Note: In week 7 some team members are absent, we are aware there are extenuating circumstances for some members of the team but we are not aware of the situation for all team members.

Reflection on Storming and Action Plan to move forwads

On Reflection of the last few weeks, I feel there are three main issues preventing the team from moving forwards. I feel that the team and myself need to recognise “individual and group efforts” and adopt strategies to start “providing learning opportunities and feedback” as well as “monitoring the ‘energy’ of the group” (Graffius 2021). Firstly it’s important that the team recognises where we feel we are not being recognised, I feel there is a lack of planning (and that my offers to support planning have been unappreciated), skill underutilization and a lack of psychological safety to feel comfortable.

Eline Muijres is a Producer at Mi’pu’mi Games and Board Member of Games [4Diversity] Foundation.

Fig. 1 You have to do better than just ‘not be abusive’. You need to be EXTREMELY inviting & encouraging to undo the internal programming of feeling unsafe to express opinions 23 July 2021. [screenshot by author]

A lack of planning and opportunities for learning and feedback

Some team members, including myself, have tried to encourage the whole team to take part in retrospectives, as well as other agile methodologies like sprint planning and asynchronous stand-ups. We have discussed different options and how we can encourage everyone to participate. The majority of the team did not want to participate in planning and I feel that this has largely contributed to the team dysfunctioning, miscommunication and little to no organisation. While not all team members wanted to participate in the agile methodologies, and planning activities set up, I carried out my own retrospectives and sprint planning, collaborating with other members of the team.

Moving forwards and opportunities for learning:

The whole team needs to commit to planning our tasks and sprints on Slack and/or Miro, or suggest an alternative. The team also need to commit to sharing their progress in an open way, again we suggested using Trello or asked for anyone to suggest an alternative. Without sharing progress, discussing blocks and communicating at all – can we call ourselves a team? I will ask the team to share their progress and carry out a retrospective of our storming weeks. While this might be uncomfortable this will present an opportunity for feedback and learning from our mistakes.

Putting plans in action

Not all team members are available, when the whole team is available or we have more information we can plan a collaborative synchronous team retrospective. We should focus on whole team actions, not individual discussions.

Skill Underutilization and appreciating individual and group efforts

Skill Underutilization is Associated with Higher Prevalence of Hypertension: The Watari Study

In Japan, a study was conducted on the impact of stress and skill underutilisation. “This study was conducted as a part of the Watari study, a community-based cohort study aimed at examining the association between qualitative and quantitative job stress and cardiovascular diseases” (Konno and Munakata 2014). There is physical evidence for the stress we feel when we are underutilised. “a low perceived degree of skill utilization was associated with a higher prevalence of hypertension in a working population including various kinds of occupations. Our results may provide new information relevant to the establishment of healthier workplaces” (Konno and Munakata 2014). While I could not work on the prototype and support the team with my knowledge of Unity, Art Direction and general game design I experienced high levels of stress. Collaborative working should rely on all team members to contribute and support the projects, utilising everyone’s knowledge and skills.

Moving forwards and appreciating team and individual efforts:

Now I have access to the prototype and I can build a 3D environment I feel wholeheartedly better but it’s imperative that the whole team feels this way. I would suggest again we have regular clarification of roles, tasks and planning to make sure everyone feels they can openly offer their skills, knowledge and experience. To support the whole team to feel appreciated, and show that I saw their efforts I asked everyone in private messages what they liked doing. The answers were things like writing narratives for games, illustration, design and so on. I tried to suggest roles for everyone, that they said they would enjoy like writing and illustrating.

Psychological safety in teams and team ‘energy’

What is psychological safety in teams?

A part of feeling psychologically safe in the team is to understand that my own thoughts and feelings are leading me to that feeling of being unsafe. By psychologically unsafe, I mean unable to express concerns, ideas and issues.” Ancient evolutionary adaptations explain why psychological safety is both fragile and vital to success in uncertain, interdependent environments. The brain processes a provocation by a boss, competitive coworker, or dismissive subordinate as a life-or-death threat. The amygdala, the alarm bell in the brain, ignites the fight-or-flight response, hijacking higher brain centers. This “act first, think later” brain structure shuts down perspective and analytical reasoning. Quite literally, just when we need it most, we lose our minds. While that fight-or-flight reaction may save us in life-or-death situations, it handicaps the strategic thinking needed in today’s workplace” (Delizonna 2017). I took some time to reflect and found that I am suffering with ‘False Responsibility’. “Many people suffer from what is sometimes called toxic or chronic guilt, which is closely related to a false and overwhelming sense of responsibility” (Cikanavicius 2018) “False responsibility refers to an attitude when you feel responsible for things that, objectively, you aren’t responsible for and shouldn’t feel responsible for” (Cikanavicius 2018). False responsibility is potentially exasperating my feelings of unsafety and making our storming stage and conflicts more difficult than they might be for someone else.

