The art (and game) of introducing yourself to a new team
Recently I took the difficult personal decision to move from the business domain where I had been for over six years since graduation – Supply Chain – and into the technology, systems and completely different domain of Payroll.
Everyone around me has been hugely supportive in this self-learning exercise and my new team leader put it best: throughout their career and all the way until retirement, a successful individual will go from being a small fish in a big pond to being a big fish in a small pond. It’s then you need to reset and get in a bigger pond again and this is the only way you can continue to grow.
Introducing yourself and your own style to a new team can be difficult – as can learning the nuances of others and integrating into what is already a performant group. One of my new colleagues – Felipe – introduced me to the Steam game called “Keep talking and nobody explodes”, a collaborative puzzle game aimed at rewarding good inter-team communication skills. We thought we would give it a go!
The game features a bomb, obviously. But importantly only one person is allowed to see it. Each of the sections of the bomb is a different type of puzzle; for instance the bottom left module in this image is a vertical wire puzzle where some wires need to be cut and others definitely not cut to succeed.
The rest of your group gets the manual! For a simple puzzle it gives explanations such as:
If there is a single yellow wire, cut the third wire. Otherwise…
More complex puzzles may require you to remember previous steps you have undertaken as well as build up a virtual image of where you are currently based on what the defuser is telling you. We opted not to use any pens or paper to aid us since it would have removed a lot of the confusion that good group communication and building consensus can actually resolve.
Communication is the number one key to this game. The defuser needs to constantly and articulately express what is on their screen. The group with the manual must gather consensus on the right course of action through speaking but also listen keenly to the information they are getting from the defuser and each other.
Get one of these things wrong and you get…
No matter how good you are at this game eventually there will be explosions. Learning from failure is a key part of this game and seeing behaviour like blaming each other or getting frustrated would be an instant indicator of underlying problems.
Fortunately for us we saw none of that, and the session was filled with shared ‘oooooooooohs’ as we became unsure, claps when we finally solved a complex challenge, and admissions of ‘my bad, guys!’ when anyone inadvertently made the wrong call.
A circle… with a line through it…. with a T on top!
One of the puzzles involved four random symbols and the defuser has to select them in the correct order. Unless you’re a pro at greek alphabet knowing your lambdas from your phis from your dotted lunate sigmas – there is going to be an element of ‘I have like a circle with a line through it with a big T on top rotated at 45 degrees’. Oh you mean a washing line on a manhole cover!
This is a hidden gem of an opportunity where the team quickly build common language to describe complex situations whether you see a washing line in that icon or not. In technology, understanding what someone means when they say ‘visitor pattern’ is easy – you can read a book on it! Understanding what your fellow colleague precisely means when they say visitor pattern – in reference to the unique way in which it was implemented to solve a problem three months ago – that is something you’re going to have to learn by reading clues from those around you. This vital cross-knowledge is part and parcel of the ‘forming, storming, norming, performing’ cycle of team behaviour and practising the skills relevant to getting to ‘performing’ fast is vital.
Too big a room
We conducted this experiment over 1.5 hours. For the first hour it was five people in a room designed for 12+. We thought this was perfect, each of us spread out the paperwork for our manuals and got down to picking up the relevant bit of the manual at the relevant time and working collaboratively to solve it. Quite often a leader would emerge – someone who had read a little faster or found the page a little earlier or perhaps just understood how to read a Venn diagram a bit quicker than the rest. There was a bit of consensus gathering but mostly we went with the first answer to get to the defuser.
In the last half hour we were in a room really designed for six. People couldn’t spread out as much and at one point three of us were gathered around a single set of manuals with much more consensus being driven and more people being able to keep up with where we were on a challenge.
It is very hard to not be heard or indeed to be timid with your ideas when you are all in an appropriately confined space. I contrast this with the often vast meeting rooms that we use for Sprint retrospectives or the likes that require everyone to turn their heads constantly 60+ degrees to see if people are in agreement or not and whether everyone has had their chance to get their points across and will have to consider more often in future to book much smaller rooms wherever possible.
Breaking the ice
By the end of today’s session it was very easy to feel an integrated part of the social structure that makes up a team. I had the opportunity to see a great deal of situations in which people could have gotten easily frustrated with one another but actually all were willing to correct or be corrected by their colleagues. Work is often as much a professional as social grouping of like minded individuals and I find I am already building my appreciation for the talents and articulate nature of those around me.
As team building events go, a meeting room for an hour or so, an £11 game on Steam, and a few black and white printouts is a pretty cheap and surprisingly successful way of integrating a new member into the team dynamic.