How to make teamwork satisfying again
Make teamwork a source of motivation for your teams with these battle-tested tactics.
We all join new teams with our unique assumptions and expectations about teamwork. I believe that understanding where these expectations come from is essential to building a productive team environment.
Here are some battle-tested practices for making teamwork a source of satisfaction to your team so that it helps them tackle complex projects like developing a piece of software.
Let’s start with our expectations of teamwork
The assumptions that impact teamwork come from 3 different sources:
1. Individual expectations — these are the unique assumptions every team member brings in when they join a team.
For example, here’s how I define successful teamwork:
- Working with people I can learn from,
- Clearly defined requirements,
- Possibility of remote work,
- Focus on well-being and work-life balance,
- Best practices like pair programming, code coverage, code reviews,
- Greenfield projects.
2. The client’s expectations — all stakeholders bring their assumptions to the project, and one of them is the client. The client’s expectation will vary depending on the project’s focus and scope, as well as the core values and objectives of their business.
Here are some common expectations of clients in my sector (IT):
- Quick validation of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP),
- Project delivery within budget,
- Efficient communication,
- Proactivity and engagement.
3. The employer’s expectations — the employer is another project stakeholder and the assumptions the company holds about teamwork will impact the work carried out in the project as well.
Here are a few examples of employer expectations:
- Delivery of work according to company standards,
- Active participation in all ceremonies,
- Completion of assigned tasks.
So many expectations in one place = potential for conflicts
As you can see, the expectations held by each of these three groups are very different. That’s because each of them enters the project with a different goal in mind.
Individual team members want to work on projects that are challenging and help them to expand their skill set. Clients want to build a product within the set budget and deadline. And employers are looking to deliver results that satisfy clients.
When divergent goals meet, conflicts are inevitable.
But where exactly do these conflicts come from? Here are some common origins of conflicts in teams:
- Lack of common language,
- Lack of process understanding,
- Lack of product/client understanding,
- Lack of proactivity,
- Lack of common goal.
Satisfaction from work ≠ satisfaction from teamwork
We need to start considering satisfaction from work and satisfaction from teamwork as separate and independent of each other.
Just because you’re satisfied with your work in general, it doesn’t mean that you’re also satisfied with the quality of teamwork.
Here’s how to make teamwork satisfying again
I’m going to give you a roadmap for solving teamwork issues step by step and developing a satisfying team environment that matches the expectations of all the involved stakeholders.
PROBLEM 1 — Lack of common language
Solution? Establishing what “satisfaction from teamwork” actually means.
The first problem you need address in your team is the lack of a common language. The goal here is developing an understanding of “satisfaction from teamwork” that will be shared by all project stakeholders. It’s about coming up with a definition that will make sense to everyone.
Here’s why taking time to establish a common definition of satisfying teamwork is worth it:
When a team doesn’t have a common language to talk about the quality of teamwork, any discussion about the topic may cause a misunderstanding.
Consider how the lack of a common language plays out in software development:
Example 1: Definition of done
“Done” is a status teams assign to tasks that have been completed or resolved. “Done” can mean different things to team members depending on their experience and the definitions of done established in their previous teams. For one developer, “Done” may mean that they’re done with programming a feature. For another, it may mean that they’re done programming, testing, ensuring the feature deployable, and documenting it. Makes a difference, right?
Example 2: User/client/customer
These three words can be really problematic if used interchangeably. Imagine this: during a stand-up meeting, one team member refers to the “customer,” but in the code, they switch to another term and talking about the “user.” Other team members will struggle to find that reference in the code because they’ll be expecting it to appear as the “customer.”
PROBLEM 2 — Lack of process understanding
Solution? Creating a process that works.
People often consider processes as potentially harmful to productivity and creativity. They don’t understand why formalizing processes is worth their time. But even the most well-organized and synchronized agile team will become chaotic without processes.
Teams that want to improve the quality of teamwork need to accept that processes are there to help them, not hinder their daily work.
At Sunscrapers, we make a conscious effort of defining and optimizing our processes so that they serve our teams best.
Here are 8 tactics for creating a productive communication process that makes teamwork more satisfying:
- Be present and engaged,
- Always turn the camera on,
- Be a process guardian yourself,
- Agree on common working hours — for example, our teams agree to work within a specific time interval to enable live communication.
- Avoid communicating in private,
- Adjust the communication level to participants,
- Create a common language,
- Answer questions right away.
PROBLEM 3 — Lack of product/client understanding
Solution? Balance client requirements and the best technological solutions.
Here’s what teams often complain about:
- “The client has no expertise,”
- “They don’t understand the product or know the process,”
- “They want the impossible from the team,”
- “They change their mind all the time!”
And here what they might be thinking about the product:
- “I would do it differently, “
- “This functionality doesn’t make sense,”
- “Nobody will want this product.”
Sounds familiar? Here’s the catch: being negative doesn’t help anyone — neither the team, nor the client.
That’s why teams need to balance client requirements and technological solutions.
Start by having your team ask these questions:
- Do we always need to carry out the code review?
- Do we always need to pick the most innovative technologies?
- Could we work without QA?
PROBLEM 4 — Lack of proactivity
Solution? Encourage proactivity and team transparency.
If all team members are engaged, they can make the most of their competencies. That’s how teams get the best knowledge and skills on board. By being proactive, we can address individual expectations, the client’s expectations, and the employer’s expectations. We get one step ahead in the expectations game.
Transparency is important as well because it inspires trust. It makes the team aware of its wins and failures — and that’s critical for managing projects, risks, and client expectations.
But how do you build team transparency and foster a proactive approach among team members? Here are a few things you can do:
- Reward proactive behavior — for example, offer an extra perk to employees who come up with solutions to problems,
- Act on the team’s suggestions — empower team members by showing that their opinion matters,
- Create a culture of trust — honesty and regular feedback are the backbones of transparent teams,
- Be solution-oriented — ask employees to report problems together with solutions,
- Develop a transparent workflow — use project management tools to help team members see what others are up to and never lose the big-picture view of the project,
- Be transparent — lead by example: explain your decisions to the team to help them understand your motives and goals.
PROBLEM 5 — Lack of a common goal
Solution? Developing a common goal, delivering the product within the set process, using a common language.
Finally, happy teams are the ones that have a common objective and stick to it.
Here are some battle-tested methods that help teams achieve and reinforce common goals:
Develop a common language for your team. Be quick and positive in your responses. Make sure that your team establishes a flow of information exchange. And deliver feedback in a timely manner.
Deep product understanding
Knowing the rationale behind project tasks is critical for establishing a sense of a common goal. Share knowledge about the product and its context to help team members see how their actions influence the big picture.
Informing about potential threats
Ensure that team members are aware of potential threats to the project early on. Such surprises often have a negative impact on teamwork.
Only a team of proactive individuals can achieve its potential. Encourage proactivity by rewarding it and showing how individual actions impact the big picture.
Foster transparency in your team by showing individual members that you take their opinion into account when making decisions. Implement a project management tool that makes teamwork more transparent.
Ensuring that the team follows processes
Build team processes together to make sure that they address the needs and requirements of your team. And then monitor whether and how team members are following them.
What is satisfaction from teamwork all about?
Building on what I’ve outlined above, here are the essential conditions teams need to meet to ensure a high quality of teamwork:
- A goal which is understandable to all team members,
- Proactive and transparent communication,
- Understanding of product and client requirements,
- Sticking to processes,
- Using a common language.
The key here is transforming these elements into the expectations of every stakeholder. Once you manage to accomplish that, you’ll have a satisfied team that delivers fantastic results.