Lessons About Teams I’ve Learned From My Kids

I’ve been watching my son play team sports for the last 13 years. My daughter just started playing them this year. My son is graduating from High School next month and I’ve been in a very reflective mood lately – especially as his last game gets closer and closer. There’s a lot to be learned from watching kids play and I’m sharing some of my observations with you today.

  1. Don’t underestimate a player based on appearance.  Time and time again I have watched this play out.  People (myself included) make assumptions based on how someone looks and behaves only to find out how terribly wrong they were.  I have seen “gangly” kids go toe to toe against “stocky” kids on the offensive line in football and have had to close my eyes – certain someone was going to be injured – only to watch those stocky kids blocked over and over again. Will, determination, understanding their job on the team and the impact to the team if they don’t perform and the simple joy of playing goes a long way.
  2. When you get knocked down, get back up (unless of course you’re seriously injured).  Sometimes, players on the opposing side do things that test the other sides mettle.  Getting back up shows your teammates and the other team spirit and drive.  It also serves to challenge the other team to really focus on their game and not their play.  Getting up requires individual strength and determination that everyone appreciates – coaches, fans, officials and teammates.  When you get up, in effect you’re telling the other person to “bring it” and that unspoken message radiates from the rest of your team.
  3. Recognize and celebrate great players and teams whether it’s your own or not.  All teams work hard together, over a long period of time and give their best on the field.  As an opposing player or team respecting and admiring what’s great on the field is special and shows that you care about more than the win.  If you do happen to be on the winning team, you earn the respect of the other team.  If you’re on the losing team – same thing AND you win in a different way.
  4. Don’t be the team who is clearly better and run up the score on the less-experienced teams. Those teams suck. Instead be the team who is gracious and shows true sportsmanship. You will earn the respect and admiration of the teams you play and those who are watching.  Also, the teams will learn a lot from you that goes far beyond skill. Sure, those amazing teams can be fun to watch initially simply due to how well they play together, ultimately they end up being the team everyone roots against (except the parents of the sucky, winning team).
  5. As an observer (aka: parent in the stands) your job is to support and celebrate. Anything else is wasted energy and counter-productive. If you happen to actually know something about the sport because you have played it yourself and you think you have something of value to share, share it after the game and, preferably in private. Sharing it during the game just crushes the player and team spirit which serves to NOT HELP AT ALL.  Plus, all the other observers feel embarrassed for you.
  6. Be the veteran who celebrates the rookie.  When someone who is new to the sport tries out or plays, the veteran players who teach, help, coach and encourage the newbie are the ones who are seen as and become team leaders. They are the ones who create a unique and special experience for the new player and the team.
  7. One the game ends, focus on your team and the next game. The team who immediately disperses and goes home isn’t a strong team.  When the game is over get with your team, celebrate your successes, focus on where you want to improve immediately and get ready for the next game.

Have any of your own to share?  Would love to read your stories in the comments.

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Listen with your eyes…

I find I take far more cues from what I see rather than what I hear.  Long ago, a coach asked me why my communication “style” would change mid-flight and I explained.  When I would see scrunchy faces, raised eyebrows, lip biting or any kind of facial cue I would immediately jump to “I’m doing or saying something wrong”.  The coach encouraged me to ask rather than assume.  I know…it’s a crazy idea.  Honestly, it did seem a little crazy though because the chance was someone would feel as though they were being called out.  It could result in a very uncomfortable situation for that person and for me.  All of that said, we talked about it some more and I said I would give it a try.  I did and have continued to experiment.  Here’s what I have learned to do (so far):

