Communication skills

Communication is important. Not just for a Product Owner, but the whole team. Especially if it’s not a collocated one.

This is an excellent test for your team – a fun exercise that will uncover communication issues that nobody was aware of.

Setup:

  • Time needed: 45 – 60 minutes (30 minutes for the exercise + time for discussion).
  • Number of people needed: 4-6.
  • Divide the team to 3 groups.
  • Groups A and C go to different rooms.
  • Group A gets a picture that only they can see (a child-like drawing works well).
  • Group C gets a pen and a sheet of paper.
  • Group B, called ‘Runners’ stays with group A for now. Their task is to communicate between Group A and Group C.
Communication exercise-01
Example setup

How it works:

  1. Group A and Runners discuss what’s on the picture. Runners can ask any questions they want, but they can’t see the picture and they can’t take notes. Group A can see the picture all the time.
  2. Runners move to Group C and convey the information.
  3. Group C draws a picture based on what they are told. They can ask additional questions about anything.
  4. Runners come back to Group A to ask for more details.
  5. Steps 2,3,4 are repeated as many times as needed till the time is up.
  6. The person facilitating the exercise should spend some time with each of the groups, silently observing.
  7. At the end – ask the team how well they think they performed.
  8. Show both pictures to everyone and discuss. What went well, what could be improved? Any actions?

Some things to pay attention to:

  • Does the team start from the big picture or details?
  • Does the team optimise the way they work during the exercise?
  • Is the team aware of time and how fast they are progressing?
  • Is the team focussing on the most important elements?
  • What assumptions are made?

How my team performed:

Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 17.36.00
Original picture
communication exercise
Drawn by the team

What we observed:

  • The team jumped straight into details. Only 10 minutes into the exercise they discussed proportions of some key elements.
  • Runners split after the first exchange to save time. They didn’t however communicate between themselves, which caused asking the same questions twice. Surprisingly, they sometimes got different answers to the same questions, which required extra communication.
  • Group A also split, so they could deal with Runners separately, which resulted in one member not knowing if the horse was going to be present on the team picture at all at the end of the exercise.
  • The team didn’t plan the execution for the time given. This caused rushing at the end and asking for extra time to complete.
  • Some key elements were described in much detail, while others were very basic.
  • An assumption was made that characters on the picture sit at a table. It was quite quickly rectified though.
  • The overall result was good, but the team thought it was worse.
  • The team enjoyed working together and they want to repeat the exercise in a few months time to see if they can perform better.
  • The team is proud of their work.

It was definitely great fun and a good learning experience for the team. Try it yourself.

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