Great Teams

Having recently gone through a round of recruitment at my work… I am surprised by how many people out there have yet to fully appreciate or experience the benefits of working on a great team.

To begin, let’s be clear… a team (by definition) is a group of individuals who work towards a common goal. From this point of view, most people have experienced this particular circumstance at some point in their life.

However, a great team fully appreciates the fact that they depend on each other in order to achieve this goal. They understand that they cannot achieve the goal alone and nurture the connections required to support the inherent dependency that comes with working on a team.

They understand their role and responsibilities. They understand the role and responsibilities of their team mates. This means that they don’t “throw problems over the wall” at their team mates. Rather they are proactive about sharing what they are up to, especially if this will impact their team mates. In return, they are empathetic and interested in what’s going on with their team mates. Respecting each other’s craft, they trust each other in a healthy and balanced fashion. Being open to constructive conflict in order to ensure that the team is indeed driving towards their common goal.

While this may sound like an idealized situation, I can tell you first hand that I have been privileged and lucky to work on great teams. The Agile coaching community is my extended team (my tribe!) who has helped me stay steady over the years in the belief that not only are great team members possible… they are worthwhile seeking out.

So if you are looking for work and we happen to meet in an interview… don’t be surprised when I ask about your most recent experience with a great team.

Why We Play…

It’s not uncommon for Agile coaches to engage their teams in games in order to experiment with new ideas. If you have ever participated in such activities, it’s likely that you have encountered individuals who dislike the idea of anything work related being transformed into a “game”.

So… why do we play?

We play to prototype and experiment with new ways of thinking and behaving. We play to open our minds to possibilities. Indeed, engaging in an activity “as play” actually helps us to explore many new ideas quickly and effectively as a team.

In short, playing brings us to a “personal edge” in a friendly and joyful way.

That being said, for some of us, the edge is simply to engage in play at all… and that’s an edge that I’m learning to see and understand better. In these situations, I would invite the individual to simply try the game and then to reflect on why we play… rather than focus on whatever other agenda I’m hoping to bring to the table by engaging in a game.

After all, when we play, we explore many ideas at the same time… and one of those ideas can certainly be “why do we play?”

True Leaders of Change

“Who’s the more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?” – Obi-Wan

One of the strengths of any Agile team is how easily the team can collectively embrace change. Conversely, this can be also our biggest challenge to remaining Agile.

In order to truly collectively embrace change, the whole team needs to opt-in.  This can be a rather daunting task for Agile leaders out there to facilitate. But there is something delightfully simple that I would like for us to consider.  For this, I’d like to invite you to watch this brief talk from Derek Sivers ( https://sivers.org ):

https://sivers.org/ff

Agile coaches out there will no doubt identify with being the “lone nut”. I certainly do. But until I had seen Derek’s talk, I don’t think that I had truly appreciated the importance of that “first follower”. These early adopters are the people who..

…acknowledge when you are making sense. They are engaged listeners.

…raise concerns when you aren’t making sense. They are competent thinkers and have the respect and courage to speak up when they feel it will add value.

…try your ideas and add to them. They are true collaborators.

As Derek points out in the video, these first followers make room for change and transformation in others. They make change possible for the rest of the team. Sadly, as Agile leaders it’s all too easy for us to focus on those who won’t join in the movement… in fact, we can spend a lot of energy trying to support and help those who may never “get up and dance”. So much so, that we risk taking for granted those first followers who do have the courage to meaningfully lead change on the team.

After all, it’s worthwhile remembering, Obi-Wan wasn’t the real hero of the story.

Standup Is About Commitment, Not About “Giving Status” – The Story Continues…

In honour of Coaching Agile Teams (@CoachAgileTeams) generous cross post of my tiny blog, I thought that it would be worth putting together a follow-up to the original post Standup Is About Commitment, Not About “Giving Status”.

