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Welcome to The Rabbit Hole, the definitive developers podcast. If you are a software developer or technology leader looking to stay on top of the latest news in the software development world, or just want to learn actionable tactics to improve your day-to-day job performance, this podcast is for you.

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28. Team Building

Today’s episode is brought to you all the way from the Plattekill Mountains, at a ski lodge in upstate New York. In the show today we are talking about team building and the many different ways to do it. We also jump into how it could help the overall energy that it brings to your team, as well as your projects and the things that you are working on. The keys to building between coworkers starts with vulnerability of leaders and voluntary participation from employees. Tune in to hear more about the different types of team building exercises, how to truly start building trust between coworkers, and what an open space, unstructured platform can do for your employees. This, and much more on today’s episode. Take a listen!

Key Points From This Episode:

  • How karaoke can be a great team building and trust exercise.
  • Why voluntary team building events are most effective.
  • The benefits of a client-focused team building event.
  • The open space concept; why it is a great fit for consultants.
  • Team building exercises that are best for teams who are just starting to build trust.
  • How the human tribal nature affects teams.
  • The importance of breaking lessons down into small steps.
  • And much more!

Transcript for Episode 28. Team Building

[0:00:01.9] MN: Hello and welcome to The Rabbit Hole, the definitive developer’s podcast in bone chilling, freezing cold, Plattekill, upstate New York. The panelist today are.

[0:00:13.9] WJ: William Jeffries.

[0:00:14.8] DA: Dave Anderson

[0:00:16.1] EG: Emanuel Genard.

[0:00:14.8] MN: And today we’ll be talking about team building. Before we get into that, I just like to let everyone know who are currently listening that we’re recording not in the usual downtown Manhattan setting, but over at Plattekill Mountains, New York at the ski lodge.

It’s a great view, we’ve had this view the entire day and a lot of striders today, went and skied and got some hot coco and s’mores and it’s been an amazing day. So if you hear any background noises, it’s because we’re in the lodge and it has people walking around and doing what you do at a ski resort, I guess. But there’s a fire place, it’s nice and warm here and we hope that you enjoy the episode.

Today we’re talking about team building and many different ways to do it and how it could help the overall energy that it brings to your team and your project and the things that you’re working on. Does anyone like any particular team building exercise you like to do it with the clients that you’re in, or on a day-to-day basis?

[0:01:19.0] WJ: I’m a big fan of Karaoke. I actually don’t like karaoke to be perfectly honest. I’m pretty terrible at it, it’s always embarrassing but I think it’s a really effective team building exercise because it requires people to — usually with the help of alcohol because that’s the only way I’d be able to get it done — to make themselves vulnerable and the thing that they’re probably not very good at in front of coworkers.

When you trust your coworkers enough to sing terribly in front of them and they trust you and then afterwards, they don’t make fun of you for it, it’s a powerful thing that makes me feel like I can trust my coworkers more later.

[0:01:55.6] MN: If no one hasn’t notice, the reason why my voice sounds the way it does unlike normal podcast episode is because last night, we did some insane shredding in karaoke and it was amazing. I might do that, like just go to karaoke so I could just have this voice like all the time. I don’t know if it’s Monday night, karaoke with the team, let’s go, yeah.

[0:02:14.1] DA: Tuesday night podcast.

[0:02:18.1] WJ: Yeah, you really killed it with I’m On a Boat there.

[0:02:20.9] EG: That song is amazing.

[0:02:23.4] MN: You don’t know the song ladies and gentlemen, you should go check it out and then afterwards, get on a boat, it’s great.

[0:02:30.0] EG: You know, I think for team building to be effective, there has to be some level of self-determination with the people going in. As in, it’s got to be voluntary. There has been some forced team building where I remember one specifically, the first orientation for, as a freshman in college and they had these things where you went around and said something like, I don’t know, your first name an adjective that describes that gets with the same letter as the first — something like that. It was just…

[0:03:03.4] WJ: Yeah, the name game, I remember. We do this too.

[0:03:06.7] EG: It’s terrible because —

[0:03:09.0] MN: Marvelous Michael.

[0:03:10.3] EG: Yeah, Marvelous Michael. I would like Eccentric Emmanuel. What does that mean, Right? Well, I’m the weird one now, right? Yeah, there has to be some way for the person to say no and that would be okay as well, or to not come and that would be okay as well and also, if you’re going to ask someone do something like karaoke, I would hope that say, a team lead, a senior person would be the one who sings first.

