Help us make our mental health meet-ups better

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. During last year’s, Tom Walker wrote a post about why and how he set up Co-op Digital’s mental health meet-ups. A year on, Tom’s left but our fortnightly gatherings remain.

Now feels like a good time to kick off a conversation about what we can do to make sure they’re as helpful as they can be.

We’re looking for your suggestions.  

The idea’s still the same

Simon Hurst and I run the meet-ups now. It’s important to make it clear that, like Tom, we’re not doctors either. We’re not qualified to diagnose a mental illness and we’re certainly not qualified to prescribe remedies.

But the meet-ups are a place where colleagues can speak freely, in confidence, and know that they’re among empathetic people. A year on, this stuff is still the same.

Meet-ups are still open to everyone, they’re still informal. There’s still no minutes, no register, no pressure.

But the numbers have dropped

Recently, we’ve noticed that fewer people are coming to meet-ups. Of course, that could be seen as a really good thing – people don’t feel that they need the meet-up anymore because they’re feeling happier and healthier.

As much as we’d love to believe that, we don’t think that’s the case.

Time to make changes

The lunchtime meet-ups did a job. They got people within Co-op talking about mental health, often publicly, often openly. They helped reassure people they didn’t need to feel ashamed and that they weren’t alone.

It’s clear from speaking to people that even though there appears to be less demand for a mental health meet-up every other week, the idea of it existing, the idea of it being there if it’s needed, is comforting.

However, it’s time to adapt to meet people’s needs. We asked people who attend for their thoughts.

We learnt that:

  • some people find getting out of the office, in the fresh air, over lunchtime helps them most and, ironically, the meet-up was messing with that
  • everyone’s busy and taking time out in the middle of the day isn’t always easy

In response to that, here’s what we’re thinking of trying:

  1. Arranging walks – mental health meet-ups where we can walk and talk and take people out of the office.
  2. Drop-in slots – spreading out the times when we could meet up so there’s no set time and support’s there as and when it’s needed.
  3. Changing the day of the meet-ups.

Let us know what you think in the comments. Your feedback matters.

Mental health first aid training

We recently invited Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA) into Co-op Digital and a handful of colleagues took part in a mental health ‘first aid’ training course. The idea is that we can look after team mental health and morale better if we have ‘first aiders’ who recognise early on when team members are struggling.  

In theory, agile teams are fairly healthy. Relatively speaking. Agile ceremonies like daily stand-ups and fortnightly retros act as check-ins with the team – they’re places to bring up struggles, blockers and concerns.

But the take-away point from the training was that we all need to learn how to listen. In Digital, our job is to solve problems. Because of this, it’s easy to throw ‘answers’ out to colleagues who are struggling. The training taught us how effective just listening, without proposing solutions, can be.

Help and be helped

Co-op Group offers advice on setting up a mental health support group. There’s also an Employee assistance programme.

And there’s us, in Digital. You can request to join our dedicated and private mental health Slack channel.

We’ll continue to be here, in whatever format works for our colleagues and friends. Your feedback will shape this. We hope to hear from you soon.

Becky Arrowsmith
Engineer

Pressing for progress at Co-op Digital

Yesterday was International Women’s Day. Throughout the day we shared stories on Twitter about some of the people at Co-op Digital who help us be our best selves. These people inspire, empower, encourage and elevate those around them. They help level the playing field so we hear a diverse range of voices.

 

Co-op Digital champions diversity full stop. We mention gender diversity specifically in this post because it’s International Women’s Day.

Making the General Data Protection Regulation easier to understand

gdpr-rights-posters (1)

The Co-op Data team has been preparing Co-op Digital for the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which will come into law next year. But we’re aware that the rules it sets out can appear complicated.

Too often, data can seem like a complex and distant subject, but it’s part of everything we do and it’s important to us that the whole business can see what we’re doing. GDPR puts consumers’ rights at the centre of data protection. As we work towards a Co-op that’s trusted with data, we believe this is exactly where they should be. And we will continue to focus on that as we build and develop our data programme.

