Three Great Team Health Checks

I’d like to take a moment to talk about three of my favorite tools for keeping the pulse on team health. There are hundreds of techniques out there for gauging the health of your team, but I’m going to share three simple ones that take minimal effort for you and those you lead while still providing enough information to be beneficial and allow you to provide support and drive change when necessary.

We’ll look at:

  • A daily (or weekly) health check
  • A per-sprint health check
  • A quarterly health check

But first, what are health checks and why are they important?

Team health checks are tools for measuring the overall mental health and happiness of your team members over time. It can be useful for discovering trends affecting the team at large, or single individuals. Team health metrics are one of the best ways to advocate for process change.

Team health checks, in the context I’m referring to, are different from team productivity metrics in which you look at things like sprint burndown charts and velocity. Health checks are all about the mental and physical health of the people on your team.

In short, it’s a measure of team morale.

The Daily Health Check:

The red/yellow/green check-in is my favorite daily health check. During team standups, each team member gives a color (red, yellow, or green), at the start of their check-in. That color is a measure of how they’re doing that day. Green is “I’m good” and red is “I’m really struggling.”

Team members give this simple color statement at the start of their check-in and then they continue however they would like. If they want to elaborate or ask for help from the team, they’re free to do so. If they’re having a red day because of something more personal and don’t want to share, that’s fine, too!

You need to set the expectation with your team that sharing is optional and we can all offer support without prying.

Even if someone doesn’t want to share why they’re having a bad day, just knowing that they are allows the rest of the team to extend them a little more kindness and forgiveness, and helps managers know when someone is struggling and may need extra support.

If your team is anything like mine, they will introduce new colors like “unripe banana” and “orange” for more fidelity… that’s cool! I was once decidedly brown at one particular check-in after discovering a large snake in my kitchen five minutes earlier.

The Per-Spring Health Check:

My favorite tool for measuring the general sentiment about any given sprint is the sprint weather report.

To do this report, I have a Google Jamboard with weather icons for sunny, partly cloudy, cloudy, rainy, and storming. Also on the board are enough identical nerd emojis for each member of the team.

Then, at the start of our sprint retro, the team takes a couple of minutes to anonymously move an emoji under the weather icon that they feel best suited their experience of the sprint.

This weather report then helps inform discussion about what went well and what didn’t during the sprint. We can also then reference it again at the end of the sprint and see if folks are feeling better about the new direction and the action items we’ve chosen to implement in the next sprint.

You should also track trends in weather patterns from sprint to sprint to gauge if things are improving, staying about the same, or getting worse.

Generally, the weather report will indicate a pattern for the sprint. If one person felt awful about the sprint, there’s a chance someone else did, too.

If there are extreme outliers, they’re invited to discuss why they felt the way they did. If they don’t feel comfortable doing so, then they’re invited to message me later to discuss things in a one on one environment.

The Quarterly Health Check:

Finally, I like to do a quarterly check-in with my team to take a look at more “big picture” concerns. Generally, this is composed of four questions that I ask each time, followed by 3 questions specific to what the team has worked on that quarter. I ask them to rate each question on a 1 to 5 scale, with 1 being “not at all” and 5 being “absolutely.”

Those four questions are:

  • I feel supported by my leader and other members of my team.
  • I find it easy to collaborate with other members of my team.
  • I feel that the volume and scope of work I’m asked to take on is appropriate.
  • I have someone in a leadership position whom I feel safe discussing problems and concerns with.

It may sound redundant to ask these questions each quarter, but businesses change rapidly and that can sometimes leash to rapid culture shifts or rapid working requirements which can drastically impact a person’s feelings and outlook about their working environment.

Having high numbers in each of these four areas (4-5) is vital to having employees that feel heard, safe, supported, productive, and happy.

Looking at the responses to this survey over the course of the year can be a good way to know when your company culture or your team’s approach may be in trouble, or conversely, a good indicator to celebrate all the things you’re getting right.