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The first Get Together of me and my remote team
Last week included a very important appointment: The first Get Together of me, another teammate here in Germany and my remote-working team. I saw most of them in the past, but we never had time to work together and learn to know each other. Because of another event happening in Germany, all of my three colleagues from Romania came to Braunschweig and stayed for four days.
Day one: Arriving and making some progress
We began our time together with going out for dinner in a nice restaurant. I think this was especially good for my travelling colleagues, who have been up since 5 in the morning and flying through Europe.
In the afternoon, we worked on finishing our current sprint. The goal was to make as much progress as possible before the customer joins us on the second day. We used this opportunity to explain several aspects of the current sprint to each other, including coding issues and business logic. I decided to end the day early because my colleagues have been travelling a lot on that day, which began to show in the afternoon hours.
Day two: Meeting the customer and having fun together
On the second day, we finished our current sprint by inviting the customer into our office, doing the sprint review and planning for the next sprint. That was the first time the customer got to meet our whole team. This face-to-face meeting helped the customer to understand the team and vice versa. Thinking about that, the greater part of my team would have never met the customer if it weren't for that meeting. Every tiny detail of how the client is thinking and deciding would have to be communicated by me to my Romanian colleagues. Only that way they can understand how to prioritize what to do when and in what detail.
After the meeting, we went to dinner together with the customer. That created a more relaxed situation in which more informal questions could be asked and answered. In the afternoon, we did our retrospective, for which I choose the Starfish format. Normally and via telephone, this only takes us 30 minutes. Last week, we had a very dense and productive retro that lasted for 2 hours. The outcome is in no way comparable to the outcome of the remote retros. We talked in more detail about what we did good and what we have to do better. One important point during this retro was the meeting with the customer. The team had a better understanding of what the customer wanted us to do and how his mood was.
At the end of the day, we went to play laser tag with colleagues from other teams. We played this game for over 3 hours, which was absolutely great. I learned that playing games and having fun is an important part of working together. This kind of event will be a regular part of our meetings from now on.
Day three: Choosing what to do next
The time that was available to us was partly spent by fixed appointments like meeting with the customer the day before. Besides that, we had plenty of time left. Because I believe in self-organizing teams, I didn't want to set up a plan everyone has to follow. Instead, I opted for a Barcamp-like agenda. Before going to the laser tag event on day two, we made a list of all those topics we never really got to. This list included a number of refactorings, discussing a better architecture, talking about business logic and a few smaller problems like cleaning up I18N properties and CSS files. First, we just added each of those to a simple notepad-list. Then, we prioritized this list. Everyone could give an item a "+" if she thinks this item is an important one to work on during our workshop. That gave us a prioritized list. It included items that could be worked on in parallel so that two developers were working their own problems while I explained something to the youngest team member.
The third day was used up entirely for working on our refactorings and programming tasks. In my opinion, we lowered our technical dept quite a bit in these few hours. Because we explained our work to each other, we gained an understanding of how to avoid those technical dept in the future.
Day four: Closing
The fourth and last day included a feedback talk about the event. I thought hard about the format of the feedback. I ended up at letting everyone rate aspects of the meeting. There were points like organization, food, meeting with the customer, the working-together-part and an overall mark that could be rated. Because the majority of the team was from Romania, we used the Romanian grade system where grades from "1" to "10" are given, "10" being the best. The laser tag event got an "11" from all of us. The overall event was also rated very highly with a "9".
The very last part of the Get Together was a hard one. Because one of the developers decided to leave the team to work on another technology stack, we had to bid her farewell, including handing over a small farewell present. It was very good that we had the chance to do this in person and not via Skype. Staff changes are one of the most profound changes that can be made. It's very important to experience a person making that decision to understand the context. When bidding my colleague farewell, I understood that leaving the team had a much more serious impact on her than I suspected.
The most important takeaway for me is a better understanding of how my teammates work and communicate. There have been situations in the past where I didn't know exactly why they reacted the way they did. Retrospectively, I understand some of these situations now. I think I have a better grasp of what is important to them and what is not. Even if that team event will not result in a clear, measurable "+10%" performance boost, the new common understanding of each other will smoothen difficult situations down the road.
After realizing what a huge step forward this meeting has been, I began to organize the next meeting which will take place sometime in March or April next year, which is 6 months from now. My goal is to have that kind of Get Together at least twice a year. There are good chances that those meetings will take place in Romania, where the major part of my team works. I'm very much looking forward to this.
If you are working in a remote team, do meet your team at least twice a year. Work together, meet your customer, let the customer meet the whole team. Have fun together playing laser tag or another game. This will enhance the understanding and mood in your team to a whole new level.