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The Evolution of Our Kickoff Process: A Behind-the-Scenes Journey

Photo: DSCF7990
Photo: DSCF7990

Back in August, we wrote about how we believe that a strong kickoff process is the cornerstone of every successful project and an extraordinary kickoff for one of our latest projects in Copenhagen. Now it is time to dive more into the details of our kick-off methods at ADM, and processes and share some more of our thoughts on team building in IT projects. 

ADM’s success in IT projects hinges on a strong kickoff process and effective team building. This post explores our methods and the experiences of Rain Benrot, COO of ADM, and Marili Ruus, our Team Performance Mentor and In-house facilitator

Cracking the Code: Decoding Team Dynamics in IT Development 

With over 15 years in IT development, Rain Benrot, ADM’s COO, shares a key insight: understanding team dynamics is complex, like solving a puzzle. He noticed some teams flourish naturally, while others struggle. This unpredictability led to a major shift at ADM. 

Marili Ruus, innovation lead at the time, saw the need for a focused strategy to understand and improve team dynamics and leadership. This wasn’t just about making improvements but about deeply understanding team interactions in IT development. 

Their goal was simple: use Marili’s expertise to improve the kickoff process and achieve better, more productive teams. Rain recognizes this wasn’t easy, acknowledging the journey’s complexity. 

Rain and Marili worked closely to unravel the secrets of successful team dynamics, shaping ADM’s approach to team leadership and kickoff processes. Their story reflects a commitment to not just grasp team dynamics but to actively create a future where teams excel in the fast-changing world of IT development. 

ADM is grounded in values like learning, cooperation, and goal-orientation. These principles guide our approach to project management and driving team dynamics. 

Where did we start? – Navigating the Tandem Kickoff 

When reflecting on the challenging journey of enhancing ADM’s team dynamics, Marili Ruus, the in-house facilitator and Team Productivity Mentor, highlights a unique hurdle: establishing effective collaboration within their own tandem with Rain. 

“There’s a saying that the tougher the task, the stronger the need for openness and trust – it is true. While Rain and I had previously worked within the same organization, and he had even managed me directly, it was an entirely different dynamic. In essence, we needed to kick off our own team, first,” Marili shares candidly. 

It wasn’t just about setting project goals for improving team dynamics within the project teams; it was about aligning personal and professional dynamics to ensure a harmonious and productive partnership. 

“Managing someone in a hierarchical structure is one thing, but forming a tandem partnership demands a deeper level of understanding and synchronization. We realized that the success of our efforts to enhance team dynamics across ADM hinged on our ability to kick off our own collaboration effectively,” Marili reflects. 

After a kick-off as a tandem, Marili and Rain have crafted a holistic approach to project success. Their collaborative efforts have given rise to a designed kick-off process and a playbook for project leads, and the dynamic canvas of teamwork rules—Guidelines for Greatness (GFG). This comprehensive framework ensures that every project within ADM is driven toward success. 

  • Kick-off Process Design: A strategic initiation aligning teams on goals, establishing roles, and fostering collaboration. 
  • Playbook for Project Leads: A tailored resource equipping project leads with essential tools for a successful kick-off and guiding them through team dynamics intricacies. 
  • Guidelines for Greatness (GFG): A living canvas for teamwork rules, evolving with team dynamics, based on the Team Performance Model (Drexler/Sibbert). 
  • Workshop on Team Dynamics: A 3-day workshop ensuring all project and development leads are well-equipped to navigate collaborative complexities. 

How the teams are kicked off in ADM 

Boosting Team Dynamics with Facilitative Leadership and Clear Agreements

In the pursuit of optimizing team dynamics within project teams, ADM has embraced a transformative approach centered on facilitative leadership and the establishment of clear working agreements. This strategic shift reflects a commitment to shared and integrated goals, fostering a profound understanding of how and when tasks are executed. 

Facilitative Leadership: The implementation of facilitative leadership stands as a cornerstone in ADM’s strategy for enhancing team dynamics. Facilitative leaders act as guides, fostering collaboration and empowering team members to take ownership of their roles. This approach not only disperses responsibility but also cultivates a culture of shared leadership, eliminating dependence on a single person. 

Rain Benrot, reflecting on this leadership paradigm, emphasizes its impact on project outcomes. “Facilitative leadership is about enabling the team, not controlling it. It streamlines decision-making processes and empowers team members to contribute their unique strengths to the project.” 

