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Raffaele Pizzari for SinnerSchrader Engineers

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First thing to do when joining or building a team

(this article was originally posted on my blog)

Building a team or joining an established team is certainly hard.
Every transitions leads to new challenges and we have to be as prepared as possible.

Multiple people means multiple personalities, habits, languages, points of view, opinions, conflicts to deal with.
However, plurality also represents the strength of a team. It is up to us to turn challenges into opportunities.

It is essential to make rules, expectations and goals explicit.
The sooner the team is on the same page and makes "visible" what is "invisible", the sooner it can define the boundaries, start a self-improvement process and become extremely productive.

Obviously it is a very complex process and cannot be summarised in an article. However, I'd like to share with you my very first step, what I always do when I need to build or join a team: my "User Manual" (I've been calling it this way since I discovered the Atlassian Playbook - thank you, David!).

Screenshot from the Atlassian's Playbook User Manual page, showing the title and the description of the workshop

Get to know your teammates and how to effectively work with them by sharing user manuals, which include communication preferences and more.


What is the "User manual"?

It's a way to get to know your teammates and how to effectively work with them and of course to let your teammates get to know you and how to effectively work with you.

You can either do it on your own or follow these instructions. It's just very important that you keep it honest.
At the end it's nothing more than your own list of questions and answers, an "interview" with yourself.

Those are my questions:

  • What are the environments I like to work in?
  • What are my preferred working hours?
  • What are my communication preferences?
  • What are my preferred ways to receive feedback?
  • What are the things I need?
  • What are the things I struggle with?
  • What are the things I love?
  • If I were a meme, I would be...?
  • What is my favourite saying?
  • What are other things I want you to know about me?

That's my list, but as I said, everyone can choose the questions and answers, make it more or less personal, more or less fun, more or less detailed.

When the "User Manuals" are ready, it is very important to organise a meeting with the team and present the documents.
Please, consider to let your team know the following at the start of the meeting (quoting Atlassian's Playbook):

  • This activity is designed for team members to understand how to support each other’s ideal conditions for getting their best work done.
  • No one will be pressured to share anything they’re not comfortable sharing.
  • This meeting is a safe space. Nothing they share will be used against them.

My "User manual"?

I keep my "User Manual" always public and accessible to everyone.
Actually I'm thinking about sharing it on my personal website.

Environments I like to work in

  • Inclusive

  • Diverse
  • Positive
  • Supportive
  • Proactive
  • Happy

Preferred working hours

6:30 - 15:00

But I'll be of course available 9:00-17:00.

Communication preferences

Feel free to contact me any time. I'll get back to you as soon as I can.

However, I do have some communication preferences I would share with you:

  • Slack is the best way to communicate with me
  • Write longer messages that scan quickly
  • Use threads
  • Replace short follow-up messages with emoji reactions

If you contact me via e-mail:

  • Start with the main point, conclude with the context
  • One email thread per topic
  • Summarise complex email threads upon including new recipients
  • Manage recipients (++Hans, --Lara, explain why in 2 words at email start)
  • Describe the topic in the subject line
  • Hyperlink whenever possible

Preferred ways to receive feedback

I would be very happy to receive constructive feedback. I truly believe in a positive feedback culture and I can't stress enough the importance of it.

I am sharing here some of my wishes for our feedback sessions:

  • 1-on-1 meeting
  • Share with me the purpose of the feedback
  • Focus on performance and facts, not personal traits
  • Ensure a neutral environment
  • Set up a meeting

Things I need

  • Openness
  • Transparency
  • Respect
  • Empathy

How I learn best

  • Doing pair programming / working
  • Focusing on a topic and avoid multitasking
  • Making my health your No. 1 priority
  • Getting constructive Feedback
  • Reading books
  • Doing retrospectives

Things I struggle with

  • I don't like wasting time
  • I am impatient when I attend a not well-structured meeting
  • I don't like pep talks

Things I love

  • Achieve goals
  • Have fun while reaching goals
  • Work in a happy environment and connect with colleagues
  • Support other developers

If I were a meme, I would be...

'This is fine' meme. A dog is drinking a coffee in a room full of flames and he is reassuring itself that everything is fine.

My favorite saying

I really like the "Retrospective Prime Directive":

"Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand."

Norm Kerth
Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Review

Other things I want you to know about me

I run a free learning community for developers.

I am volunteering as a mentor.


What about your "User Manual"?

  • Do you have one?
  • Would you like to have one?
  • Would you like to share your User Manual here?

If you need support to create one, feel free to write me.

I'd love to hear your feedback!


(Cover foto credits: https://pixabay.com/)

Discussion (5)

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josefine profile image
Josefine Schfr

I love this (especially your meme 😀 ), thanks for sharing! I will propose to do this in our team. Regardless of how long you work together, I m sure we ll be able to learn new things about each other by sharing our preferences this transparently :)

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pixari profile image
Raffaele Pizzari Author

Thank you!

When I wrote my User Manual I learned a lot about myself and it was totally unexpected.
I'm very curious to see your "manual! :)

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owlcowl profile image
Owlcowl (he/him)

Thanks for sharing this with us!
It reminds me a bit of a value workshop but I like your User Manual approach way more, it is more personal.
Looking forward to use it and give it my own spin, don't know what that will be yet though.

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pixari profile image
Raffaele Pizzari Author

Thank you too!
I'm looking forward to see your User Manual :)