Making GDPR more accessible

To make colleagues in Digital aware that the regulation is coming, we created posters to explain what it means in plain language. We think they’re a good way to make sure everybody knows about the rules and understands what they mean.

Screen Shot 2017-11-21 at 11.55.22

So far we’ve had a lot of feedback which shows there’s a great deal of interest ahead of GDPR coming in and real appetite to understand it better. The work that Digital has done in this area will help to inform the Co-op’s communications.

We’ve learnt a lot from the comments we received, and wanted to make sure that anyone and everyone can download our GDPR ‘rights’ posters.

It would be great to hear what you think in the comments. Or tell us how you’re making GDPR more accessible to colleagues in your organisation.

Posters: words by Rachel Murray and design by Jack Fletcher

We held a massive retro and this is what we learnt

Holding team retrospectives helps us make sure we keep questioning the value in the things we’re working on and the ways we’re working. Retros give us a chance to reflect and learn.

At the Co-op, the Membership team is made up of 8 smaller teams with separate sets of objectives. Each small team holds regular retros and although they’re beneficial, we wanted to try a really big, joined up retro to see how that could help the wider group.

Photograph of a wall with hundreds of post it notes from the mega retro stuck on it. The big membership retro write up is written in red pen on the wall.

Six discussion points with long-lasting benefits

As a delivery manager, hosting retros falls under my remit. What I love about hosting them is that there’s no right or wrong way of doing them and I have the chance to experiment with different formats each time.

This time, after discussing them with other delivery managers, we chose these 6 giant retro topics:

1. Autonomy – how do you feel about the support, tools, skills you have and how trusted are you to get on with things?
2. Purpose – what’s your understanding of why you come to work and how your work contributes to the bigger picture?
3. Mastery – do you feel you have the opportunity to develop and use your skills?

These 3 ideas come from Daniel H. Pink’s book ‘Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us‘. Of course, we want our teams to feel motivated so talking about things that contribute to feeling that way is important.

We also spoke about:
4. Agility – how agile are we and how could we be better at working in this way?
5. Unity – how well do we work as a team, support our colleagues and feel able to ask for support?
6. Thoughtfulness – how well do we learn from mistakes and take alternative action?

All 6 of these topics are general enough that any digital team could use them in a retro.

The nitty gritty: how we did it

We split into groups of around 8 people – the average size for most of our individual team retros. We chopped our time into six, 20-minute rounds which felt like just enough to explore a topic but not enough time for people to lose interest.

Photograph of some of the membership team standing around a whiteboard talking about the thoughtfulness topic.

Outcomes: reality, aspirations and ideas

People had a lot to say. They had over 500 post it notes-worth of things to say in fact which is great: it means they felt the environment was safe enough to raise their issues. We grouped the post its into 22 themes and worked through each theme to figure out:

  • what our reality is now
  • how we’d like things to be
  • how we could make that change happen

We dot-voted on each theme to help us prioritise our actions.

The team came up with hundreds of ideas for how we can improve but one popped up again and again: dismantling and redistributing our central test team and giving crews more responsibilities for testing, quality and releasing. So that’s how we’re working now.

Try this at work

The general consensus for us was that holding a massive retro was useful. We found it’s worth keeping these points in mind though.

  1. Organisers will need to commit to a couple of days preparation and evaluation before and after the event.
  2. There’ll always be sceptics. Don’t let them stop you giving it a go. If it’s not valuable for your team, you don’t have to do it again.
  3. Be prepared to act on feedback quickly. If you don’t, there’s no point doing the retro.
  4. Don’t try and fix everything at once. Prioritise a couple of things and let the team know you’ll be addressing those things first.

If you’ve tried a retro on this kind of scale we’d be interested in finding out how it went and what effect it had on team morale. Let us know in the comments.

Rob Wadsworth
Delivery manager

Life as a software engineer in Co-op Digital

Software Engineer Nancy Richardson shares her thoughts about working in the Digital team.

(Transcript) Nancy Richardson: What I love about working here at Co-op Digital is I feel that at the end of the day that I’m making a difference. The products that we have are very well thought out and I’m also excited about the future as I’ve heard of some of the things that Co-op could be working on in say five years from now. Also I enjoy the diversity of the people I work with, we’re all different ages, different backgrounds.

