Inside the Pressure Cooker to Make Teams Better

How it all started: The Context
Dmitry joined a large game development company as a Development Director. He was tasked with helping to build a new studio for them in a new location.
The team he had to work with had already been working in this organization for 9+ years. That meant structures, connections, rituals, ways of working were quite set. The team had been used to building PVP (Player vs Player) experience products for 9+ years.

And here came Dmitry, joined by Iaroslav a few years later on this journey, tasked with getting these people to change. The goal for the team was to build a PVE (Player vs Environment) experience inside the game.

Even more challenges

  1. Even though people had been working in the company for 9 or more years, they were fairly new to working with each other as part of the same team.
  2. There was tight coupling of the product and change development processes.
  3. Teams were growing quite rapidly.
  4. There was increased pressure from stakeholders with the expectation for these teams to become role model teams. Being in the spotlight was tough for all.

How did they enable people and teams find a better path?

They started with the LesS framework ceremonies and designed needed roles. It didn’t quite work to their expectation and they got lots of resistance from teams.

One of Iaroslav’s teachers phrases that he’s constantly reminded of “ There is no resistance. There’s only consequences of how you do change.

Iaroslav and Dmitry realized that this resistance was stemming from somewhere. They just didn’t know where.

Dmitry remembered a friend’s advice “every 9-12 months step back from whatever you are doing and for about a week or so look at this from a completely different perspective”.

So after about a year when they tried to look at things with a different lens, they saw things needed to change.

Key insights from their year-long look-back

  1. They made assumptions they did not validate. 
  2. After looking at the teams with the lens of Benjamin Franklin’s 3 Classes of People: Movers, Movables and Immovables, they figured out if all Movers were in 1 team they would just run with the change and make it happen.
  3. But then that would leave behind the other teams. So, that’s perhaps not the right pace for change here.
  4. Change is not linear. We start where we are, capture insights, figure out options and run experiments to then decide when we change course.

Next steps taken

  1. Created space for the team to feel safe. 
  2. Provided the team enough context to understand the why and the what.
  3. Helped co-design the team structures with the teams, recommending options to design / structure the teams.
  4. Made change visible via a change board. This was a key step towards alignment and transparency for the leadership and the teams impacted by the change.
  5. Repurposed ‘Townhalls’ to include sharing change results, challenges and successes/failures demonstrations, open Q & A from all.
  6. Created Communities of Practice (CoP) within Tech.
  7. Dmitry and Iaroslav had been using Lean Coffee themselves to facilitate sessions. They introduced Lean Coffee also to the CoP Leads. The CoP leads liked this newly introduced technique as it allowed everyone to be heard and this created space for fruitful communication.

Advice for other change agents

  1. Teams want to be heard. To be able to hear the teams, you have to be able to hear yourself and then hear others.
  2. Take a step back, help the people to be heard and help them achieve that.
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