Happy Birthday Team

Birthday cakeWelcome to your team. A new one is forming, storming, norming, performing, and yes, adjourning or re-forming as we speak… somewhere.  Bruce Tuckman wrote about the stages that teams go through.  In the agile world of software we do the work a little differently than we used to.  We also grow and enable teams – after all, these are the groups of professionals that do the work!  Ideally they will encompass and deliver everything it takes to get through the organization and into the customers hands.   More today than ever before, companies interview not only for a candidate’s technical ability, but their grace in problem solving AND their fit for working in teams.  Emphasis is placed on the constant ‘connectedness’ and the clarity of communication.  The team you are going to be a part of is typically included as part of the interview process.  There are lots of reasons why we form into teams.  To prevent ourselves from being lost amidst a very large organization, to have a common sense of purpose, make better decisions… and so on.  At it’s core: A team is a group of people holding themselves collectively accountable for using complimentary skills to achieve a common purpose.  I wanted to leave myself a few notes as I again become part of a new team.  Especially concerning one that may be new to agile or scrum software development.

I think it was the movie Princess Bride where the giant had trouble in fighting the man in black only because the moves used in singular, one on one interactions are much different than those needed when you are facing many.  A gang, a pack, a team, somehow we have a small group of people that for many reasons, are together in this.  

Seek the Wisdom.   Be straightforward, but the wisdom in doing something often is not.   Sometimes not everyone is ready to receive so realizations can come at different times. We typically want to do the right thing.  Even the right way, if we know how.  When presented with an idea, listen, consider, and explore the possibility of what people are trying to understand.  It shows respect, and many times we learn from the encounter.  It helps us practice being flexible in our thinking.  This will be the greatest resource you bring to the team.

Mind the Balance. Asses for impact. Is the effort of  simply trying something a little time to learn something.   Typically the all or nothing is a false dilemma. Sometimes we build vertical slices up through layers of architecture… sometimes we build a little architectural runway.  Be comfortable in seeking the Mark that is Twain (between the two).

Be a time traveler.   Often I find myself in the midst of a conversation between two people that strongly disagree.  Then the perspective and context comes in, they are both really talking about the same thing, only from different points in time.  The ability to alter your perspectives, build from one to the next, and right size the work so that it can be done in deliverable increments is learned.  Practice makes it a skill.

Go forth into the Org.  This speaks to being empowered.  Very few teams are islands.  The ability of a team to exist in some environment, requires being able to forage, communicate and align.

Be a Constant Gardener.  Have patience for growth. There is also implied weeding (maybe refactoring),  feeding (celebrate small wins and improvements),  reflection (retrospective moments), and even cross pollination (shared experience and lessons).

If you’ve not heard of it, there is a race called the Sawtooth Relay.  Take a team of 6 and some volunteers and divide a 62 mile course through the mountains into 12 legs.  I was part of a new team that took on the challenge.  I wasn’t even part of the original team.  I took someone’s conflict and stepped in to fill the gap.   To this point I have never run more than 6 miles in my life.  With the relay, I would run two 6 mile segments in the same day.  I took someone’s difficulty as my own challenge and opportunity.  It even meant a 1400 ft elevation change along one of the segments.  This team had never run together, no one had been in the race before, and none of us had run this distance.  We started at 3:30 am and everyone simply amazed me as we each ran our leg and contributed.  After all was said and done, I ended up with and additional 3rd leg of the race.  One runner on our team had to pull up with a painful injury.  We were all concerned and thankful that a week later there were no lasting effects.  I got to both start and to finish the run – which I think to be a great honor.  Our team came in under the 10 hour mark – which to a person, we thought was very successful for what we collectively hoped to accomplish.  I myself, appreciated several things about this new team!

We had individuals from different teams across a software program come together as a team for this event.  This was a great chance to continue growing our cross-team communications.

We shared the truth – we were honest about what hurt, and shared every thing we could to help.

We did it by the rules – we took to heart the honesty and integrity that everyone even the 304 other relay teams and the 5 individual Ultra runners (who ran the whole 62 miles) were striving for.

We savored EVERYONE’S encouragement and help.  Especially if they weren’t on our team.  (Running at night, my headlamp started going out, and another team loaned me one of theirs…  My appreciation for help in a time of need goes way beyond words.  We in turn encouraged others. We went out of our way to  keep each other motivated, and share the experience.

We celebrated the achievement and this meant special appreciation for the volunteers without whose participation we would not be allowed to run.

We adapted our processes and adjusted how the team operated.  Sure we made a few mistakes, but none of us felt halted by them.  There wasn’t enough time to dwell on it and angst or anger wouldn’t have been useful anyway.

I look forward to doing better!

This will be a reminder to myself as I again become part of a new Agile team.

  1. This is about doing our work differently
  2. Cherish people  but don’t just associate, achieve together.  My day is ever better when I have learned something new AND I have been productive.
  3. You are part of a team for a reason, and just as you are unique, the team will have it’s own personality.  Like any seed needs sunlight, water and soil,  teams need space, support, and empowerment.

Can you hide in a team… sure… Leave your grumpiness, your bullying, and your defensive insecurities elsewhere… we have work to do.

The Worst Teams

  1. Always find an excuse, never fault ourselves. Can’t be corrected.
  2. Miss the opportunity. Don’t use the chance to improve… may be heads down in activity – something always breaks, but never look up, learn, level up.
  3. Never venture beyond and out from their comfort zone, like program contributions, or even cross roles.  We isolate ourselves.
  4. Have fun only by criticizing others. Stereotype and make blanket statements, leaving criticism without specific recommendations and even better.. a willingness to help.
  5. Have no urgency.
  6. Leave mayhem behind that other teams don’t want to clean up.  Management may have  to smooth interactions over.  Never becoming truly become aware of  our impact.

The Best Teams

  1. Don’t stress, aren’t defensive – they are forward looking.
  2. Have some fun and celebrate the achievement.
  3. Help each other grow.
  4. Give honest feedback.  We are also honest with ourselves.
  5. Learn something new.  More importantly they teach others.
  6. Exhibit a fearlessness in exploring. They TRY IT.
  7. Have a tempo which allows urgency and thought-full-ness.  It IS possible to show urgency for some things and patience for others.
  8. Adapt – Accepting the situation and weigh the impact to implement recommendations.
  9. Think at different levels, context switch, or time travel.
  10. Make whatever we touch better – improve.  Innovate, create, surprise…
  11. Are calm problem solvers.
  12. DELIVER.  Higher quality.  Higher standards.  There is no hesitation for representing what anything is really like.


The last two miles of the Sawtooth Relay I will always remember…  The penultimate mile was painful, and the more I concentrated on the pain, the slower I got and the pain only increased…  That Last mile I focused instead on going faster… pushing myself.  My pace increased, my running was lighter and smoothing out, the pain went away… I finished knowing I poured myself into the moment and gave more.  The accomplishment pushed past the limits I knew for myself,  it made me proud to be part of the team. More so, as I knew others had done the same.


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