The Team Canvas workshop or how to kickoff a team

If you’re anything like me starting to work with a new team is awesome! You get to know new people, learn about their work and help them be the best version of a team they can…Over the years I’ve learned, like most of us, that the performance of a group doesn’t come as much from its technical skills as from its dynamic (the difference between a bunch of people working together and what we can indeed call a team really lies in there) and the good news is you can help here. There are a lot of social and psychological studies that are very helpful like the 5 Stages of Team Development by Bruce Tuckman (if you don’t know it I highly recommend that you read this one) but one of my favorite workshop is the Team Canvas.

The performance of a group doesn’t come as much from its technical skills as from its dynamic

I found it a few years ago while I was looking for new ways to kickoff a team I was going to work with as a Scrum Master and I’ve used it a lot since then. It’s very simple to prepare and facilitate, doesn’t take more than an hour and a half and is a pretty fun and instructive team building activity. You can find all you need (description, rules, material…) for free on their website http://theteamcanvas.com/ and in this article I will give you my feedback and a few tips on how to make the most out of it.

What is it all about

As a facilitator you will help the team talk about their thoughts regarding 5 themes:

  • The team goals
  • Roles & skills of team members
  • Their values
  • Rules & activities they want to define
  • Their purpose

The idea is to clarify things and get everybody on the same page which will avoid non-constructive discussions later on when things get tough (and yes, sooner or later they will).

Ok let me precise something before getting into details, I’m not saying we will all share the same values, rules or purpose (although you might be surprised how often we do) but if we talk about it soon enough it will be easier to understand your teammates and work efficiently together.

Set the Stage

First things first, you need to get the team onboard. What I usually do is talk to the team after a daily meeting to present the idea: “hey guys, I know of a great workshop to define how and why we will work together, it’s called the Team Canvas, what do you say if I order a few pizzas and schedule it for tomorrow during lunch break?” (I know, I’m evil, I use pizza to manipulate people…and it works!), then I just send the link of the website to the team and tell them to come to me if they have any question.

First advice here, order food for everyone, get the company to pay for it and schedule the workshop during lunch break. At least that’s what has worked best for me, if you plan an hour and a half meeting during working hours you will get the usual “Another meeting?! We have work to do you know…”. Plus it will be easier to get a room available (big enough for food & post-its) and last but not least everyone loves free pizza!

Regarding the material you don’t need much: a few markers (with different colors) to draw and write, post-its with 5 different colors (one for each theme), a meeting chart you will stick to the wall where the team seats when you’re done and a timer (yup, it is timeboxed like any efficient workshop or meeting 😉.

One last thing, talking about timebox you need to think about how much time you want to spend on each activity. They created a handy trello here that can help you if needed.

Well done, you’re all set!

Run the Workshop

I will not describe the different themes or how it should go, the Team Canvas website is very clear and complete and you will find all the information you need on how to run this workshop. However, after doing it several times, I’ve changed a few things and it has worked quite well so here it goes.

  1. First of all I always use the basic version, the other one seems a little bit too complicated for me and I never felt like trying it but if you do I’m interested in your feedback 🙂
  2. Second thing I like to do is to let the team do the drawings. I’ve never actually used the canvas from the website, I love to see team members draw their own representation of each theme (I often make teams draw during workshops and ceremonies anyway). The result will be unique and will really represent the spirit of the team, plus it’s a fun activity and you will get a few laughs out of it (and sometimes a few surprises)!
  3. Another important thing I’ve learned is that you need to give enough time to discussion. Seems obvious, I know, but some parts like roles & skills will be done pretty quickly whereas others will lead to longer debates and it is important that everyone gets time to express itself. For exemple the team goals are not always easy to define which, by the way, is a good indicator that you should talk to management or head of product to make sure information is correctly shared with the team…just sayin’…(I’ve seen it a lot)
  4. Limit the number of post-its! 2 for each person and theme should be enough, if you don’t you will loose people focus, you need to force them to think about what’s most important for them. And remember the post-it rules: one post-it one idea (yes, only one), one idea 2 or 3 words (no phrases) and please use majuscules when you write, I already wear glasses, have mercy…
  5. Lots of people have difficulties with defining values and they will need some guidance. I was surprised at first but I’m used to it now, when you ask the team to define its values they don’t really know what to say. I actually have been asked quite often “how would you describe a value?”. What I do now is to send the management 3.0 big values list to the team before the workshop so that they can have a look at it and get some ideas…you can also remember them about Scrum Values.
  6. The difference between goals and purposes can be complicated too. I’ve changed this one and explain it that way now:

The goal is the reason why this team exists in the company

The purpose is what you seek to get out of your participation in the team

Pretty straightforward.

Yup, they chose Sauron and the Nazgûl to represent them…great team spirit though 😀

Then what?

Most people love this workshop but I sometimes get a 2 when doing the ROTI and the reason is always the same: “That was fun and all but I don’t see how it will help us…”. Well that’s pretty good question and I’m glad you asked me, it serves two main purposes:

  • It’s a great team building activity and in itself that would be good enough for me. You will learn things about your teammates, how they see themselves in the team thanks to roles & skills, what’s important to them with values and purposes and finally you’ll have some fun with rules & activities (a good way to get free breakfast when people are late to meetings too often by the way)
  • It should serve as a guide. I like to get back to the canvas when there are discussions during daily meeting or retrospectives for exemple. What are our goals, our values, our rules and how do they help us find a solution right now?

I also like to reflect on it every now and then during retrospectives. Did anything changed? Do we need to adapt the canvas? Maybe our goals are different, or our purposes? One thing is for sure, the rules & activities will change with time…

Finally I like to use it with the famous Squad Health Check from Spotify, they complete each other quite nicely and will give you a good way to see how the team is doing 🙂

They told me it’s a reference to some game…I still have no clue :/

And you, what do you do when starting to work with a new team? What is your favorite activity to get alignment and create a positive dynamic?


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