Software projects can be chaotic and stressful. A temperature reading is a simple yet powerful method to help your team achieve, maintain, or regain a positive mindset.
During the hectic workday, software professionals can easily fall into a pattern of noticing and reacting to what has gone wrong, while missing or ignoring all that has gone well. If you'd like your team to achieve, maintain, or regain a positive mindset, consider running periodic temperature readings.
A temperature reading is a powerful, yet simple, tool created by Virginia Satir, a family therapist whose models and tools are being used with great success in software organizations. This tool can help teams reduce tensions, solidify connections, and surface important information, ideas, and feelings-enabling team members to interact more constructively and productively. For teams that work together under demanding or deadline-driven circumstances, it's a superb technique to use at project milestones or during team meetings.
Best of all, you don't need a hefty manual, a three-day class, or an outside consultant in order to learn how to run a temperature reading. Simply follow these guidelines:
Setting the Stage
A temperature reading consists of five segments, each one taking as much time as the group would like to spend on it. A full temperature reading takes from fifteen minutes to an hour or more, depending on the size of the group and its circumstances.
A facilitator guides the group through the temperature reading, ensuring that adequate time is allowed for each segment. Any member of the group can serve as facilitator. In some organizations, team members rotate the responsibility so that each can gain experience at it.
The Five Segments of a Temperature Reading
1. Appreciations. This first segment is the most important of the five. If time doesn't permit a full temperature reading, concentrate on appreciations and skip the rest.
In this segment, everyone who would like to can express an appreciation to one or more of the others. An appreciation can be for anything, whether critical to the project ("I appreciate you for helping me find that pesky bug.") or simply a kind gesture ("I appreciate you for bringing donuts to our meeting.")
An appreciation takes a specific form:
"I appreciate you because . . ."
"I appreciate you for. . ."
In other words, speak directly to the person ("I appreciate you"), rather than to the team about the person. This approach is very different from what I think of as "thankyouless" thank yous. For example, I once attended a company event where the software director invited each team member in turn to the front of the room. Then, instead of looking at the person and saying, "Tom, thank you for your work in analyzing requirements," he focused on the audience and said, "Tom's role was to analyze requirements." Don't follow that model; express your appreciation directly and personally.
If you aren't accustomed to giving appreciations, you may be surprised at how satisfying it is to do so. Seeing people light up in response to your recognition is an uplifting experience, as is the discovery that something you did was more important to others than you realized.
Of course, you needn't wait for a temperature reading to give an appreciation. There's no wrong time to acknowledge the support, guidance, or kindness of others. If we each do this once, and then again, and then again, others will soon start doing the same, and together we will be setting the stage for a more caring and productive workplace.
2. New Information. This segment is for information sharing. Often, members of a team have information that other team members may be unaware of, may need to know, or would find interesting. New Information may resolve a puzzle; therefore, this segment deliberately precedes the puzzles segment.
Anyone with information to share can offer it during this segment. For example, a Team Lead may mention a change in meeting location that had not yet been announced. One team member may have information about a remotely located team member that he recently visited. Another team member may describe an idea he was trying out from a conference he had attended.
The goal is to turn piecemeal information into general knowledge that the group can use to its advantage. Information sharing also increases each participant's sense of viability within the group.
3. Puzzles. In some work settings, admitting that you're confused is risky. This segment provides a sanctioned opportunity to describe something you've found unclear, confusing, or puzzling, and that you would like explained. If it's a matter that others can clarify quickly, they can do so during the temperature reading. Otherwise, the person who has a puzzle and those who can help resolve it arrange to meet separately later on.
Puzzles about changes to schedules, organizational structure, and roles and responsibilities are often mentioned during this segment, and the very act of surfacing the puzzle rather than letting it fester helps to avoid future problems. In addition, matters that might otherwise become the stuff of rumors are resolved. Often, people come to realize for the first time that several others share their puzzle.
4. Complaints with Recommendations. Most organizations suppress or discourage complaints. By contrast, this segment explicitly invites complaints. However, unlike a gripe session, each person who voices a complaint must offer a recommendation to address the complaint or request recommendations from the group: "My complaint is…and here's how I think we can resolve it." Or, "My complaint is…. Do any of you have a recommendation?"
Pairing complaints with recommendations enables grievances to surface in a constructive manner. Although "Complaints with Recommendations" is Satir's term for this segment, some groups call it "Recommendations for Improvement," aptly shifting the emphasis from what's gone wrong to how to do better.
5. Hopes and Wishes. While appreciations focus on the past, this final segment focuses on the future. In this segment, participants can express a hope or wish pertinent to the group or any of its members (including those not present). Sharing hopes and wishes and discovering how many they have in common helps to end the temperature reading on a high note.
Adapt the Terminology
If people might resist trying a temperature reading because of discomfort with its nomenclature, change it to fit your culture. For example, you can call the temperature reading a Team Check-In. You can change "appreciations" to "kudos," and express them as: "Thanks for . . ." (expressed, of course, directly to the recipient). One team found Appreciations and Hopes and Wishes too mushy and replaced them with Looking Back and Looking Forward.
By whatever name, temperature reading conducted regularly help teams interact and collaborate more effectively. Try a temperature reading in your organization this week. Contact me at if you have any questions about it.