Understanding what your team needs means understanding their assumptions.

Everyone comes to a team with certain assumptions about how work gets done, how to communicate, and a million other things. To function as a cohesive unit, people need to understand what assumptions they are working with. “In a team, there may be someone interrupting and talking all the time, and your assumption might be that they’re a jerk,” says Christina Wodtke, principal of her , Wodtke Consulting, and professor at California College of the Arts and Stanford Continuing Education. “Everybody is walking around with an idea of how you are supposed to behave in business, and it is not the same idea, believe you me.”  


For this reason Christina recommends that every team a charter of norms: “Norms are just, ‘How do we agree we are going to work together? What are we going to do when we disagree? Are we going to make proposals? Are we going to just fight it out? How do we make a decision?’” To help develop a team charter, she suggests starting with the eight scales outlined in Erin Meyer’s book The Culture Map. The scales address expectations surrounding communicating, evaluating, persuading, leading, deciding, trusting, disagreeing, and scheduling.

Measure to learn and improve your team.

Whether you’re starting a new team or trying to improve an existing team, “you can’t really take your first step without looking at the team and measuring,” Janet says. This could mean tabulating assumptions, as with The Culture Map scales, or assessing the current sentiment—in other words, how do people feel about the team spirit. “It could be something as simple as every time you have a team meeting, doing a team temperature gage—a one-to-five scale or thumbs up/thumbs down,” Janet says. From there, the important thing is acting on that information. For example, understanding why a team may be feeling closer to a one, and then working to remedy the problem. Fundamentally, it is applying the Lean methodology of build-measure-learn to your team dynamics.


Although teams vary across companies, an effective Lean team should start small and be cross-functional. Creating clear ground rules, working to ensure everyone contributes, and checking in regularly to assess how individuals are feeling helps create a productive working environment, and from there, you can continually fine-tune based on feedback. Accept that you will have to iterate your team because effective teams are committed to continuous improvement. “It means never accepting your team as done,” says Christina.



To learn more about Lean teams, join us at Lean Startup Week October 30th – November 5th in San Francisco. Christina Wodtke, Courtney Hemphill, and Janet Brunckhorst will be leading breakout sessions on crafting effective teams.




This post was originally published on Lean Startup Co.’s blog.



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