https://mojdigital.blog.gov.uk/2018/06/05/an-experiment-with-professional-triads/

An experiment with professional triads

In MOJ Digital and Technology over the last few months we have been establishing new professions and developing our existing communities of practice. In the Delivery Management community - one of our longer running professions - we are always seeking ways to support and challenge each other beyond our weekly community retrospectives.

In December 2015 we embarked on an experiment of working in ‘triads’. I wanted to share what we’ve learned from doing this for the past couple of years, and enable other professional communities to benefit from our experience.

So why triads?

The name might bring to mind organised crime groups but in this instance we were setting up sub community groups of three peers to meet regularly, provide a support network, discuss general day-to-day challenges, work together on larger ongoing issues, and consider ways to improve the community and wider organisation.

We felt we had a strong community that wants to make a difference, but we didn’t always get to cover all the issues we wanted to as a whole group and certainly not to the level of detail we’d like. Our community was also growing fairly rapidly and we felt the peer support provided by triads would supplement the time the Head of Delivery could spend with each individual community member.

We agreed the following rules for our triads:

  • Three people to a triad

This ensured it couldn’t fall into a mentor/mentee relationship and meant that if one member couldn’t make it there were still two members that could meet

  • Each triad member should have different working experiences

We initially pulled members’ names out of a hat and then reviewed them to ensure triads brought together Delivery Managers working on products for different areas or agencies of the MOJ, a mixture of contractors and civil servants and different grades (Associate Delivery Managers, Delivery Managers and Senior Delivery Managers). This meant they would each have different experiences and might not otherwise interact regularly

  • Triads would meet monthly as a minimum

We wanted the triads to not feel like a chore but be something people wanted to be a part of. Each triad has had the freedom to organise themselves as they see fit, including where and when they meet, what they discuss and even what they are called with some interesting triad names! But we wanted to make sure they met regularly.

Our Delivery Management community has developed and embraced the values: courage, integrity and fun. It has therefore also always been important that the triads incorporated these values into how they work together.

 

3 is not always a magic number

As with most experiments it has not always been a smooth ride. Some triads stalled when members left the organisation or changed roles meaning we had to reshuffle and restart them. Some triads did not set clear goals, which made it difficult for members to see value in them.

When setting up any community, no matter how large or small, you will have different types of members often set out as: Core, Active, Occasional, Peripheral and Outside. With a small community such as our triads it is important to encourage all members to want be core members who keenly want to play their part in all meetups and activities. Without this commitment the community can lose its way and become ineffective.

How to make triads effective

We’ve found it’s important to regularly review the performance of the triad you are a member of and with the help of one of our agile coaches we have come up with a set of questions to ask yourselves to ensure your triad is still performing its purpose and adding value:

  • How regularly are we meeting? (monthly is a minimum, fortnightly is more common)
  • How well is our triad agreement working? (if there is none, consider creating one)
  • How well are we living up to our triad vision & values? (if there is none, try exploring this)
  • How well are our triad meetings working? (what's great, what should be improved?)
  • How could we make our triad meetings more valuable?
  • How much do we help each other outside of our triad meetings?
  • How have we used our triad to improve our respective product teams’ rate of delivery?
  • How is our shadowing going? (if you don't do any, try it out)
  • How much have we grown as Delivery Managers through our triad?
  • How much closer have we gotten to our personal or professional development goals through our triad?

These questions do not all need to be asked every time and should be selected depending on what particular issue your triad is facing at that time.

How have they developed?

It’s been interesting to observe how the triads have grown and developed over the past couple of years. Some have stuttered along, others have stuck together from the start, but all are now going from strength to strength.

This has been shown through the topics of discussion and responsibilities being owned by the individual triads, having started with very small internal facing conversations about day-to-day issues with product teams to now taking on larger challenges such as improving training opportunities for the organisation, overhauling the department's recruitment processes and increasing understanding of how the portfolio function works.

Importantly the triads are still providing support and peer review, enabling members to continuously improve. As people have got more comfortable with how triads work, I have witnessed that the level of challenge within them increasing - with each other, which aids personal development, and with the wider community and organisation, which helps us to improve on a larger scale.

What is also interesting is how the use of triads has grown within the community. Members have set up additional triads with different people to solve common issues they’ve shared. Some of these have been long lasting while others have just come together for a specific issue and then broken away once completed.

What’s next?

I hope to see our triads continue to grow and add value to their members, the rest of the Delivery Management community and MOJ Digital and Technology.

Other professional communities have shown an interest in starting their own triads, so if you are asked to be a member of a triad do not be afraid! It’s an excellent opportunity to develop yourself and others.

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