  • Ask for permission.  I let people know I have a tendency to read facial expressions.   Generally I do this by calling out the fact my own face reflects what I’m thinking and I may ask people questions based on what I’m seeing rather than what I’m hearing. I ask if it’s OK for me to do this as well as say it’s perfectly acceptable to tell me it’s not.
  • Determine if it’s appropriate.  When I do see something that makes me want to ask a question or learn more, I think (quickly) if it’s appropriate or not.  For example, if it looks like something isn’t jiving, asking a question is a good thing.  Same thing if it looks like someone doesn’t agree.  Both situations can benefit the larger group with learning or some good discussion and sharing different points of view.  Plus, more than once, I have learned something very, very valuable to apply to the future.  If, on the other hand, someone looks hurt or ticked, I wait and speak to the person individually.
  • Ask with an open mind, heart and sincerity.  It kind of goes like this:  “Bob, I’m seeing a scrunchy face.  I just want to check to see if there’s something you want dig into some more or if I’m not saying something very well.”
  • Allow for an escape route.  The reason I ask a close-ended question is so the person can easily say no and I can easily get back to it.   Also, I ask the question in such a way as whatever is happening is MINE.
  • Thank the person.  I try, really hard, to thank the person for letting me “pick” on them as well for helping make the conversation. training or whatever richer.

This “tool” has been great to get training classes of people who don’t know each other well to open up some more and generate some energy.  It’s also good with teams who  are forming or teams who are having trouble communicating.  I’ve also noticed people in classes and teams will start to do this with each other.  And, they will do it right back to me.  Like I said, what I think is on my face and people will call me out when I have a scrunchy face too.

I’m so grateful to the coach who picked up on this tendency of mine and guided me on how to leverage it over ignoring it.  So much communication happens that can’t be heard.  I mean, how often do we have to filter what we say out of fear of some unintended ramification?  Granted it’s a pretty vulnerable place to be and, if you try this, remember you are putting them there.  Also, if you read this and realize you don’t pay much attention to what you see and rely much more on what you hear, try to observe the team when you’re not in front of them by sticking your headphones in, listening to some music and just watching them.  Jot down what you’re thinking, pull the headphones out and validate with your ears what you heard with your eyes.

An Alternative to the Question: “Why?”

 

It’s something we all do.  We question.  We ask “why”?  However, while a good question, it’s not a question I find to be very helpful.  When I’m asked “why” my thoughts go all over the place.  I’m NOT a linear thinker and I find this question difficult to answer sometimes even though I know the answer.  Actually, I should re-phrase that a bit and say I find it difficult to answer this question in a way that will be easy for the interrogator to understand my thought process and reach a common ground quickly.  It’s a problem.   To make it less of a problem (for me), when people ask me why, I re-phrase  it in my head to ask “What needs to be true”?  I started doing this with others and have been pleased with the outcome.

 

Hopefully, this is something that is useful to you or at least worthy of trying. I use the question “What needs to be true?” in the following scenarios:

 

  • When someone says something isn’t possible.
    • What needs to be true for it to be possible?   
  • When someone says they cannot complete something.
    • What needs to be true in order for you to complete______?
  • When someone says there is a problem.
    • What needs to be true so this will no longer be a problem?
  • When there is a goal or objective that needs to be met.
    • What needs to be true for you to meet this goal/objective?

 

When I ask “What needs to be true?” it shifts the perspective a bit more towards action-oriented versus laundry listing.  It also seems (to me) to be a bit more positive in general.   The problem solving is already beginning.  It’s not the final, end-all or be-all question to be sure but, it’s a more active start.  Here’s how it works in a non-work setting:

 

Statement:  I can’t organize my house.

 

What needs to be true so you can organize your house?

 

  1. I need to have time to dedicate to the task.
  2. I need to have a structure in place that will be easy to maintain.
  3. I need my family to agree to help organize and, then, maintain it.
  4. I need to have less stuff.
  5. I need a place to start.

 

From there, I can dig in a bit more:

 

  1.  How much time do you think you need to start? Where is it in priority to other things you have going on?
  2. How much structure do you need to begin?  What does “easy to maintain” mean to you?
  3. How do you go about getting the family to agree?  What if they won’t or don’t?
  4. How much less stuff?  How will you decide what stuff you need and don’t?
  5. What area of your house drives you the most insane?

 

I also like using this question when I put an idea out there for people to consider and they have a visceral, “That is NOT possible here”, response to it.  Then, they tell me so many things that would need to be true and I can follow up with another one of my favorite questions:   “What are you waiting for”? 

