With humans, a "health check" is easy: you can roughly tell from a person's body how healthy they are. But if we apply this metaphorically to a team, it is more difficult:
- How do I know the team is not doing so well?
- After all, it's not just about being healthy, it's about being fit. We want to be ready for the toughest challenges, our muscles need to be bursting with strength. So how can I increase the fitness of my team?
Working is not a hobby. Teams are more like competitive athletes. Competitive athletes have a coach - in the case of teams, this is their manager, team lead, a Scrum Master, Servant Leader.
On the one hand, a professionally managed team should be regularly checked for health. And there should be clear benchmarks against which you can measure your own fitness.
Because you may think you're fine. But the medical analysis tells you: your veins are clogged. If you would have to run to get a train, there is a big risk that something will happen to you.
Are you a professional Servant Leader? Then you should take advantage of a regular team health check right now.
What is a team health check
A Team Health Check is a regular evaluation of your team's health and fitness. It is often conducted in the form of a survey, such as the Spotify Health Check. It has two important roles:
The Team Health Check as an early warning system
The Team Health Check can reveal early on that the team is not as healthy as you think.
For example, we notice through the Health Check that many of our meetings are not running as efficiently as we thought. That half of the team actually has no idea about the real needs of customers and has never spoken to them.
Well-chosen metrics in our health check keep us aware of things that we easily overlook as individual team members.
The Team Health Check as a guide giving directions
A Team Health Check can also serve as a directional tool. Let me explain it this way: Some teams I talk to say, "We're doing well. We work well together as a team. We don't need a Team Health Check."
Maybe it gets even worse and they claim, "Our retros don't work anymore. We can't think of any more action items. We've already reached the optimum."
Retros are one of the best indicators of a team's maturity level. And the higher the maturity level of a team, the more effective the retros are. If you no longer get any benefit from retros, then it sounds more like you have a low to medium team maturity level.
This is where the second role of the Team Health Check comes into play. It can provide direction: "Okay, we are a healthy team. But we want more than that - we want to become innovation drivers! Only, how do we do that? What do we need to do to become more innovative?"
So, a good Team Health Check Template can help set fresh goals and make them measurable. Finally, in “continuous improvement” is “continuous” – with always new positive goals.
By the way, for the impatient among you: Of course, you can use ready-made team health checks. For example, the following health check retrospective is on the topic of “Team Morale”. Feel free to take a look how our Health Check Retros work (no login required):
Note: This retrospective format asks for agreement with the given Health Check items on a scale.
- Appreciation: My colleagues appreciate my contribution to the team.
- Team Spirit: There is a trusting working atmosphere in our team.
- Transparency: Everyone in my team knows who is currently working on what.
- Recovery & Breaks: I have enough room for breaks in which I can draw new energy.
- Meeting culture: Our meetings are well structured, yet leave room for creativity and new ideas.
- Support: In my team, each team member passes on their individual knowledge and experience.
3 steps to develop your health check
Whether healthy or not healthy – what goals can you set as a team?
With the body, it's easier again: we know that the heart and brain play a central role in a healthy body. We know that if we have to run a marathon, we can do altitude training to prepare ourselves.
Which "organs" in team dynamics have a similar relevance as the brain and the heart? What is the altitude training in team development?
As a psychologist, I can say: The "psychological organs" of a healthy team are also very well studied. However, the analysis of their interaction in the team is often complex - similar to the analysis of the effect chains in novel medications. The challenge in teams is that the individual "cells of the organs" - i.e. the team members - have their own will and freedom of decision. Bummer.
To make it easy for you: We've captured some characteristics of a psychologically healthy team in our free Health Check Kit - more below. If you want to delve deeper into the topic of team psychology, I recommend my eBook 12 Steps to Team Mindset Change.
Starting from scratch with your Team Health Check? Then there are three steps you can take in a workshop to develop a health check that will take you to the next level.
Step 1: Set a goal
The first step in developing an effective health check is to set a goal together as a team. Where would we like to improve in the first place?
This can be a concrete goal, such as achieving a certain key figure. However, it can also be an abstract goal that is not formulated according to the SMART rule.
The goal can be on a higher, abstract level. But it can also be one level lower, an intermediate step, so to speak, which starts with the precondition of the actual goal.
For example, I basically want to increase my team's ability to innovate. However, I know that I am still very much at the beginning and that there is no psychological safety in the team yet. Then my goal should rather be at this level.
If you don't come up with an obvious goal, I recommend asking one or more questions in the Team Health Kick-Off Workshop:
- What goal do we want to set, where do we want to get better?
