Have you been Bean Boozled? The argument for co-location and shared spaces

I was recently talking to a former co-worker on one of my previous Scrum teams about team rooms. A fundamental of team formation and performance is teams being together and bonding through work and fun. While many companies proclaim they’re practicing Agile/Scrum, co-location and team rooms seem to have become more optional than mandatory. While we cannot completely get away from distributed teams, it seems that often even with teams that have members in the same place those teams are not sharing a space. From this practice I’ve seen teams having a harder time forming, norming, and performing (though they don’t seem to have storming problems). What benefits are teams missing when they don’t have a shared space? And even when they do have one, are they then lacking the ability to work with distributed teams?

Woody Zuill discusses this through mob programming whose basic theme is “All the brilliant people working at the same time, in the same space, at the same computer, on the same thing.” I’m not saying that mob programming is perfect for every team, but its themes are right ones. Being located in one room and working together to remove the delays of answering questions and working more efficiently has great merits that are not being realized when teams are not sitting together.

This includes not excessively working from home either. While working from home does give great flexibility in work/life balance it begs the question of potential abuse and loss of productivity. I’m not saying working from home should be banned altogether – I work from home once a week or so – but it should be the exception, not the rule. How often do meetings get rescheduled because someone is working from home and would be more productive in person? We should be able to do anything at home that we can in the office, but that is not the case. In person still has a much different and more productive dynamic when working on a team, especially in a shared space.

Some argue about individuals needing independent places to really hash out work without distractions and I’m not disagreeing with that. As an introvert by nature myself, I am very supportive of having a space of my own to retire to from time to time to recharge. There should be spaces like that, but when teams are constantly in those spaces, they’re missing out on valuable collaboration and idea sharing and incurring an additional cost of delay when trying to get answers to questions.

Another important point is team dynamics that are not being realized. Teams need to be together a lot to learn how they all work and foster a personal connection that can help in solving problems together. One way teams can realize these benefits is by having fun contests or running jokes between them. That brings me to the Bean Boozled story.

Bean Boozled are jelly beans made by Jelly Belly. They have the same colors as regular Jelly Bellies but they are gross flavors such as baby wipes, rotten egg, toothpaste (actually probably the best one), vomit, moldy cheese and the list goes on. The game puts regularly flavored Jelly Bellies in with these joke flavors and the eater does not know if they will get the good or bad flavor. This particular team bought some of the Bean Boozled beans and mixed them with more regular flavors in a large bowl in their team room. They set up a few ground rules: You have to eat all the beans you take and you have to mark on a wall chart when you get a bad flavor. They then kept track of who was Bean Boozled the most as a running contest/joke.

It’s simple things like this that can really bring teams together and make it fun. Teams that are not co-located or do not regularly sit together take much longer to become comfortable and high performing together. Additionally, though, while teams should be co-located if possible they need to know how to interact when teams are distributed, too. There still need to be dial in numbers for when folks are working from home and teams need to understand phone etiquette (taking turns speaking, no side conversations, screen sharing, etc.) to still be productive in a less than ideal situation. While I can tout the benefits of co-location, I also need to be realistic and teach teams about how to prosper in the norm that is distributed teams while working toward a more ideal state of co-location.

22. June 2015 by Natalie Warnert
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