 

Whipped by WIP?

I bet if you asked any CIO if they would rather release 5 features into production or have 10 efforts in flight they would prefer the former.  Based on my observations, there are way too many decision makers out there who, based on what’s happening in their IT departments, seem to prefer the latter.  When I ask why that is, often, what I hear back is the roadmap was set, the business has their dates and, so, we need to get things started.  Remember, the business strategists are on the hook for ROI so, it would make some sense they would ALSO prefer to deliver 5 features instead of having 10 in flight.  Again, based on what I observe…not so much.  Shockingly, the end result is less delivery, lower quality and a really frustrated group of associates.  Executives are also frustrated by late delivery and lack of completion but, they are unwilling to pull back and limit the WIP.  Their ask?: Work Harder.  My ask?: Stop Starting and Start Finishing!!

To me, the most simple solution is to JUST SAY NO.  This approach doesn’t seem to be an option most places.  The business, the managers and the executives won’t take no for an answer.  Also, it’s not safe to say no.  I mean, really, you’re probably not going to be climbing the ladder if you say no even if it means doing so would yield a better return for all.  Saying no takes a great deal of courage and it’s not fair to put that burden on those who are lower on the totem pole trying to deliver on everything.

One could also PAINT THE PICTURE.  Make a square “plate” out of a piece of paper.  Write everything on a post-it (standard size please.  don’t cheat with the really little ones) you currently have in flight.  Go to your immediate supervisor and have her fill your plate.  Anything that doesn’t fit, doesn’t get worked on.  When something finishes, bring back the stack of post its and fill the space (or NOT!  *gasp*).  I recommend only having room for a maximum of 4 items (and, really, that’s pushing it).  If you’re a manager, ask those who report to you to go through this exercise.  I would bet you will receive their undying gratitude for even caring about it in the first place.

Another means to address it is ROLL UP YOUR SLEEVES.  This is for managers.  I am really suggesting you return to your roots for a bit and pitch in.  Either tackle some of the work yourself to help close things out or, at the very least, de-prioritize anything you have going on to focus instead on serving your team.  Find ways to, at a minimum, make their jobs easier and less frustrating to minimize the impact to morale.

Probably the most impactful would be QUANTIFY THE LOSS.  What would have happened had you closed 10%, 20%, 50% more?  Demonstrate the loss to the bottom line and get the attention of those decision makers!  Other sources of data to pull from may be associate surveys and attrition rates.

It pains me to see people in funks due to the sheer quantity of work in flight.  It’s not a good feeling for anyone to never complete anything.  If you get excited by the fact you were able to respond to 10 e-mails and set up 1 or 2 meetings, it’s a sign.  Take a look around wherever you are and if there’s any applicability to your situation and consider prioritizing how to reduce the frequency and duration of being whipped by WIP.

Monkey in the Middle

One of the keys in Agile is an empowered team.  Empowered to make decisions, self-mange and self-organize.  In order for a team to be empowered, they also need to be trusted.  Trusted by their teammates, their managers and their stakeholders.  I bet if you were to ask HR what kind of attributes they looked for in employees, they would tell you they want intelligence, creative thinking, a team player, a self-starter, one who has and takes initiative…..all attributes which, really, should make it very easy to trust that associate.  If you ask managers about the attributes their direct reports have their list would likely look a whole lot like the one from HR.  So, when it comes to empowering teams, why is it so difficult to relinquish control?  And, if managers aren’t willing to relinquish control, what happens?  I’m getting ready to make some guesses and assumptions here and would LOVE to hear your thoughts.  I don’t believe I have the whole picture myself, I’m just starting to dig in to this challenge more deeply.

WHY IS IT DIFFICULT?

1.  Fear.  Managers are afraid if they empower their teams, they won’t be as necessary.  If teams are identifying, designing and implementing their own solutions and they work…..why, then, do they need a manager?  What happens if the solution an empowered team implements doesn’t work?  Will the manager be blamed?