- Optional as starter, if you need more input
- What do you think makes a good team?
- What is our biggest challenge right now? What is currently bugging us the most?
The latter questions provide a good baseline for setting a motivating intermediate goal.
For example, answering these questions you notice that you keep getting very critical feedback from customers about your features. That hurts. So your goal is: We want to work in a more customer-oriented way.
Step 2: Understand the preconditions of your goal
So the team is very motivated to be more customer-centric. You could now regularly ask in a Team Health Check: "We are a customer-oriented team." Would that help you? Probably not too much.
This is where the second function of the Team Health Check comes into play: providing direction.
What if the Team Health Check also regularly asked about the preconditions of a customer-oriented team? Only then would it have a significant effect on your team behavior! It would serve as a guideline.
So this is exactly what you should work on together with your team in the second step and reflect on in your Team Health Check Kick-Off Workshop:
- What do we need to do to work in a more customer-oriented way? What are our most obvious areas for improvement?
- What are characteristics of a team that is extremely customer-oriented?
If I want to get better at the 100-meter sprint, I might as well focus on training my thigh muscles first. So which team muscles do we need to train to be more customer-focused?
For example, you might come up with the following preconditions in your workshop:
- Agility:You should probably better understand how the agile methods prescribe to communicate with the customer.
- To include in your team health check: "We know exactly how agile methods help us to work in a customer-oriented way."
- Communication:Each team member should hear the customer tell of their pain in person (at least once), if possible.
- To include in your Team Health Check: I have regular contact with the people who benefit from my work.
- Measurability:You should collect feedback on how satisfied the customer is in a neutral and standardized way as far as possible.
- To include in your Team Health Check: We have helpful metrics that we use to visualize the success of our work.
- Prioritization of tasks:Tasks should be prioritized in such a way that the customer regularly notices minor improvements.
- To include in your Team Health Check: Prioritization of tasks is done entirely in the interest of our customers.
As you can see, I have added simple examples how you could incorporate these "area's of improvement" into your regular health check.
This is exactly what should happen at the end of this part of the workshop: You have clear statements that you can incorporate into your Health Check. These do not have to be the perfect wording - the most important thing is that they can serve you as a basis for discussion!
Theoretically, you can easily have between 6 and 15 different statements or items that pay off on your overall goal of "customer orientation".
Step 3: Continuous Improvement
The developed health check items (or statements, see above) should not be reflected on once a quarter, but rather on an ongoing basis.
For example, you can rate and reflect on three items at a time in your retros. With 12 items rotating, you would return to the same 3 items you started with after 4 retros.
Accordingly, after 4 sprints it would become visible for the first time whether you have already improved. By the way, this is exactly how our team development tool Echometer works - more about it on our website.
The free “Team Health Check” kit
We have developed a free tool to help you identify good goals and the right preconditions for your goals. You can find the access below.
It is structured similar to the workshop just described:
- The first step is to choose your goal - it looks something like this.
- Then you select preconditions suggested by us for the corresponding goal. Our suggestions were developed on the basis of psychological studies and in cooperation with practitioners.
- This step is crucial: When you're done, invite your team members to fill out the tool as well (just 3-5 minutes) - that is, to select a goal and preconditions for your team from their perspective.
The participation of your team members is important here, of course, because only then do they really feel that you are listening to them. Only now do they fully support the results of your health check and are willing to discuss its results regularly.
- Reflect and decide together, based on your results, which of the items you would like to measure regularly in a Team Health Check. This step is supported by our tool with a graphic that prioritizes what your team chose, see here:
If necessary, adapt the items to your team's setting or add further items or statements that are not yet included in our tool.
The Health Check Builder can be a great starting point to develop your team. Here you have free access:
The most important step in the Team Health Check
Health Checks only have real value if you talk about the results with a doctor. Who is that in agile teams? Well, they are self-organized. That means, in the best case, they first try to solve their challenges themselves. The Health Check is help for self-help.
The best place to train this “self-responsibility” of the team, is the agile retrospective. So I warmly recommend taking the health check into your next retro and continuously reflect on the results.
You may also wonder what happens when you reach your goal. In short, you should celebrate that success. And ideally, you should celebrate while reviewing how you got there.
You can do that for example through looking at past retros and realizing what problems you had just a few months ago. This can have a very positive effect on team self-efficacy - and strengthen the agile mindset in a smart way!
And then, of course, the journey continues: What is the next level, the next goal we set? What are the preconditions for achieving it? The whole process is repeated. Continuous improvement.