Evaluating team morale

Team morale is pretty important in large-scale projects; it’s easily neglected and that can have catastrophic results on how developers perform. In many cases, the resilient solo-developer resists the kind of traditional team evaluation that project management tries to foist upon them.

One of the problems of traditional evaluation forms is that they’re heavy and quickly get a bit patronising — what I want is an easy, quick way of ascertaining what is the major pressure point in the team so that we can adjust working methods and team composition to in a proactive way.

In order for things to be acceptable for developers — here I’m talking not only from my own point of view, but also based on general sentiment from the team — the emotional evaluation needs to be quick, easy and accessible. A quick polling of how things feel is better than a drawn out process.

I created a simple, anonymous Google form where I asked team members to rate their agreement with eight assertions. In this way, I was able to package something that is done half-heartedly in technical retrospective meetings so that we could quickly gauge sentiment before the retrospective and use the data collected to identify action items.

Commonly, metrics related to morale have focused on individual satisfaction — “I” focussed — but this time round, inspired by a blog post, I used a slightly different tack: “my place in the team”. This attempts to elicit an impression of how respondents feel in relation to their situation, rather than a simple “I’m happy-or-not” metrics, which can be more easily skewed by outside factors like simply having a bad day.

The current crop of assertions [translated]:

  • I have enthusiasm for the work I do in the team
  • I feel that the work I do in the team is meaningful and important
  • I’m proud of the work I do in the team
  • I feel that there is enough challenge in the work I do in the team
  • I feel energetic when I work in the team
  • I feel I fit in in the team and have strengths the team can build on
  • I feel that — through the team — that I recover after encountering difficulties
  • I feel that I can continue in the team over time

My approach to this kind of thing is extremely loose; I’d rather have a functioning team than strict adherence to a certified approach. At the same time, I recognise that this is something we need to look at over time in order to identify what we need to measure and how.

We’re lucky to work in a smaller team and this means that we can slot five minutes in as a more lighthearted introduction to technical retrospectives — even if the topic is very important. This worked well in this first instance and provided a platform for the rest of the agenda — regarding how we were addressing workflow and deployment difficulties.

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