I was attracted to the role because of its full stack and polyglot approach. This makes the work very varied, you could be working in the front end, back end, or on DevOps, and every sprint could be focusing on a different area of the stack, so this makes it very interesting. And I come from a Ruby background but now i’m learning Java which is really different from ruby but I feel very supported.

I’m learning from my colleagues on the job and there are also code show and tells. There’s even dedicated learning time. I think now is a really good time to join the Co-op because Co-op Digital is starting to expand so you have more influence in helping develop our standards, our ways of working, our teams stack and our practices.

Nancy Richardson
Software Engineer (Membership)

We’re looking for engineers at the moment. If you’re interested take a look at our Work with us page.

 

Posters. They’re part of our culture

Arch_Principle_4

Our workspace in Federation House is shiny and new, open-plan and airy, and best of all it reflects our teams’ progress. Whiteboards show what we’re working on now and what’s coming next – they’re chocker with post-its.

But we’re also beginning to fill our walls with posters. Instead of showing work in progress, our posters show off overarching ideas, ones that don’t change from sprint to sprint.

We posted about our 10 Architecture Principles back in April. We’ve since made them into a series of posters. Putting them up reminds us how we’ve agreed to work and makes our workspace ours.  

Posters: words by Ella Fitzsimmons, design by Gail Mellows.

Co-op Digital team

Why using jargon can alienate your wider team

Working in an agile way is now the norm for software development, IT and digital professionals (two thirds of companies describe their way of working as ‘agile’ or ‘leaning towards’ agile). And it’s how we work at Co-op Digital.

It’s a way of building products and services in gradual phases, instead of delivering it all at once, at the end. It means giving value to the people who will use the product as early as possible and letting them influence the direction of the product . It puts the user (in our case the customer, member or colleague) at the centre of the design and development process.

But agile comes with its own set of terminology and jargon. Search for ‘agile jargon’ and you’ll be met with a collection of dictionaries, glossaries and jargon-busters to help you understand the specialist vocabulary. ‘Sprint’, ‘kanban’, ‘scrum’, ‘MVP’, ‘retrospective’: there’s hundreds of terms that make up these aids.

What is jargon?

The Oxford Dictionary defines jargon as:

“Special words or expressions used by a profession or group that are difficult for others to understand.”

Sometimes jargon can be used as a shortcut to communicate a complex concept. It can be used to show that a person is a specialist in their field or connected to a certain community.

But, if we use jargon, we restrict the audience to those who understand the terms — it’s only understandable to those who know.

Why jargon’s a problem

As with many agile teams, Co-op Digital works with more traditional parts of the business. Recently, I’ve been working closely with Co-op Food. We couldn’t build a successful service without our Food colleagues’ knowledge and expertise. The least we can do in return is talk about these services in a way everyone understands.

This collaboration also gives us the opportunity to show the value that the agile way of working can add to a project and the rest of the business.

Agile often works best when it converts people — when it’s demonstrated an effective way of working to people who were initially sceptical. We should make the effort to make this transition as easy as possible for people.

But, by openly using agile jargon within a wider setting, we risk isolating the very people we want to help work in this way. If someone does not understand the vocabulary being used, it can be unnerving, alienating and mean they misinterpret an important part of what’s being said. Research shows that the less people understand, the less they trust the people telling them the information.

Using jargon can be inaccessible, ineffective and damaging.

What agile teams can do better

However we communicate, we should be inherently humble of what we assume. And good communication should not assume any specialist knowledge of the audience.

When we write for users of Co-op products and services we learn about the language that they use and make a considered effort to speak to them in a language we know they understand. We should do the same when we’re speaking to the wider team about our processes.

That means not using specialist terminology (or, at the very least, adding a plain English definition at the point any specialist terms are used) if we’re communicating:

  • publicly about our work
  • to people outside of our immediate team
  • to people who are new to a team or organisation

By doing this we’re not only removing barriers to comprehension, but showing that we’re open, transparent and respectful of our audience’s time.

Joanne Schofield
Content designer

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