Every single day we face signals that demand a response. Think, for example, of the last time you got in your car and a warning light came on. Or perhaps you’ve felt tired or ill without quite knowing why - we often describe such situations as our bodies trying to tell us something.
The most important question is how often we act on these messages. It’s easy to ignore signals or tell ourselves we’ll address them later only to continually put off actually taking action. Given the ease with which we can ignore such signals, how likely is it that we’re going to actually take proactive action to check something? Cycling guidance urges us to check tyres, breaks, and lights every time we get on a bike, but how often do we actually do that? Certainly not as often as we should.
Habit trumps reflection in many cases. I, for example, have a tendency to only fasten my seatbelt once I’ve started driving. A small but unsafe habit that’s easy to overlook - something that a moment of reflection would correct.
In a workplace setting, the idea of checking in - a health check - is even easier to overlook. When dealing with multiple complex projects and plenty of mundane tasks, the thought of taking time to respond to the many signals that surround us is easy to ignore. But as colleagues (let alone managers or leaders), how much better would it be if we were sensitive to certain indicators in others that led us to simply stop and check how things are for them right now? Work would be a nicer place to be, but it’s also likely to make us more effective as individuals and teams.
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Why health checks matter at work
Health checks can be powerful in helping teams and organisations identify areas requiring focus and support. I find them particularly helpful for three key reasons:
- Firstly, they can be excellent - if not critical - guides to how teams are feeling and responding to their environment. They can help us to identify those things that need to be addressed to ensure psychological safety and high performance.
- Secondly, having experienced external people coming in and spending time assessing businesses, it still amazes me how quickly a good health check can provide a sense of things through the perspectives of practitioners.
- Thirdly, they remind us to look at our instinctive habits and reassess if they are how we wish to operate. Habits in their very nature are slippery beasts that you don't think about doing. Health checks can help bring these into focus and consider what good looks like compared to what you currently or instinctively do.
A health check shouldn’t be thought of as a single thing. They come in various guises and forms, different ones having a unique purpose and occurring at different frequencies. Some examples are outlined below:
|How are you today? - Emotional check in (can be an icebreaker).||At the beginning of an interaction.||Shows care to the moment, the context, and the person. It creates space for reflection.
|Emoji reactions.||Can be daily, but might also be used in other meetings, such as retrospectives.||Provides a quick sense of how multiple people are feeling.It flags the need for further conversation, if required.|
|Team Barometer (evaluation tool across a number of dimensions).
||Less frequently, but can be a useful baseline and monitored for changes/trends. Most effective if it includes the start and end of a given period, cycle, project or suchlike.||Can help teams to dig deeper into issues, and identify external factors that may be affecting the team.|
|Spotify Health check RAG (assessment across 10 dimensions).||Typically done on a regular cadence to monitor status and trends.||Like the Team Barometer, it provides a spectrum of health indicators with trends/opportunities.|
|Team Net Promoter Score (NPS, calculated in the same way as customer promoter score).
||As suited to the context and environment.||Some may say the ultimate arbiter of team health: would you recommend working on the team to others?
Happiness Index (quantitative/
|Completion reasonably regularly on a cadence helps to monitor trends.||Simple and insightful as to what is going well and how things could improve.|
|Trust and Ownership (leadership and team members scoring across set questions).||Less frequent; typically at key points.||Powerful method of identifying alignment and differing perspectives of the reality of the current state.|
Other online tools and proprietary diagnostic methods such as Agile Fluency and The Liberator's new scrum diagnostic are available and can be useful. While researching this piece I found this article by Andy Cleff helpful. It provides further detail as well as sources for the above.
Please also reach out to email@example.com if you would like to collaborate or talk about any of these, we would love to hear your perspective.
Things to consider:
- Follow up, there is nothing worse than a problem surfaced that is not engaged with sincerely, particularly if relating to someone or something personal.
- Agree up front what you are doing and what this may feel like, avoid being intrusive. Consider what you are seeking to achieve, why, and what can be expected after people have taken their time engaging with the health check.
- Try to be transparent from all angles, encourage everyone to participate as long as they are comfortable, anonymity can aid this.
- Try not to become complacent or routine, engage with your findings in a meaningful way and build trust through this commitment.
Avoid any temptation to compare across teams as context is lost outside of the team environment, rather consider the findings as opportunities for conversations to explore further.
- Try also to avoid groupthink or unexplored bias which could reduce the usefulness of the health check or mask symptoms or causes.
- Explore outliers and take your time to uncover what is occurring 'below the surface', this can feel awkward however can help identify the underlying problems and conflicts.
- Do something, test something, move forward and interpret results collaboratively and iteratively.
While specific roles may help facilitate some of the above, we are all accountable for the health of a team; we all need to ensure health checks are actually taking place and in a meaningful way. More importantly we all need to be sure they are valuable and use them to identify improvement opportunities that we can take forward.
When writing this I mulled over a number of angles. This one ended up writing itself, so I may have more to share sometime.
I am sure you have too, so please do reach out and share what comes to mind for you.
I’d also like to thank everyone who contributed to and helped me to write this blog.
Thanks for taking the time to read and I hope you have an amazing day. I’ll finish with a couple of questions for you to take away and consider:
- When is your next health check scheduled?
- What would you like to surface at your next health check?
Jon Gilbert is an Agile Coach at AND Digital.
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