Creating the Right Environment for Teamwork

February 19, 2008

At work everyone on the team have their own offices. It’s a pretty nice setup: lot’s of space, privacy – in short, it really doesn’t get much better in terms of individual space. However, the offices are scattered about the building and they definitely create barriers to certain kinds of communication. It has all sorts of interesting side effects. For example: currently, people will call into a meeting from their office, even if the meeting room is 10 feet down the hall. I have no idea what impact individual offices have on team productivity compared to other arrangements.

However, very soon now we are going to have an opportunity to observe the differences between individual offices and an open “bay” arrangement with the team co-located. Management has mandated a change to this new arrangement, like it or not. It’s all with the notion of supporting the companies transition to agile development. I’ve worked in both environments and seen many of the advantages/disadvantages of each.

This time I’m making an effort to keep a neutral stance on the change. As you might imagine, there are some folks who are pretty bent out of shape about losing their offices. I’m trying to focus on one question: What can I do to make this new environment as comfortable, relaxing, safe, and collaborative as possible?

Here are a few ideas I came up with to support my goal of creating a comfortable, relaxing, safe, and collaborative environment for the team:

Comfortable furniture

  • Bean Bag chairs
  • Inflatable furniture
  • Folding Lawn furniture
  • A common area for people to gather

Food & lighting, Etc.

  • Food – lots of food
  • Scheduled Starbucks runs
  • Indirect lighting that each individual can customize
  • Espresso Machine/Coffee Maker

Team Identity

  • Mascot
  • Symbols of shared values (i.e. poster of Albert Einstein, Ghandi)
  • Team flag

Fostering close relationships

  • puzzles
  • ongoing chess game
  • Go
  • a cork board with postings of upcoming community events (post that extra pair of opera tickets, football game schedule, etc.)

XP tools

  • Build lava lamps or siren
  • Talking bunny

Sound & Privacy

  • Music
  • White noise generator
  • hanging/rolling whiteboards
  • Japanese screens (those rice paper screens that fold up)

Information Radiators

  • A3’s
  • Task board
  • Domain models (and other architecture artifacts)

Call me fatalistic, but I’m tired of arguing about which environment is better than the other. I’d rather focus on optimizing the environment we have – whatever that may be. There are a tremendous number of things we can do to control and improve our environments as a team (what I’ve listed above are just a few examples). Here are some links to others who have collected examples of team environments:

Enter the Dragon

February 6, 2008


A friend recommended that I try giving the team kudos using a kung-fu theme. A beer and a Bruce Lee flick were all it took to get me started. The names have been changed to protect the innocent…


So there I was last night watching Bruce Lee’s classic “Enter the Dragon”. This movie has everything: the bad guys were *really* bad (this one had a removable hand that he could replace with a claw). And the good guy, well, he was *really* good. Bruce did everything with such authority. You watch him and he just owns the screen. He freezes after every move, as if to dare his opponent to even breath in the presence of his superiority. Bruce is so good that he doesn’t even need to wear a shirt. He suffixes each lightning fast strike of his iron hand with a high pitched cry that rings out, “EEEAAAAWWWuuuhhh!!!”

It makes the hair on your arms stand on end. Chills run down your spine. I don’t know of many things that came out of the 70’s that can rival this movie for sheer greatness.

Cut to the present, I’m sitting in on a Scrum planning meeting with a team. I’m watching the scrum master work with his team to determine what they are going to do in the next sprint. Right before my eyes I witness the team in action, executing moves worthy of my crime fighting hero, Bruce. A team member takes a story, and the scrum master asks for an estimate – and then he freezes. You can feel the air in the room actually stop circulating…


It was magnificent! Then another team member pulls a story off the backlog – there is a brief flash of post-it notes – so fast that the human eye can barely follow it, and the scrum master is there again asking for an estimate – and once again, just like in the movie, he freezes…


In a matter of minutes, none of the tasks were remaining. The team had collaboratively defeated their collective enemies, bad planning and poor commitment. I checked the hair on my arms – it was standing up.

Did I mention that the scrum master *was* wearing a shirt?

Best regards,