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Team Norming Ceremony: How to Build Effective Remote Collaboration

Hana Mohan

Last updated on

This is a guest post from Dan Feusse, MagicBell's founding product manager. Artwork by Milena Milak.

MagicBell is a remote team spread out across six continents. Tools such as Zoom and Slack have made remote collaboration not just manageable but downright efficient. One challenge still present is the human element of working together. Is a teammate a morning or night person? Do they prefer Slacking asynchronously or Zooming face-to-face? Are there differences in personal values amongst the team?

Diversity should be the norm. But it can also lead to miscommunication, then frustration. Establishing empathy amongst the team is key. How? One way is a norming ceremony when kicking off a project. Our team normed yesterday. Not only was it enjoyable, but it will be very beneficial going forward with hard things on the horizon.

My norming process and format have progressed over the last six years, from being taught it at Cornell to now. Although much depends on the scenario, our team wanted to provide a generic walkthrough. We believe it could help your team, and would love to hear feedback on how it goes if you try it.

Step 1: Create the doc!

You can start with MagicBell’s Whimsical template. Add and/or remove questions relevant to your team.

Step 2: Start with an icebreaker.

An icebreaker is a question posed at the start of a meeting to learn more about teammates and help everyone relax. Examples are "What's your favorite dessert", "What emoji do you use most", and "What is your favorite work of fiction"? Typically meetings requiring substantial participation run much smoother after an icebreaker.

Step 3: Take ten or so minutes for the team to fill out the questions.

Step 4: Go through each question, creating a list of potential action items.

Guide the team through each question, discussing the tension differences could cause and potential solutions. Record possible future actions the team can take to work better.

Step 5: Vote on the top action items

All possible actions written down will not be good ideas. Hold a voting session where each team member gets 3-5 votes. Multiple votes for the same action item are allowed.

Step 6: Team members "pull" top action items.

Work should not be assigned (this holds in planning, during sprints, and in this meeting). Team members should pull (i.e., assign themselves) action items they want to complete.

Step 7: Thank everyone profusely for their time!

This meeting can run for a few hours. It requires teams to be vulnerable and often uncomfortable. Thank everyone for this. If there is a budget, buy everyone a coffee and croissant the following morning.

MagicBell's norming session

Our Team’s Takeaways:

  • No meeting Wednesdays
  • Having a global team results in some odd meeting times. We decided to block off Wednesdays for a few weeks to give everyone one day to optimize their personal working style and schedule.
  • Use Calendly if a teammate asks to schedule a meeting
  • Most makers need a block of free time each day. Setting availability in Calendly hopefully empowers each team member to keep a block of time available.
  • A core value of MagicBell is writing
  • Being a remote team increases the need for effective communication. Recording key decisions is a norm we unpacked as being important going forward. Putting thoughts onto paper also helps ensure a thought is not half-baked, manage edge cases, and think clearer.