While working at The Open University, on top of my role there I supported learners through qualifications in Customer Service and Business and Administration. I take responsibility for everyone’s happiness, and the last few weeks are beginning to teach me that it is, in this case, not my responsibility. I’ve been reflecting recently on my experience there, where I felt happy going to work every day, feeling like I was productive and making an albeit, tiny, difference in the world. At The Open University, I had been taught how to support learners through their qualifications and was always inspired by my colleagues, especially our head of development. I need to find my own coping strategy and formula for supporting the team in this module.

Moving forwards

I researched the following techniques, while we are still ‘storming’ to find a place where we can all discuss the work freely. The freer the team feels the more energised and safe we should all hopefully feel.

  • “How could we achieve a mutually desirable outcome?” (Delizonna 2017)
  • “Speak human to human” (Delizonna 2017)
  • “Skillfully confront difficult conversations head-on by preparing for likely reactions” (Delizonna 2017)
  • “Replace blame with curiosity” (Delizonna 2017)
  • “For example, Santagata asked about his delivery after giving his senior manager tough feedback. His manager replied, “This could have felt like a punch in the stomach, but you presented reasonable evidence and that made me want to hear more. You were also eager to discuss the challenges I had, which led to solutions” (Delizonna 2017)
  • “Measure psychological safety” (Delizonna 2017)
Action Plan Summary – How to get to the ‘norming’ phase
  • Continue to encourage the team to participate in retrospectives, so that we have an opportunity for learning and feedback as a team
  • Continue to suggest team members use their skills they enjoy like writing and illustrating to collaborate on the project
  • Continue to encourage communication and documentation
  • Strongly emphasise the need for a Roadmap/Milestone planning/Sprint planning
  • Strongly emphasise the need for clearly aligned goals
  • Strongly emphasise the need to clarify communication with a guide
  • Try to encourage honesty and psychoogical safety with Delizonna’s (2017) guidance

Putting plans in action

We re-scoped our project, offered roles members said they would enjoy and asked for a commitment to sharing openly our progress and brainstorming together to create a plan. Our ideas have moved back and forth but there should be room for everyone to have a little fun. Our supervisor arranged a meeting between us, where we focused on an activity, there was some progress and we finally had version control and a project I can contribute to. We set up a game design on google docs, made sure everyone was aware of where it was and asked for everyone’s contribution. Only two members of the team participated including me, which has been a continuing pattern. I suggested a team member start writing a story, or narrative to support the avatar (something they told me was their specialist area and passion), which went unacknowledged. We set up a 6 Thinking Hats exercise, retros, and planning in Miro all of which no one participated in once again. Only I was working in the repository, there was only one commit from another team member. There was no planning of tasks and no indication that all team members had any interest in working on a collaborative project.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is WhatsApp-Image-2021-08-22-at-19.09.23-473x1024.jpeg

Fig 2. Klubbing Repository [screenshot]

Linabary (2020) discusses how solutions to social loafing, a term from the study ‘Many hands make light the work’ (Latané et al. 1979). Participants would pull less on the rope, the larger the group size. While “collective group performance increased somewhat with group size, it was less than the sum of the individual efforts (IE). IE decreased as group size increased. The present 2 experiments with 84 undergraduates investigated this effect using clapping and shouting tasks. Results replicate the earlier findings. The decrease in IE, which is here called social loafing, is in addition to losses due to faulty coordination of group efforts” (Latané et al. 1979). During our emergency meeting, we addressed the issues by trying to write a ‘team contract’ or team charter and establishing ‘individual accountability’ (Linabary 2020). I tried to consult the members individually (Linabary 2020) by arranging further brainstorming but any planning activities were met with a lack of engagement/enthusiasm to the point of obstructive. We tried group discussion (Linabary 2020) and the presence of our supervisor (Linabary 2020), an authority figure in this case during our emergency meeting.

The reason the storming period may have dragged on for weeks and the challenge of addressing our concerns more difficult is because we are a remote distributed team. “Overall, remote employees may enjoy the freedom to live and work where they please, but working through and with others becomes more challenging. They report that workplace politics are more pervasive and difficult, and when conflicts arise they have a harder time resolving them. When remote members of a team encountered common workplace challenges, 84% said the concern dragged on for a few days or more, while 47% admitted to letting it drag on for weeks or more” (Greeny and Maxfield 2017). While we are trying different research techniques to convince the team to trust, coordinate and be open with us, the deadline is fast approaching and we’ve had little success. The project is also for university, with no boss or real consequence for ignoring suggestions.

