The team manual, an exercise to help build empathy in teams

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In a recent talk that I gave at Agile testing days and Lean Agile Scotland called “Whole Team Responsibility”, I mentioned the team manual as a way of growing empathy in teams. Here is a quick write up with a little more detail and how to use it.

Last year the awesome Cassie Robinson published the user manual for me (it was on my birthday, so I think of it as a special gift). It’s been pretty popular and a quick search shows a whole raft of people publishing their own.

I also thought it was pretty great and decided to try it out with a few teams during kick-offs. The point of doing it as a team exercise is so they really get to know each other, build empathy and start to understand how each other is at work. It also brings up things that could cause friction later on if people don’t know about them.

The format I tend to use is:

1: I give each member of the team nine index cards and a pen.

2: I then read through each prompt with examples and ask everyone to write them down on the top of each card, while checking everyone understands them.

3: Next, I give people some quiet time to fill in the cards.

4: Finally, I ask the group to read their cards to each other. If it’s a shy group, I might go first to set the tone.

The prompts are:

Who am I?
(draw a picture of yourself and write your name and role)

The conditions I like to work in
(environmental aspects eg open space, with people around, in the quiet, with music etc)

The times/hours I like to work
(e.g. I am most productive before 11 or I’m not good in meetings after 4)

The best ways to communicate with me
(e.g. openly, over email, over slack)

The ways I like to receive feedback
(both approach and tools, e.g. one to one, with time to reflect)

Things I need
(e.g. coffee, breaks, hugs)

Things I struggle with / don’t like
(e.g. detail work, spreadsheets, no direction)

Things I love at work
(anything that makes work great for you)

Other things to know about me
(this can be anything outside of work, e.g. family, hobbies or things that might affect your mood at work)

It’s a great exercise and I’ve seen brand new teams go from being fairly shy to joking, laughing and sharing important things about their lives. It can also help to inform how the team will work together.

Give it a go and let me know how it works for you.


  1. I LOVE User Manuals for teams, love love love them.

  2. This, by the super @ewebber is such a good idea for teams –

    Some of my team have done them and they are aces

  3. ewebber

    16 November 2018 at 4:47 am

    From Jamie….

  4. ewebber

    16 November 2018 at 4:49 am

  5. The team manual, an exercise to help build empathy in teams – from @ewebber

  6. I used a subset of this – the bottom 3 questions + How best to communicate with me – for an inception yesterday. Went down very well with them, although they’d been working together for a while they didn’t know each other that well because they were mostly remote workers.

    One of them found it “surprisingly difficult” to write about what they loved and struggled with at work and many of them struggled with being vulnerable in some of the questions.

  7. Thanks for sharing! This seems to be another good way to make team agreement – I’ll try it 🙂

    So far I’ve been trying different way, one that I liked was

  8. Gemma Openshaw

    2 January 2019 at 1:35 pm

    We have setup a project management community recently and when we had some new members join the group we went through this exercise. Although some found it uncomfortable they also said that they found it to be a great way to get to know others and feel a bit more like they were part of the group that had already formed. Great stuff emily and cassie. Thanks.

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