Shared, Integrated Goals: Aligned with facilitative leadership is the establishment of shared, integrated goals. Understanding the “what” and “why” of a project creates a foundation for cohesive teamwork. This shared vision ensures that every team member is moving in the same direction, promoting collaboration and synergy. 

Marili Ruus underscores the importance of unified goals, stating, “Knowing the project’s goals and the role each team member plays in achieving them is fundamental. It creates a collective sense of purpose, fueling motivation and dedication to the project’s success.” 

Clear Working Agreements: Clear working agreements serve as the glue binding ADM’s project teams. These agreements define how tasks are executed, laying the groundwork for effective collaboration. They also serve as a prerequisite for self-managing teams, where each member understands their responsibilities and can operate autonomously. 

Simplifying ADM’s Kick-off Process: Building Trust and Structure in Teams 

ADM’s kick-off process is more than just a routine step; it’s a strategic action that builds trust and sets a clear structure for teams. Marili says: “Agile teams don’t just mean moving forward with sprints; breaking things into pieces doesn’t help if you don’t grasp the big picture. In the beginning, there’s a lot of room for hope, assumptions, and diverse thinking, which is why the effective transformation of teams takes a considerable amount of time. Initiating the process requires both facilitation skills and leadership.” 

Here’s how the kickoff process works: 

1. Using the Integrated Group Development Model: This model, created by Susan Wheelan, is the foundation of ADM’s kickoff. It focuses on creating team norms and shared expectations, which are crucial for teamwork and achieving goals. 

2. Aligning on Goals: A project officially starts at ADM when everyone agrees on the main goal. This means understanding and committing to the project’s purpose, ensuring all team members are on the same page. 

3. Creating a Roadmap: A pivotal aspect of a successful kickoff is the creation of a project roadmap. This document delineates critical steps, deadlines, and significant tasks, providing clear guidance to the team. It ensures everyone is aligned with the project’s direction and objectives, while also allowing for agility. The roadmap facilitates successful adaptation through learning loops as the project unfolds.  

4. Solving Problems Together: A key part of the kickoff is learning to solve problems as a team. This means listening to each other and finding solutions together, which builds a culture of openness and teamwork. 

5. Understanding Roles: It’s important that everyone knows their own role and the roles of their teammates. This clarity helps the team work better together and reduces confusion. 

Overall, ADM’s kick-off process is about more than starting a project; it’s about building a team that trusts each other, understands their roles, and works together towards a common goal. 

Streamlining Teamwork at ADM: The Essentials of Guidelines for Greatness (GFG) 

ADM has developed the Guidelines for Greatness (GFG) to make teamwork more efficient and structured. Here’s a simpler breakdown of what GFG does: 

1. Origin of GFG: GFG is based on established team performance and development models. It combines these ideas with practical project management tools to help teams work better together. 

2. What is an Agreement?: GFG clearly defines an agreement as any decision or understanding that everyone in the team accepts and agrees upon. This makes sure everyone is working together and making decisions as a team. 

3. GFG’s Role: More than just documenting agreements, GFG helps align team members towards a common goal. It improves communication, simplifies decision-making, and encourages teamwork. 

4. Creating Flexible Agreements: GFG provides guidance and examples to help teams create their own agreements. It’s designed to be flexible, fitting the specific needs of each team and project. 

In short, GFG is a tool that ADM uses to keep team members on the same page, ensuring that everyone understands and agrees on their roles and tasks. It’s a blend of structure and flexibility, aiding in collaboration and shared goals in project management. 

The Transformative Journey

Rain and Marili’s Team Dynamics “This kickoff went beyond professional alignment, delving into a profound exploration of personal dynamics,” says Rain, initially unfamiliar with introspection. Reflecting on a four-month commitment, he shares, “It involved a lot of reflection and open conversations about our feelings—an aspect that was quite unfamiliar to me at first.”

Marili emphasizes the transformative potential of experience-based learning, stating, “I truly felt the transformative potential of experience-based learning.” Their weekly sessions dedicated to self-understanding and openness to change involved a four-step loop—Do, Reflect, Conceptualize, and Apply (Kolb). This process became the backbone of their collaboration, creating a model for open communication, understanding, and adaptability. Rain and Marili shared this model across ADM’s diverse project teams. 

In conclusion 

In essence, our journey is a testament to the belief that a successful project is not just about the technology but about fostering a collaborative culture. As we continue to innovate and refine this approach at ADM, our story serves as an inspiration for organizations navigating the dynamic landscape of IT development. The commitment to learning, adaptability, and a people-centric approach positions ADM at the forefront of excellence in team dynamics and project management. 

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