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Distributed culture self-inventory

David Horowitz

Recently, I got wind of a different word that Elinor Slomba, Founder of Arts Interstices, uses to make a similar point. Discourse.

According to Elinor:

Discourse is culture observable through language. Its the way people speak, the way people converse, the way people transmit knowledge.


I reached out to Elinor to discuss the importance of discourse for distributed agile teams and she pointed me to a her distributed culture self-inventory that teams can use to "remind themselves to step back from tooling and inspect/adapt the communications structures...selected to support agile cultures."

At Retrium, we couldn't agree more! The usefulness of any tool, Retrium included, is dictated and limited by the maturity of the team using it.

With that in mind, and with Elinor's permission, I am reproducing her distributed culture self-inventory for the readers of this blog. We hope you find it a useful way of reflecting on the quality of your team's discourse.

#1 On delivering value

How are our trust levels with clients?  Within the team?  How does it feel when we deliver early and what’s holding us back from doing that more often? How do we let team members know that we care about improving communications with them?

#2 On welcoming changing requirements

How do we presently track and manage our Product Backlog?  How well do we preserve the context around decision-making so we can reference it later?  How well do we work from the road and in transit?

#3 On delivering frequently

How do we share our calendars? How do we manage Time Zones?  How do we discuss the time needed to complete tasks?  What is our expectation around real-time versus asynchronous communications, and have they been communicated and agreed-upon?  Do we co-design meetings to be productive use of people’s time?

#4 On cross-functional teams:

Are we consistently using a shared drive for access to information?  Do we have groundrules for “pinging?” How do we account for the water cooler effect, i.e., what kinds of serendipitous encounters can people have within the network? How do we build unity and demonstrate that different functional roles are part of the same tribe? Why broadcast availability to connect as a cross-functional team (both formally and informally)?

#5 On providing a motivating enviroment:

How do people  flag their interest in working on certain projects? How do we do we sense people’s emotions & gather their opinions? How do we share knowledge & insight?

#6 On face-to-face communication

How do we see each other’s faces online?  How do we make the experience as context-rich and information-rich as possible?

#7 On working product

How do we build things together?  How well is this working?

#8 On sustainability

What is the app that signals to others that we are “at work?”  What are the protocols for checking in & out?  How do we avoid burnout?

#9 On good craftmanship

How do we recognize and track progress in skillbuilding?  How do we disseminate good examples of craftsmanship?

#10 On simplicity

Are there things we must do over and over again that could be automated? What apps are out there that can help simplify reporting requirements (i.e. bug reports, status reports)?

#11 On self-organization

What choices do people have about how to collaborate?  How are meetings facilitated? How are shared working agreements arrived-at and stored (with version control)? Are there protocols about language and handling conflict?

#12 On retrospectives

Have we trained or demoed with any of the numerous groups/communities/companies out there making this easier? How do we know we are headed in the right direction?  How are we integrating play, artfulness and humor into our team interactions?

For more, please see Elinor's related blog post or reach out to her directly at artsinterstices at gmail dot com. How will your team take a self-inventory?

I've spoken before about the importance of establishing trust, empathy, and a common set of values for distributed teams (and really, for all teams, everywhere). At a macro level, it's all about creating a culture that is conducive to working together, despite geographic differences.

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