As you can well imagine, the story for my team didn’t end with reformulating the Standup as a commitment based meeting.  Here’s a sampling of some of some changes we’ve made to this meeting that have helped to keep us accountable…

1. We renamed “Standup” to “Team Commitment Checkpoint”.  Which sounds trivial, but it helped us to reconnect with the idea of commitment on a daily basis.

2. We mixed up the order of “who speaks next” and even allowed for “anyone to speak first”.  Previously, we would stand in a circle and take turns. Starting with the person next to the “highest ranking leader” and ending with this “highest ranking leader”. We used different techniques for this… from tossing a ball around to clapping and pointing to calling out the next person’s name. At first the team felt a bit self conscious and silly doing this but something interesting emerged from this simple self-organizing technique. It helped to create a shift in focus. One day, people stopped “talking to the leader” and started “talking to each other”.

3. We challenged our engaged listening skills with an exercise. First we would go through each person’s commitment(s) for the day, then we would go through the whole process again; in the same order, only this time we would verbalize the commitment of the person who spoke before us. Initially this created some stress on the team but, as we worked through the exercise together, we learned to relax and work together to remember what everyone committed to for the day.

4. We are currently in the process of connecting with what makes a “good commitment” and are aiming to develop a few protocol checks to ensure that we are all making “good commitments” on a daily basis. Maybe there’s a future blog post in that… stay tuned.

One more thing…  every day during Team Commitment Checkpoint (or TCC as we have come to call it), I make a point of sharing an “Agile Moment” with the team.  Often these are small quotes or “aha-moments” that I have had as I connect with the Agile community around the world on a daily basis.

Initially I was pleasantly surprised to note that the team seemed to appreciate these small gifts from the world of Agile… getting a few nods and the odd: “Nice”.  As time went on, I even got a few questions and the occasional: “I’d like to talk about that some more after this meeting”. Then, one day, I received the biggest gift of all from a team mate: “You know, I’m trying to put the Agile Moment you gave yesterday into practice…”

And so in turn, to the Agile community out there around the world and to my wonderful fellow team mates…   thank you for being such a source of inspiration and for helping to put these Agile moments into practice 🙂

Standup Is About Commitment, Not About “Giving Status”

One of the many moments of clarity that I’ve had thanks to Lyssa Adkins (Twitter: @lyssaadkins Web: http://www.coachingagileteams.com/) is the goal behind the Standup meeting.

Standup is about commitment, not about “giving status”.

Armed with this new understanding, I facilitated a Standup meeting “reboot experiment” with my team. We started by talking about what wasn’t working with this meeting and then worked together to develop some new guidelines centered around the idea of commitment.

Now, during Standup…

We each take a turn to express what we will commit to completing between this meeting and the next.

When we aren’t speaking, we commit to listening fully to the person speaking.

We will speak up if we have information that would help the person speaking meet their commitment. Creating this connection is important… but having the full conversation may not…  so we commit to identifying side conversations when they happen.

We are committed to keeping the information shared relevant for all. We ask questions if a team member’s commitment is unclear.

We regularly check-in on the value and relevance of the meeting and re-commit as needed.

It’s worth noting that we don’t generally discuss “blockers” here, mostly because the team is empowered to seek help if they encounter an impediment rather than wait for a meeting. We also don’t generally talk about what we did in the past unless we feel it to be relevant information for the team.

Could your Standup meeting do with a little more commitment?

Agile and Quality

You may have noticed that the Agile Manifesto (http://agilemanifesto.org/) never uses the word “quality” as part of its core values. I believe this is because quality is an underlying value to the Manifesto and that “working software”, “customer collaboration”, “responding to change” as well as “individuals and interactions” are all pointing us in the direction of quality.

Looking at it this way, quality is not a role but a core value and occurs when the team…

…works with users to understand how the software can meet their needs
…gathers to review and evaluate stories
…works together on code and design
…collaborates to create automated tests
…explores the application for unexpected issues
…validates its work with users

As such, quality is expressed through the collective attention and effort of the whole Agile team throughout the cycle.