The impact of the lack of engagement and work from members of the team has been detrimental to the health of everyone potentially including themselves. “Without individual accountability, often only one or a few group members will do most of the work to make up for what the other students lack. Cheri Yecke (2004), Minnesota’s commissioner of education, explains that in these instances group work can be detrimental to the student(s) who feel resentment and frustration from carrying the weight of the work.” (Linabary 2020). I feel unappreciated and this affected my confidence and my self-esteem. The effects of picking up all the work, with no recognition again may be exasperated by being a remote team. “Remote employees report larger, negative impacts of these challenges than their on-site colleagues on results, including productivity, costs, deadlines, morale, stress, and retention” (Greeny and Maxfield 2017). Appreciation goes both ways, in this respect, I am struggling to find a way forward and not take things personally.

Feeling low in energy, I took some time out to reflect, while I kept communication channels open in case anyone contacted me. Time away from the situation gave my head some time to clear, much-needed sleep and clarity. Two team members had been solely organising everything, at times our suggestions to form a goal, open communication and organisation had been met with complete disinterest or hostility. The more work we did, the worse things got. We took a slight step back and hoped that the team would see the amount of work we have been performing on everyone’s behalf. That this might finally motivate the team to come together. No one came forward or contacted us. No one took the initiative to do anything. We cannot continue the way we are going, chasing everyone all the time, to the detriment our of well-being. To come together as a team, the whole team has to want to.

Sprint 4 ‘Unity and Getting Started with Probuilder’

Sprint Goal: Set up a layout of our venue in Unity with Probuilder

Tools used this sprint:

  • PlayMaker
  • Adventure Creator
  • ProBuilder
Level Design in ProBuilder

The Team aren’t sure if we are building a nightclub game or a virtual clothing store, so I’ve been working on something that can be used for either/both and can be altered easily.

Layout – After sharing the level design for the store/nightclub, I re-jigged the layout in response to feedback from user research and the team.

Materials

Creating materials in Unity is relatively simple and through research I found a 3D community sharing quality textures. I have used trendy metal materials like copper and darker metals with darker colours for the walls to give a nightclub feel.

Grey Box Prototype:

During this sprint I also carried out a grey box prototype, testing Adventure Creator with the 3D environment I have designed.

Sprint 4 Retro

The Sprint Retrospective was completed by two members of the team

Fig 7. Retro [screenshot by author]

List of Figures

Figure 1. You have to do better than just ‘not be abusive’. You need to be EXTREMELY inviting & encouraging to undo the internal programming of feeling unsafe to express opinions 23 July 2021. [screenshot by author].

Figure 2. Klubbing Repository [screenshot].

Figure 3. ProBuilder [screenshot by author].

Figure 4. ProBuilder [screenshot by author].

Figure 5. Materials [screenshot by author].

Figure 6. Materials [screenshot by author].

Figure 7. Retro [screenshot by author].

References

CIKANAVICIUS, Darius. 2018. ‘How Toxic Guilt and False Responsibility Keep You in Dysfunction’. Psych Central [online]. Available at: https://psychcentral.com/blog/psychology-self/2018/11/guilt-responsibility-dysfunction [accessed 19 Jul 2021].

DELIZONNA, Laura. 2017. ‘High-Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety. Here’s How to Create It’. Harvard Business Review [online]. Available at: https://hbr.org/2017/08/high-performing-teams-need-psychological-safety-heres-how-to-create-it [accessed 11 Jul 2021].

GRAFFIUS, Scott M. 2021. ‘Phases of Team Development (Update for 2021)’ [online]. Available at: http://rgdoi.net/10.13140/RG.2.2.22040.42246 [accessed 26 Jul 2021].

GRENNY, Joseph and David MAXFIELD. 2017. ‘A Study of 1,100 Employees Found That Remote Workers Feel Shunned and Left Out’. Harvard Business Review [online]. Available at: https://hbr.org/2017/11/a-study-of-1100-employees-found-that-remote-workers-feel-shunned-and-left-out [accessed 23 Aug 2021].

LATANÉ, Bibb, Kipling WILLIAMS and Stephen HARKINS. 1979. ‘Many Hands Make Light the Work: The Causes and Consequences of Social Loafing.’ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 37(6), 822–32.

LINABARY, Jasmine. 2020. ‘Confronting and Preventing Social Loafing’ [online]. Available at: https://smallgroup.pressbooks.com/chapter/social-loafing/ [accessed 23 Aug 2021].

KONNO, Satoshi and Masanori MUNAKATA. 2014. ‘Skill Underutilization Is Associated with Higher Prevalence of Hypertension: The Watari Study’. Journal of Occupational Health 56(3), 225–8.