Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Post-its and Interviews Part 1

I was in a meeting room I'd not visited before the other day and I saw a great idea on the wall. At a glance, I saw what another team had been doing.  With a little more thought and discussion with a co-worker, I was able to build a more complete picture of their activity, what it could have been about, and what it could lead to.

An entire wall was covered in sticky-notes, each with a short description on it.  There were inscriptions like: "listens", "thoughtful", "understands user perspective", and "can read code". The notes were divided into groups like: "Leadership", "Communications", "Design", and "Information Architecture".

It didn't take much to realize that I was looking at a team's description of what they wanted in a co-worker. It was only a smaller jump to put together the following scenario.

The Web Design Team for Product-X recently had a member jump to another team, and they were preparing to hire her replacement. I imagine Janet, the team lead, gathering everyone in a room and handing out small stacks of sticky notes. Then she would address the team to kick things off.

"You all know what's in our job description. I'd like you to think about that for a moment, then write down some traits you think we need to be looking for. Let's take 5-10 minutes to write them down and put them on the board. Don't be afraid to talk to each other while you're working, we're not keeping any secrets."

I can almost hear the buzz of the team working on this and building on each others ideas. As they wind down, Janet speaks up again.

"Ok, this looks like a good sized list. Let's organize it into groups. If you see duplicates, stack them together and we'll sort them out in a bit."

This is probably a pretty interesting process as clusters of traits are built up, split apart, and moved around. Gradually, the level of activity settles as the team comes to some agreements. Bill, one of the designers might speak up and say something like.
"Hey, I think we're missing some things here in "Leadership" and maybe there in "Design". How about we take five more minutes and flesh these out.  We could work on the duplicates while we're at it."

There's a lot more discussion this time. Some of the supposed duplicates are split off and moved into other groups. Others are recognized as real duplicates and those traits are starred, indicating higher importance. New traits are added to each of the groups. Finally, the energy beings to lag again, and Janet speaks up.

"Ok, this looks like a pretty good start.  I'd like to take a ten minute breather before we come back and get into our next steps."

Everyone files out of the room intent on getting some water, juice, or coffee, and maybe a quick walk outside for some fresh air.

I'll post about the follow-up meeting on Thurssday. Do you think a process like this might help with your next hire? Maybe in writing job descriptions for your team (you do have job descriptions, right?)? Have you tried something like this?

1 comment:

Andy Oram said...

This exercise looks useful. A more intense approach may be even more revealing. There are techniques that membership organizations use to understand their members priorities (such as my synagogue when we started looking for a new Rabbi). In this process, a kind of relational organizing, one breaks people into groups of 8 or 10. A programming team may be able to meet as a single group. These groups talk about important incidents in their lives, when they found out what they valued in a leader (or perhaps a co-worker). These are not abstractions such as "good listener," but actual stories of key events that brought insight to the story-teller. These stories help better than abstractions to identify what really matters. But I haven't tried this in a work setting, only in the synagogue.