2.  Communication or lack thereof.  I see managers who don’t feel comfortable communicating the whole picture to their associates.  They operate in a mind-set of “need to know”.  When associates don’t have the complete picture, they can’t possibly design a complete solution.  They only have a fraction of the information.  A manager is needed to review and expand on the solution using the remaining information.

3.  Job Description.  Managers are held accountable to the performance of their associates.  Also, they are expected to manage work, find ways to improve the work and make the company overall, better.  Is the same true for those who aren’t managers?

4.  Trust.  Managers don’t trust their associates enough to empower them.  Managers also don’t trust those above them enough to realize the value and benefit of empowering their associates.  They may be worried it will look as though they’re not contributing themselves.

5.  Lack of Safety.  The environment isn’t one where it’s safe to trust those beside, below OR above the manager.  The “system”/environment is so fraught with booby traps, inefficient processes and fragility that it’s not safe to do anything without understanding the safety procedures and having a buddy or entourage.

WHAT HAPPENS?

1.  Disengaged associates.  If they aren’t trusted, don’t have the whole picture, aren’t expected to really live up to the HR job description and can’t implement any solution that isn’t fraught with risk there’s no reason for them to engage.  Their contributions aren’t valued, recognized or rewarded.

2.  Angry associates.  You ask people to give Agile a go.  You train them and emphasize empowerment, self-managing and self-organizing then, they’re not allowed to walk the walk.  It’s all just talk EXCEPT there’s an expectation of more, better and faster.

3.  Frustrated associates.  Tired of feeling they’re not valued and angry at the bait and switch move, they struggle to do as asked and told and don’t see any progress.

Now, the funny thing is, most managers were once regular associates and, I’m pretty certain, it would not have been acceptable to them if any of the above possible reasons were truths for them.  Managers grew into their position because they exhibited those attributes most companies seek and seem to value.  It is probably also due to….THEIR MANAGER.  Great managers exploit the positive of their associates.  They develop their strengths and find opportunities for them to shine.  They seek the input of their associates and teams because they know it’s not possible for them to have all the answers themselves.  They know the better their teams does and the more they grow can only reflect well on them and, ultimately, contribute more value to the company.  They know that being a barrier to their associates success serves no practical or valuable purpose.  They aren’t afraid of one of their associates surpassing them organizationally.

So, now I’m stuck.  What do you do to help overcome this challenge?  Ask provocative questions – there are so many!  Reveal the picture to them through questions.  They may be able to see it but, may also still be resistant.  It’s easy to help people who are aware and open…how do you help people reach awareness and openness?

I chose the title “Monkey in the Middle” because it’s one of the MOST frustrating games I can think of.  In the situation I have begun to lay out here, there are several possible monkeys.  The associates who are just waiting for an opportunity to grab the ball.  The manager who wants to be secure enough to empower their associates but doesn’t feel empowered themselves.  Then there are the people passing the ball, trying desperately to make sure the monkey in the middle never gets it.  Dropping the ball would mean giving someone else an opportunity to play and that would be????

Are you having fun?

You know you’re on a good team when you have fun being with your teammates.  To me, having fun at work is critical.  I have worked on really difficult, not-fun projects but had a great time with my team in spite of crummy work.  One team I worked with was in an especially tough spot.  Constant, non-stop change, non-functioning environments and a leadership that didn’t understand the platform or Agile made for some not-at-all fun times.  One day a team member wrote on the board “It’s like we’re trying to change a tire when the car is moving.”.  The next thing you know, people started adding on to it and it went something like this:

It’s like we’re trying to change the tire while the car is moving

And we just found out the spare is flat

And, awesome!, it started to rain

And, there’s no cell reception so calling is not an option

Oh!  There’s a sign:  Next service station 200 miles

And, there hasn’t been a car on the road for the last 3 hours.

Some creative soul put it into pictures and it stayed on the board for a while.  The team was able to poke fun at the situation collectively and, while it didn’t FIX anything it did serve to give a little levity to the situation.  A good team can work well together and be glad to be in the same boat.

