How to use team health checks to get a handle on the feels

4 min read
Mark Boyes-Smith
  •  Aug 11, 2022
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Often, we’re the smallest team in the product trio (product, design, and engineering). To maximize the impact of our hard work we need good process, good support, and a good understanding of where to focus our efforts. But, when we’re busying ourselves in the weeds it’s all too easy to forget to check in with each other and ask, “How smart are we really being?”

Great design teams work smart, not hard

If you’ve worked as part of a product trio I am almost certain you will have joined a retrospective. They provide a product development team with a chance to talk openly about challenges and opportunities related to team performance, often with a focus on engineering. As design teams, I don’t often see us lean into these sorts of rituals. This is kind of crazy, knowing how empathy is one of our core skills. In my experience, engineering teams have a thing or two to teach us creative folks about the power of self-reflection and tuning!

Over the years, I’ve seen countless variations and angles on the retrospectives. Let me introduce you to a rather unique type of guided retrospective, called a Health check.

Introducing Health Checks 

I run these every month with my teams. They give us a unique opportunity to take a pause, be a little introspective, and share our views on the team’s health, happiness, creativity, and impact.
I love them because they create a safe space for teams to open dialogue on topics that we might not usually be so honest about. It embraces opposing views and makes room for everyone to contribute, which is helpful for balancing team dynamics if you have some quieter members in the group.

I’ve created a Team Health Check template based on the exercise I run with my teams. It’s super simple to use and above all, it’s light-hearted and enjoyable.

It’s a guided experience, so you don’t need to prepare anything in advance other than setting aside 40 minutes with your team (for teams over six, I’d suggest an hour). By repeating the exercise over consecutive months your team can track the feels and compare results across exercises, Unlike a typical retrospective, the topics of conversation are standardized by twelve categories ranging from Vision and Direction to Impact and Peer Relationships.

For each category, your team needs to cast two votes:

  • How are you feeling right now?  Confident or happy,  indifferent or satisfied, concerned or downbeat
  • How do you feel about the outlook? Heading in the right direction, holding strong, tiptoeing towards disaster

Categories are time-bound. I find this prevents us from rabbit-holing on topics that could consume the entire session, instead, these are tabled for future conversations.

With our challenges laid out on the table, the exercise encourages an outcomes-focused mindset to help us divine actions that contribute to removing hurdles, improving perceptions, and resolving conflicts. 

Where to begin? 

  • Check out my Team Health Check template — All you need is a free InVision account.
  • Set aside 40 minutes with your team — you can also share the link to bring them into the Freehand
  • Nominate a facilitator to run the session
  • Nominate a coordinator to capture notes and actions
  • Read the manifesto — read it aloud to the team to get everyone on the same page. I really find this helps to set the tone of the session
  • Take each category in turn — read aloud the positive and negative statements and ask the team to vote on the scorecard
  • Take a moment — review the notes and align on actions

Once you’re comfortable with the format, I’d suggest putting the list of questions out to your team for feedback. Oftentimes I find myself tailoring the questions to the unique challenges of a team.

Good luck and remember, keep the conversation positive, open, and outcomes-focused.

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