[0:03:37.2] WJ: Oh yeah, that’s important to set the stage, set the tone that it is okay to be vulnerable here by having the leader go first.

[0:03:43.4] EG: That we’re having fun here, yeah. It’s okay to be terrible and enjoy it as much as you can, yeah.

[0:03:49.9] WJ: Yeah, safety is super important.

[0:03:52.0] MN: You put Journey on and just like rip and don’t worry about it. Everyone loves you for it.

[0:03:57.0] EG: Close your eyes and then believe.

[0:04:00.8] MN: The one that I’ve seen actually in a multiple places that I’ve worked at is game night. Game night is usually like happens after hours at work but the office is still open where people can come in and participate and either it’s board games or it’s like video game consoles, it totally depends on the audience of what people like to play. But if the company allows the employees to have that nurturing culture to do things after work at the office, I think it’s pretty important because then you again, you’re spending more time that is in front of a computer or responding to this email or what not. You are getting other experiences with your teammates.

[0:04:45.0] WJ: There is one really cool team building exercise from a client of mine. Normally I wouldn’t mention a client’s name but I really want to give them a shout out for this because it was really cool. A client that I was working at was Slice, which is an app. Here’s a free plug guys! It’s an app to help people order real pizza, like not Dominos and Papa Johns.

[0:05:05.7] DA: Right.

[0:05:07.0] WJ: You know, they call it big pizza, you know? The man.

[0:05:10.8] MN: It’s the little guy.

[0:05:11.7] WJ: Little guys, it’s the independent ones that actually make the best quality stuff. It’s a platform for ordering pizza from them. One of the team building exercises that they did was pizza safaris where they would take groups of employees together for a half day to go on a tour of different pizzerias that were on their platform and so they got to actually meet their customers.

[0:05:32.9] EG: Oh man, that’s really cool.

[0:05:36.1] WJ: You know, try their pizza and that, I think if you can tie in your actual core business into a team building activity in a way that it includes people who are an important part of the business like customers, that you normally don’t have a ton of contact with, that can be really powerful team building exercise particularly if you’re having trouble getting people onboard with the idea of taking time away from work.

[0:06:02.8] DA: Yeah. I guess in that vein also, I really like the — some of the things that we do at the Stride quarterly meeting, having to open space, I feel like that’s like very much aligned to our business as consultants and kind of, its own kind of team building thing where you have that self-determination, you’re figuring out if you want to be at one thing or another and kind of building something. I guess maybe, since I had mentioned it, this is not a common thing. I probably need to get some kind of a context about what it is.

[0:06:33.0] MN: What is an open source?

[0:06:35.4] DA: So an open space is kind of like conference where there’s many different sessions that are happening and many different places at different time slots. But it’s completely blank to start with and all the people who are there determine what the different talks are going to be, they sign up for their interests and then, you know, the best efforts are made to accommodate the most popular ones and then people decide where they want to spend their time and what they want to talk about. I think that as consultants, that’s really right up our alley. It always feels really good doing that. Even though it’s kind of more towards the structured end than the unstructured end of team building, community building that they’re talking about.

[0:07:19.2] MN: Yeah, I say that because in this particular example, the organization has like the structure and kind of like set the tone of what is the open space but the employees are the one who are adding content to each open space and the talks that they want to be a part of. Those same people can also participate in other people’s talks and what they want to listen.

That way, you have the organization gives you that space for you to collaborate with people on different topics that don’t normally pertain, some of them can be pertained to work and some of them could be like out of whack and is still brings all your employees together and all your developers together to share similar interests no matter what it is. Whether it’s programming or video games or talking about your favorite comedian. There’s an open space for that, enough people, bam, it’s happened.

[0:08:13.8] WJ: What’s a good team building exercise for teams that have never done any exercises like this before and need to start building trust either because they’re new or because that’s a thing that they’re trying to make a bigger part of their culture?

[0:08:30.8] MN: For me, I always found, when building trust with other developers or the client, it always goes back to taking people out for coffee because you’re doing something — or like even tea if they don’t drink coffee, because you’re giving that space to just like, “Hey, I’m getting you some coffee and let’s just chat,” and it could be about anything. Usually you can do like your feedback session at that time but it doesn’t have to always be like feedback. You could just go and talk about whatever it is, like just like take things offline from work I think.

