Having the team sitting in a shape of a circle, I opened a pack of M&M and gave to the person next to me. I asked him/her to take one M&M and, depending on the chocolate’s color, that person had to answer a question related to a certain topic (see image below). Once replied, the pack was passed to the next one. We did 3 rounds and the answers to each question were surprisingly interesting.
Communication is certainly the biggest challenge companies are facing every day. The second activity focused on mitigating such a problem by forcing us to really do our best when communicating.
Put pairs of participants on a back-to-back sitting position, give one of them some kind of drawing (I suggest something in the form of shapes) and the other one an empty paper and a pen. Then ask the person with the drawing to tell what he’s seeing so that his colleague is able to draw the same figure as accurate as possible. You might be surprised with the results.
The power of appreciation
According to Dale Canergie “Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain” is one of the best ways to win someone else’s trust. Instead praise them for what they are good at or for the great things they do. There is no one better than your peers to give you feedback.
I asked all the engineers to write down one thing they appreciate the most about each one of their colleagues. Once they were finished someone had to volunteer to be the in the center of the circle so that every other participant could give his direct feedback. The cycle happened to everyone (in a 360 feedback manner) and, by the end, it was noticeable how positive and vibrating the environment was.
In Agile companies “self organization” is a big topic and I wanted to demonstrate how the team could be empowered and self-organize itself to accomplish a certain task by just knowing the target goal. Ask everyone to sit in different locations spread around the room and give one of them a medium-size ball. Ask the person to throw the ball to someone else who hadn’t held the ball so far. Repeat that until the ball returns to the first person. Track how long this cycle took and repeat the same sequence focusing on improving the time. The team could do that in amazing 1 second. ;)
What should a manager do?
As a manager I am constantly assessing my own skills and not only trying to improve but to adapt them according to different kind of circumstances we experience from time to time. One way of getting such adaptability is to listen to what my direct reports expect me to do.
I asked a colleague — who was assisting me to organize the entire offsite — to moderate this session and gather feedback and expectations on my role as an Engineering manager. At the end, I did a short presentation about how I see the role and interestingly many things overlap — showing that we are, to a certain extent, on the same page.
Game of crowns
The clock was ticking. There were numbers everywhere. The room was dark and all of us were chained to the wall. No one knew exactly where to start. We were split into 2 teams of 4 participants each and one main goal: take ownership of the Royal Crown! The day ended with this incredible escape game!
Organizing an offsite can be a demanding task but you can make it simple and productive by picking a good location, setting up a clear goal and agenda and asking somebody to help you. Despite the effort all in all the feedback from the participants about the entire day was very positive and they share the same opinion of “It went beyond my expectations”. We’ve heard things we wouldn’t be likely to hear during day-to-day work, everyone was more familiar with each other and I got some valuable feedback on areas I should focus on. My belief is this experience will contribute to the formation of a great team and more importantly to foster an environment where individuals can become better. Every day.