For various reasons, not the least of which dealing with power distance, your team members / employees might not be completely honest with you on how you (and the team you lead) are doing. One thing that might help is if you get someone who is independent of the team to conduct debriefs with your group individually to find out what is working, and what isn’t.
To get this to work though, there has to be at least one ground rule and that is anonymity. People are not going to open up if they suspect that you are just going to go to their boss and say ‘Herb thinks you are an idiot.’ I’ve seen situations where people have couched their responses in ‘my boss is going to know who said this’ to which point you should point out that if that is truly the case, then they don’t need to hide because the boss already knows. If something seems to be specific to that person, ask permission to cite them.
When I was doing this sort of thing while at HP in the context of a CMMi self-assessment-y thing I started the conversation with ‘Tell me what bugs you.’ There is almost always something that bugs a person about their job and if these things start to cluster you know you have found a problem.
I think I would also try to keep these things as informal as possible. By this I mean, don’t contract McKinsey to do this, but perhaps bring someone from your local testing community in who you trust. I suspect that some form of payment might also be required to ensure a certain level of professionalism and air of importance within the organization. In lieu of payment, perhaps you could do the same for their team.
An implementation timeline for this sort of thing could be
- One week prior, mention it at the team meeting and ask the team to mull over things bad, and good they will say
- Start the actual meeting / interview day with a team meeting to introduce the person doing the interviewing, set the schedule, reaffirm the rules, etc.
- Conduct the interviews in a meeting area which guarantees privacy (as in a room with a door, not a communal lounge area)
- At the end of the day, get everyone together again and thank them for participating
- Within a week, the interviewer should compile the notes to the person who started the process
- That person then needs to address at least some of the problems, and reinforce all the items seen as positive. Without this visible feedback loop the who process will become a sham and next time you try something like this it will not be taken seriously
You might even expand this to people outside of your team and include people such as the development team lead, the product manager and others who have direct stakes in how your team functions.
Big disclaimer: this idea just popped into my head and I haven’t actually implemented it. It’s certainly interesting though.