That alone is very important. If you take 15 minutes to just take your workspace offline and just talk about what they did over the weekend or if they saw a movie, what do they think about the movie? If any of their hobbies or interest of the other individual, if you have a genuine interest in that too, and sparking a conversation within that, it is the beginning of building that trust.

[0:09:27.2] DA: Yeah, I guess also like kind of taking things out of a more structured environment and bringing it to a casual place where you can kind of get a more rounded trust of them and a picture of who they are.

[0:09:39.6] EG: I found that to be really true at the client I’m at where we didn’t do anything outside of work honestly and then, you know, we at our company have a budget to take the client out to lunch a certain number of times a month. So we started doing that and we really just got a feel for who the other clients were as people. It was really interesting to see, we got a fuller picture of these other two people that we worked with every day that we basically didn’t really know, honestly.

It’s also like, it’s brought other points of contact, other things we could talk about other than the code base we’re working on. When I come in, you know, I can ask one client about his favorite sports team or another client about, you know, the move that he just made to a new part of New York where it’s really like he’s got to take the windows, metro north things to get to the office, takes him an hour and a half and what he does there, things like that and what that’s like. So it helps to just be people, it just helps us be more human to each other, I would say.

[0:10:51.6] MN: I’ll make the rule that the coffee you decide to take your peers to should be at least like five minutes. It can’t be the coffee in the office, that’s not the same. I think it’s better to step outside to a coffee shop and get coffee rather than, “The office has Keurig.” No I am not talking about Keurig or the office coffee. I am talking about stepping outside the building as well is very important. Because then that is also another thing that when you are at work that’s where you’re going to talk about work. But when you step out of work, the chances are you are not going to talk about work and that’s where it comes to, “Okay, now that we are not talking about work, we have to find something to talk about,” and then from there you know the person. You can talk about your sports team, like Emmanuel mentioned, and all sorts of these different things that you would know about this person and I think that is a requirement when you get coffee.

[0:11:41.2] EG: One of the biggest things too is instead sort of growing – what’s the term? Cohesion might be the word, or a good vision where the people in the team not only know what the goal is but trust each other enough to do it and everyone accepts their role. It’s a lot of what’s needed or what’s called – I watch a lot of basketball or NBA basketball and one of the things that you always hear is like a cliché really. It’s like, “Oh everyone, everybody has their role on the team, and they are all accepted and they all get over themselves.” You know players who maybe on a different team would be the star player except a bench roll on this team because that’s why it would help the team win the championship, or that’s what happens when we go further then if they were the ones demanding the ball all the time and saying, “What about me?”

I think one of the ways that happens is people believe that they trust that other people in team, they get to know them but they also believe that giving up some of those things will help have a bigger goal and I think part of having a bigger goal, a purpose that’s outside of your own personal ambitions is being in a place where you think — where you feel like the other people care about you. Where you feel a certain relatedness. I know that is a word, but to them, yeah.

[0:13:03.5] MN: If you are relatable to the people that you currently work with in the situation that you’re all in.

[0:13:08.8] EG: Yeah and also you know why you would matter and there’s also this truism about what are they soldiers or about how, would they do things for the person next to them more than even their overall mission. Like they care about the person next to them a lot and so they will go extra for that person next to them and that is something that happens in a team that trusts, that takes the time or that finds a way to in fact build that kind of cohesion with each other.

[0:13:35.5] WJ: One of the things that is really useful about team building activities or really just getting to know your coworkers outside of work is that humans are tribal and when we see other people as being part of the same tribe that we are in, we tend to relate to them more. Do you need an activity. You need some sort of common experience or shared interest that makes people identify with one another and it can’t be something big and generic, right?

If you like sports and you talk to somebody else who likes sports, I mean okay, that’s great that we have that in common but there are a lot of people out there who like sports. That’s not really a small enough tribe for me to have any allegiance to another member of it. But if I am really into extreme trick skiing, which is a thing I didn’t even know existed until we took this trip, then when I meet another person who’s into extreme trick skiing, we are instantly buddies, instantly right?

And I think what happens in the work place is, because you all work at the same company everybody is part of that tribe. That becomes too big of a category; it’s sort of like being into sports. But when you get to know a person on a personal level and you find out that, “Oh you know we actually are both Portuguese speakers, or there is some other thing that we have in common,” it leads people to in-group each other more in a way that is really necessarily for a healthy, functioning workplace.

