Introducing 'Squad Health Checks' is something that myself and fellow Engineering Managers have been working on over the last few quarters at Monzo.
Below is a summary of how we went about building and introducing a Health Check model across Engineering, the results we have had from them and how we are constantly reiterating on feedback from the teams that run and use them to make them better and more effective.
I recently spoke on the Coffee.cto podcast about Health Checks, so if you want to hear more about this topic in greater detail, then please go give it a listen! <3
Chapter One - The Mission
The idea was first introduced by fellow EM's Alan Wright and Os Hernandez, who had both used similar methods at Spotify and Atlassian respectively. We set up a working group of managers from different Collectives to talk through what we wanted to achieve from Health Checks.
We agreed that the purpose of introducing this model was to provide a method to visualise how different teams across the company were doing, both in terms of performance as well as happiness and psychological safety. As a result of this, Engineering Managers get a greater sense of clarity around any areas of a squad that maybe need extra attention as well as helping teams become more aware of how they are doing in general.
Ultimately, we wanted to add a ritual for teams to come together, work through in their own pace and then be aware of their results without these results being used as a method of comparing one team to another. The results were for the squad to own, address any 'red flags' or more urgent issues that came off of the back of the check and then keep at the back of their mind to use as a standard to improve on for next quarter.
This article is brought to you by Plaid.
Plaid is an Open Banking platform in the UK, Europe, and North America that enables developers to securely access clean, categorised financial data and initiate payments. Companies like Coinbase, Transferwise, and Cleo all use Plaid, and hundreds of millions of people have successfully connected their accounts to apps they love using the service.
Chapter Two - The First Trial
The format of the Health Check was to use a slide deck of different statements that teams could work through, each of which in turn would be read out by a facilitator (EM), who would then count down from three meaning all of the members of the team would vote positively, neutrally or negatively to each statement:
👍 - I agree
👊 - Neutral
👎 - I disagree
An example of some of the statements that are used:
- I feel safe to be myself.
- Our code is safe to deploy.
- We have a clear understanding of who we depend on and who depends on us.
I enjoy what we are working on.
We ran our first trial as a group of Engineering Managers, working through the statements ourselves and then discussing the results of each statement.
One piece of feedback that came back was that specifically folk were worried that people wouldn't respond as honestly as we wanted them too, especially if the levels of psychological safety in the team weren't at 100%. It would be a potentially awkward situation if everyone in the squad voted positively and one person was to vote negatively, and whilst we are striving to create a culture where that is ok we were still concerned that squad members would be anxious about being put in that position and therefore not voting as truthfully and as honestly as they would like. In my opinion, this needed addressing.
It was a success, however. We were provided with a greater sense of how we were doing as a group of EM's which was what the original vision was for introducing this exercise. Sure, there were a few areas for improvement as a group that came to light, but the beauty and effectiveness with the Health Checks is that it uncovers issues that may be present for a minority of people, but allows the option of discussing the issue as a group and being able to work together to find a solution. It was empowering and great to get some of these issues to light! The discussion as a team that follows each statement is where the value is derived from and this is something we were extremely excited to role out to the wider company.
Chapter Three - Running Anonymous Health Checks
All of the Engineering Managers from the working group took the Health Checks back to their own Collectives and got to work on implementing them into the routine of the squads they work with.
One thing that was playing heavily on the minds of myself and my fellow Operations Collective EM Lucila Sanjurjo, was the feedback that psychological safety was potentially an issue with the current way the checks were being implemented. We knew that we had a squad in Operations that had dealt with a lot of ambiguity over the last quarter and we were specifically concerned for the individuals within that squad feeling unsafe to be honest about what the problems were. Tackling this was our priority, and we wanted to get it right before introducing our new model to the teams.
We created a fairly simple solution of having everyone vote anonymously on each statement via a form, which collected data and displayed each response as a pie chart. This was still carried out in a group setting to ensure that we could have the all important discussion on the things that we were doing well as a team and the things we weren't doing so well.
Feedback from the first time we ran this was extremely positive, everyone liked the option of being able to vote anonymously and therefore this is a technique that we have continued to use across every Health Check we have carried out. Ultimately I think this gives us more accurate results and therefore is more effective.
Chapter Four - Important things to keep in mind
The purpose of this article is to run through exactly how we implemented this method into Monzo's Squads and the results that we have had. This continues to be an iterative process that we consistently look to improve via feedback from the squads. We want you to be able to introduce this to your engineering teams and find the value from doing so that we have found.
A few things to keep in mind whilst introducing this (or any) new process to teams however:
Be transparent about your intentions
We want folk to feel as safe as possible, so have put a lot of effort into ensuring that we introduce this ritual as transparently as possible. We make it clear that this is a tool for HELPING rather than comparing or grading.
Don't compare teams
This is not a tool for comparing the performance of teams against one another. The results of the Health Checks are relevant for the team they have been carried out with, and only that team.
Get feedback often
We involve the teams as much as possible, because this ultimately is a tool for them as much as the managers. We reiterate on feedback as and when it comes up and because of this, the way Health Checks look at Monzo is consistently changing.
Don't do it too often
We aim to run these checks once a quarter. This is not necessarily the best velocity, but it seems to be what is working for us. I would be cautious of running these too often, as it can be disheartening to see the results not improve, as well as being fairly emotionally draining if the team is not necessarily in a good place and the results are fairly negative. Find the right timeline for you and your teams - there is no right or wrong answer.
Use the results to improve
One of my early concerns was that all of these great discussion points were being raised by the team, but any actions that came off the back of these were disappearing into oblivion (an EM's brain). We wanted a simple way to keep track of the results, find the discussion points/actions and then be able to work on improving that within the squad.
I created a small table that showcases the overall Health of all of the squads in the Operations collective. This is only visible to Engineering Managers, but collecting this data means at a glance EM's can see their squads results from the last Health Check and work on addressing any issues that were risen. Clicking on each squad opens up a page containing notes pulled from each session.
I hope this has given you some clarity into how we go about introducing things at Monzo, but also more specifically about how we run Squad Health Checks. I would be super keen to speak to anyone who is looking to implement this into an engineering team or into their own company!