Team building in software engineering

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When you come in to work, do your teammates greet you? Are jokes told on your team? Especially bad ones? Do you chat about anything besides work?

Trust is essential to teams. Literature like The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and The Phoenix Project remind us of this, as well as how important it is that team members be able to show vulnerabilities to each other. This can be a challenge for engineering teams: engineers can be less social and more competitive than non-engineers.

This came up as an issue on my team. When we do a periodic team “health check” on criteria we picked as important to us, I have found myself voting low for “having fun”. We’re typically heads-down, and it seems any interaction we have is just business: problem solving, design discussions, code review comments, story planning.

When this was brought up in a retrospective meeting, we agreed to try a weekly team lunch. As a result, every Friday we bring our lunches to a meeting room and…socialize! Some days it’s surfing Wikipedia, watching trailers for hysterically bad movies, playing GeoGuessr, or just shooting the breeze. These activities are in addition to a monthly team lunch at a nearby restaurant we pick. These lunches give us opportunity to share more of our “other” lives…our hobbies, families, events, opinions.

And that’s just what our team has chosen (so far). Other teams have gone rock climbing and hiking (though pricier activities are less frequent to stay within budgets). And this is on top of what our “team of teams” Product Development team does (visiting escape rooms and bowling have been examples). And that is on top of our site-wide social events: holiday parties, face-to-face weeks where remotely-working employees come to visit, and our weekly Happy Hour, with a hand-picked selection of beverages and a fresh Spotify playlist crafted by our in-house DJs.

Has trust gone up in our team? I think it’s improving, but I also think there’s still room for improvement. 

How is your team doing? Do you have any tips for fostering team building and boosting team morale?

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