Many of us have been tourists to continents and societies that are different from ours. During these adventures, we endeavour to widen our horizons, and get a fresh breath of air. We observe the difference in perspectives and constraints, that lead to novel solutions. We return rejuvenated, inspired, and ready to take on life’s challenges.
Some might posit that “grass is always greener on the other side”. On the contrary, I firmly hold the belief that grass is green everywhere. Every environment offers different perspectives, and learnings. We get wiser as we broaden our horizons, allowing us to have a higher vantage point.
Reframing this in the context of our workspaces , there is much that we can learn from our peers in the industry. Every organization has different problem spaces, challenges, constraints and diversity in thinking. While each of us strives to avoid making the same mistakes, it might be wise for us to also learn from each others’ mistakes, so that we can make better mistakes as an industry.
What is Team Tourism?
How about we apply the theory of tourism to our professional environments, where we play the role of tourist in organisations?
I first came across this concept in one of my previous roles when I was working with Mark Pearl. A proponent of continuous learning and improvement, Mark always makes an effort to catch-up with industry peers to get a sense of the industry trends.
What really inspired me was a story Mark shared about his experience being a team tourist at PluralSight while he was visiting the US. Through this experience and many others alike, he matured his software craftsmanship practice.
Team tourism is the practice of touring team/s in locations that you happen to be in for other purposes (e.g. family holiday, attending a conference & etc).
For example, each time that I travel to Australia for work, or Singapore to visit family, I will always make it a point to visit at least one software development team. The nature of these visits can be quite varied. There are occasions where I spent a full two-weeks working in the team, and others where I visit for a couple of hours.
Benefits & Disadvantages of Team Tourism
Following are some of the benefits and disadvantages (or potential risk) that I’ve learn from my experiences in team tourism:
- Everyone involved learns new skills, perspectives & insights through the interactions
- Fosters a community of practice that spans an organization’s boundaries
- Provide career progression opportunities for both organizations
- Team tourist gets to experience constraints that might not exist in their environment, challenging their existing assumptions and practices
Disadvantages (or potential risks)
- Flight at host team due to un-ethical recruitment endeavors
- Flight of team tourist who is attracted by what they see in the host team
- The host team’s velocity for the duration might be affected
This list is by no means exhaustive, so if you have any additional thoughts, please share it in the comments section of this page.
Main Aspects of Team Tourism
There are two primary roles:
- Team Tourist – The individual who is touring the team. This can be someone from a different team in the same organization, or someone from a different organization all together.
- Team Host – The individual in the team who is hosting the tourist, playing the role of the sponsor and buddy. This role is critical to the success of the initiative, as it helps build trust within the team necessary for open and constructive exchanges.
This relationship cannot be a one-way street. There must be something to gain in terms of learning for both the team, as well as the tourist, in order for the exchange to be productive.
Apart from bringing an open mind and a positive vibe, the team tourist will typically also share ideas on how his/her team would approach the similar problem. These usually leads to productive discussions that result in evolved learnings for all parties.
Other ways that a team tourist can add value:
- Presenting a brownbag
- Running kata to help host team acquire a new skill
- Facilitating a retrospective
- Returning the favour in the future by being the host to someone in the team
What to avoid?
- Avoid making judgements
- Avoid comparisons of who is better or more right
- Avoid talking about theories without concrete examples
- Avoid revealing commercial sensitive information
- Avoid any form of badmouthing
- Avoid visiting teams who are currently in the forming or storming stage where trust within the team is not high.
Taking your First Step in Team Tourism
Making your first attempt on this endeavour can be daunting. Always start with someone you already know – for example, an ex-workmate, or an ex-classmate.
- Start by sharing about the concept of team tourism with your potential team host. Talk about examples of how it has worked for others. Sometimes, it might take a few phone calls and coffees before it materializes. This is perfectly normal.
- Identify what’s in for them (and their team), and what are you trying to get out of this endeavor.
- Consult your manager to ensure that there’s no conflict of interest if you are required to sign any non-disclosure agreements.
- Start small by just visiting to observe team ceremonies, before trying to go for a full day on-site pair programming endeavour.