[0:15:13.0] MN: Yeah, so you go out for karaoke all right? One night and your voice is shred, then how does that benefit the next day when we walk into the workplace?

[0:15:26.1] WJ: Yeah, why should a company want to facilitate this? How does that benefit them?

[0:15:30.0] DA: I think one of the biggest things is that you can hear stories about the company from different perspectives than the one that you’re normally routed in. Especially since we’re all spread out in our own corners, we get together and see the back office people. We talk to them, we hear about what’s going on there. We talk to each other about what’s going on in our different clients and get a broader perspective of not only about our personal lives, just what we have been talking about a lot like running that out but also what’s happening internally in perspective within the organization that helps us make better decisions and have a better idea of what the priority should be.

[0:16:06.8] MN: I think I heard a team building exercise and I think the audience might have too and that was probably a beer drinking contest or like people going down ski’s, that could be another one. I mean like you go into work and that you had experience where Bobby battled Katie and they both went off on a beer drinking thing and they’re like the next day, it’s a story that you guys have and the more you build up on that, it’s makes the relationship better at the workplace as well.

[0:16:40.0] DA: Right and then next time Bobby and Katie working together then there is the rivalry that’s built there.

[0:16:44.5] MN: Yeah, exactly. That’s the rivalry right there like two favorite sports — I mean, two rival for sports teams say a thing.

[0:16:52.3] WJ: Yeah and you can do it without alcohol too. You can be super family friendly and have people bring their kids and stuff. It could be a picnic in the park.

[0:17:02.5] MN: Jenga is good. I actually play Jenga with my nieces and just like playing the game is so much fun. I’m the man in Jenga. A mad man, trust me, get out of any sticky situation.

[0:17:17.6] EG: Schedule me.

[0:17:18.0] MN: I’m just saying, we can go play Jenga right now. It’s the best, I love it. It’s great.

[0:17:24.7] DA: How do you feel about giant Jenga? Is giant Jenga okay or is it?

[0:17:27.1] MN: I mean I went with it like three feet, one foot a piece that as long as it doesn’t hit me and I think I haven’t played giant, though. I don’t think my niece could ever push a giant Jenga that’s why. It would be great though. But I think the combination of game night and outings, things that are structured kind of like open spaces that a company could run is one of the many ways that you can get this team building exercise and I imagine this topic will be revisited again, because there are so many different ways in these little niche ways that one can gain, trust and build rapport with your fellow developers but I had that conversation, we had this conversation. Do we have any teach and learns that we have today that we can discuss?

[0:18:12.6] EG: Sure I’ll start. I learned how to ski today and I really want to credit it to the instructor I had. He really broke it down. For instance, the first thing he had me do was just move around in the ski boots and make these little markings at the snow, right? Then I had to put one ski on then do something with the one ski then we did something with the other ski and then we put two skis out and then we just walked up the slope a little bit, right?

Then we came down a little bit and then go and then we just build it up bit by bit by bit until I was going down the little bunny slope pretty consistently and pretty well. I didn’t get the chance to learn how to turn all that well yet but another couple of lessons I feel like I could have and I wasn’t falling. I didn’t fall at all, which I find amazing.

[0:19:01.5] MN: Awesome.

[0:19:02.1] EG: Yeah, so that was really, really great teachers here at Plattekill, yes. I recommend them.

[0:19:10.1] WJ: Shout out to Plattekill.

[0:19:11.8] DA: I feel like that’s something that you can take and bring back to office too. Like when you are teaching someone like just remember to break it down and use that as a model.

[0:19:24.0] MN: Just start all making ski angels. That’s what I imagined. Just like taking the ski and then wiping it to try to get a sense of the ground.

[0:19:31.0] EG: That was bit, yeah.

[0:19:31.8] MN: It’s like a snow angel but with a ski.

[0:19:33.8] EG: Yeah, we did some of that yeah.

[0:19:36.4] MN: Awesome. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for listening and I’d like to thank the panelists who are here today. The party seems to be going on and we’re kind of far away from downtown Manhattan. So we’ll probably make our way back soon. But in the time, I really hope that you enjoyed this episode.

Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.

Links and Resources:

The Rabbit Hole on Twitter

Plattekill Mountain

Slice

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