Reflect & Improve for teams

Orikami develops digital biomarkers to deliver personalized healthcare and improve the lives of people living with chronic diseases. To do so, innovation is at the heart of what we do: we explore, develop and validate new products in a complex and changing environment. In such new territory, nobody has the answers - best practices need to be discovered.

This is where I come in. As Learning Officer at Orikami, it is my job to empower innovation with continuous improvement and continuous learning. To build a Learning Organization, we organize hackathons, personal development and our Reflect & Improve events. In this article, I will explain the essence of our Reflect & Improve for teams.

Reflect & Improve starts with a pause, in which you reflect on how you are doing and wonder how you can improve.

This is different from regular work. In regular work, you might “reflect” on a project status and “improve” on which tasks are done. During a Reflect & Improve, we don’t talk about the content of our work (e.g. tasks), but we dive a little deeper. We reflect and improve on team structure, work agreements, work process, team competencies…all the way down to the core beliefs, values and identity of a team.

That might sound complicated, but the essence of Reflect & Improve is just three simple steps:

  1. Set a goal: What is the desired outcome?
  2. Reflect: Where can we improve?
  3. Improve: What is the next step to make progress?

1) Set a goal: What is the desired outcome?

It’s important to realize that reflection is never a goal on itself. Deeper reflection does not guarantee more improvement. So, Reflect & Improve is always a means to an end and we need to start right there:

What is the performance goal of your team, at this moment?

Before anything, the entire team must understand and agree on this. In order to verify whether these goals are worth pursuing, see if you are able to explain how these goals deliver customer- or business value.

Finally, ask your team: How do you recognize meaningful progress on these goals?

If you are able to recognize meaningful progress, then you can improve in small increments. This unlocks rapid learning in short iterations.

An example from the field:

Our management team consists of the owners and all teamleads. When I asked what their performance goal was, they first replied with an organizational goal: To deliver the strategic goals we set out to do. Upon further inquiry, the team goals surfaced, which were:

  1. To synchronize work between teams.
  2. To translate overall strategy to team objectives.
  3. To ensure teams have all resources needed to deliver on their goals.
  4. To promote shared responsibility and collaboration between teams.

With the goals now clear, it became easy to imagine where we would like to make progress and how that would look like.

2) Reflect: Where can we improve?

With a proper outcome defined, you reflect to discover opportunities for improvement. You start at the surface level to get the low-hanging fruit first. Then you proceed to deeper levels until you are able to unlock the improvement you need.

Level 1 - Team Structure

Team structure is the foundation of a high performing team. The team must have a clear and singular purpose. Any problems with this should surface in the first step. Teams should have the right expertise and clear roles and responsibilities. Finally, the team must be able to make and keep work agreements of how they will collaborate and deliver.

An example from the field:

Our Digital Health Products team is actively developing 3+ digital biomarkers, 2+ applications and one digital biomarker platform. As you can imagine, it can be difficult to manage all these products with a small team of about 6–7 people.

A single Product Owner, as recommended in Scrum, did not make sense: Our different products are linked to multiple business objectives. Each product requires a different expertise, and sometimes business objectives can compete.

After a few iterations over the course of a year, we figured out the right roles and responsibilities: We now have a single Team Lead who is in charge of resources (i.e. prioritize a multi-product backlog), with various Product Owners who own and prioritize the product backlog, and negotiate with the Team Lead to get the resources they need.

Level 2 - Work agreements and work processes

If you have a solid foundation, reflect on the current work agreements and processes. Is there any agreement missing or not working? Is there a process that is stuck? At this level, retrospectives can really shine. For example, after a sprint, you ask your team what things they should start doing, stop doing and keep doing.

An example from the field:

In the Digital Health Products team, projects are split among team members. At some point, the people working on a single product become so small, that people ended up working alone on a project!

Obviously, working alone is not much fun. And how productive can a team be if it has to deliver many products simultaneously? We needed a way to escape the ‘islands’ we created, without dropping products from our portfolio.

We wanted more togetherness and focus, so we decided to focus on one product every sprint. Team members agreed to help eachother out as much as they can, even when they are unfamiliar with the project.

After a few sprints, it became clear that this work process improvement lead to more collaboration, more knowledge sharing, better decision making and more focus.

Level 3 - Team competencies

In some cases, simply improving a work process or making another agreement just doesn’t work. When problems are recurring, it is good to reflect on the competencies of your team.

Here are 10 critical team competencies for a high performing team:

1. Listening
Team member respond to each other. They summarize what is said and ask questions to better understand each other.

2. Communication
Team members inform each other timely and adequately.

3. Result-orientation
Team members take responsibility to deliver customer- or business value.

4. Decision making
Team members are able to make decisions. They involve the right persons for advice and consent. They inform the right persons afterwards.

5. Collaboration
Team members work together on a task, they are aware of each others talents and reach out for this when needed.

6. Giving feedback
Team members feel comfortable to speak up. They also give praise and compliments.

7. Conflict resolution
Team members are able to use conflicts for better decisions, without harming team spirit.

8. Openness
Team members are open to new ideas and initiatives.

9. Process responsibility
Team members take responsibility for work agreements and work process. Team members make, keep and revise agreements. They are able to manage their own work process. For example, they are able to conduct effective meetings.

10. Reflect & Improve
Team members are able to reflect and improve on their own. For example, every meeting ends with a short evaluation on the use and effectiveness of the meeting.

Level 4 and beyond - Core beliefs, values and identity

When no opportunity for improvement can be found at level 3, we must dive even deeper. Here, you will need a teamcoach to surface underlying beliefs, values and identity.

3) Improve: What is the next step to make progress?

After reflection, it’s time for action: What is the next step to make progress?

I recommend viewing the next step as an experiment. Experiments might succeed, or they might fail. Whatever the case, you will always learn. This ensures the team emphasizes learning rather than performing.

Note that in step 1, it is important to get clarity on team performance. However, in order to improve, we must create a safe environment. Safe to try new things, safe to reveal yourself honestly, and safe to fail. This is why we shift emphasis from performance to learning in step 2 and 3.

Conclusion

There you have it - these three steps are the foundation of Orikami’s team-level Reflect & Improve events. You can use these steps directly in a session, or as an underlying framework to guide team development.