The prevalence of working from home in recent months has presented challenges for new starters. This is even more evident for new starters joining mature teams with established ways of working and an almost unwritten agreement about how things work in terms of the people, processes, and tools. The One Word Team Alliance creates a space where new members to a team can quickly understand existing ways of working.
The exercise avoids the traditional individual introductions – those can happen naturally – and helps a new team member understand more about the people who they will work with. In addition, this activity offers a space for the whole team to reflect on their shared values and working relationships.
- Paper and sharpie pen for the facilitator only.
- In the virtual space, this exercise works best when all participants have their video turned on.
- Ask the new starter(s) to close their eyes whilst you write a word on a post-it and share this with the rest of the team on video. The word you choose should be something that the existing team can relate to from their ways of working in a positive way. Some examples include:- Trust
- Once the existing team have seen and understood the word, the new starter(s) can then open their eyes. Make sure the new starter(s) doesn’t see the word as their challenge is to guess what word the team are describing!
- Ask each of the existing team members to briefly describe how they behave as a group when they do [insert word] at their best. Note that the team cannot use the exact word shared when giving their reflections.
- After a round robin of sharing, encourage the new starter(s) to guess the word.
- Repeat this process for around 3-4 words.
As the facilitator, you have the opportunity to dig a little deeper with the reflections shared by the existing team members and with your new starter(s).
To explore things further you may want to ask the following challenging questions after each round:
To the existing team:
- When have we as a team demonstrated this behaviour recently?
- When have we done this at our absolute best?
- What can we do to be even better in this space?
To the new starter(s):
- When have you seen this behaviour demonstrated well?
- What teams have you worked with when this behaviour has been at its best?
- What does this word mean to you?
When I first tried One Word Team Alliance, the new starters guessed all 4 words correctly which was great to help them with their initial introductions with the team. They came away with more of a feeling of what it meant to join an established team and understood some of the shared values.
Moreover, the exercise gave a chance to re-enforce some positive behaviours the team have demonstrated and to celebrate recent successes too.
This quick activity sets expectations for new starters about the existing culture of a team and helps them appreciate the space they are joining.
Thanks to Rita Gomes, one of my former Scrum Master peers, who put the seed of inspiration in my mind to create this team building exercise.