Activity for Improving Communication Effectiveness

As widely discussed and proven, working with distributed teams will increase considerably the complexity of software development. Within this context, we have to foster ways to make our communication as much effective as possible as if we are at the same place (face-to-face).

Some time ago I realised that one of my teams was facing this problem of poor communication when collaborating with our peers located in a different country. We could easily see that this was the root cause of many issues we were having.

Rather than taking the common approach to discuss it on the Retro, I wanted to bring some activity to facilitate the discussion and help out on our insights to solve that issue. As I didn’t find anything that would fulfill what I needed, I put some neurons to work and came up with the proposal below. I validated this experiment getting my colleagues (Scrum Masters) in the office as guinea-pigs before applying it to the team.

Could you draw it for me?

Goal: Experiment in real life different ways to convey information and their respective effectiveness when applied to distributed teams.

Description: The team has to draw a image based on the information received from someone (the driver) who is “remotely located” and has a matrix image printed out with her (e.g. Figure 1). The driver shouldn’t be in the same room when using remote approaches (Figure 2) and also shouldn’t show the image to anyone in any circumstance. The image is like an idea that she is trying to communicate out using different ways to convey that.

Communication Game - Images
Figure 1. Example of images.

We ran it in two rounds. Each round should take between 7 to 10 minutes where the method to convey the information will be changed in each one. More than likely, 2 to 3 rounds should be enough, otherwise it may become a bit boring due to repeatability. Also give some time at the beginning for planning (2 to 3 minutes) where the team will define the approach they intend to take while action within the rounds.

Some examples of modes of communication may include:

  • E-mail
  • Phone call (audio conference)
  • Video conference
  • Face-to -face
  • See more at Figure 2.

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Figure 2. Communication Channels and their Effectiveness

Run the rounds.

Closing game:

  • Gather everyone together, discuss the challenges they faced, how could that be improved, which way was more effective, etc.
  • Show them the graphs (Figure 2) and discuss the importance to give priority to the ones at the top over the ones at the bottom.
  • Define actions to improve communication, otherwise the activity won’t have a proper effect and don’t forget to follow them up!

Points to pay attention:

  • Consider splitting in groups when having 6+ members, each group with their own “Driver”.
  • 3+ rounds may be too much.
  • Time pressure makes things more interesting and funnier (Figure 4).
  • The images should have similar complexity.

Some pictures from my experiment:

Figure 3. The Driver and the Team.

Figure 4. Channels used: Chat and Video Conference.

Figure 5. The final result.

Have you faced similar issues on your teams? How have you solved it? Feel free to leave your thoughts here!

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