Another team I was on would randomly do things like all dress up like another team member or have a “talk like you’re in Marketing” day.   I’ve also seen rotations of telling Chuck Norris jokes at stand up.  Who knew there were so many!  The BEST fun I have seen on a team was when a Team Member plugged her mouse into the developers dock next to her.  He came in, started up and she pretended to be absorbed in her work – headphones on and everything – while making his pointer go crazy.  He rebooted, got going again and, what do you know, the pointer was all over the place.  He then started releasing (for him) expletives.  He immediately shut down AGAIN.  At this point, I dove under my desk b/c I was almost in tears.  I stayed there as he frantically tried to figure out the problem.  He unplugged everything and re-plugged it in.  It was all connected.  He was baffled and getting ready to call support when, finally, the team member rescued him from what was sure to have been a hilarious call.

All of these kinds of interaction go a long way towards team camaraderie or BA.  This is what adds to the soul of a team.  As a Scrum Master, it’s great to hear a team laughing and enjoying being around one another.  It’s part of their hum and single entity identity.  When people are having fun, they like being at work and will engage more.  This only makes for a better end product.  If your team isn’t having fun think of ways to get it going.  Have a happy hour together, start going on walks, look for interactive and engaging (somewhat silly) team exercises, use the Chuck Norris idea.  Ask the team what they would LIKE to do for fun.

I’d love to hear about your teams’ fun.

Can you put an estimate on the value of conversation?

Some time ago I heard about a trend of “No Estimates” and, have to admit, was not happy about it.  The reason I wasn’t happy about it had nothing to do with understanding the velocity of a team.  It had everything to do with the team missing out on critical conversations that occur when arriving at an agreed upon estimate.  I love watching new teams estimate stories.  When someone throws a 20 and someone else has a 5, the discussion that takes place – THE LEARNING – is pretty powerful to observe.  Estimating is a way for team members to get to know one another better and understand how they each view things differently.  Eventually, they start applying others’ perspectives to their own and the team truly finds a voice as a single entity.

Dan Mezick wrote a good blog post recently and pointed out “One may say with some certainty that the estimation task is actually a ‘cover story’ for the wider task of team learning. If estimates are 100% eliminated, how is this team learning replaced? Team learning is obviously essential. Discussions during the estimation task create many team-learning moments.”

Frankly, I believe a team, who is committed, will get to a point where estimates are not required.  This will happen once they learn – not before.  Scrum has estimates and the concept of velocity there for a reason.  A team must go through Shu (Follow the rule) before they can muck around with it and find something else that works best for them or reach a state of Ri (Make the rule).  If you start a team out with no estimates, I believe the learning curve and reaching a performing state will be delayed.

Some teams use relative estimation.  Others will use Planning Poker.  Heck, I have seen a team estimate in “farm terms”. Seriously.  A duck is less than a cow which is less than a barn and so on….  It worked for them.  Who am I to question it?  So, yeah, maybe this idea has merit but, I really would caution against giving it a go with a newly formed team.  Sound snippets like this one make me a little nervous.  You can’t place a value on the conversation that takes place during estimation.  You CAN place a value on a team taking twice as long to reach a performing state.

My Light Bulb Moment

Thanks to Michele Sliger for asking me to write it all down!

I started out as an ”Agile Project Manager”.  I accepted a contract for an IT project (my first) and was told it would be run as an Agile project.  I had no idea what Agile was and I was a Project Manager.  I had a great track record as a PM of driving results.  I googled Agile and was thrilled to learn my entire team would be in the same room, everything they were doing would be on the board and we would only have a 15 minute meeting once a day to discuss the project.  Oh….how very wrong I was.  Mind you the team delivered after slogging through entirely too much overtime, continuous pressure from me and the business and constant driving.  Unfortunately, their work never saw the light of day – two weeks before launch, the project was pulled.  What had worked for me before didn’t work this time.  I heard a lot from the people on the team who knew what Agile was and I was decidedly NOT a Scrum Master.  I cared, a great deal, about the people on the team and there were certain things I began to grasp but not enough to make a difference for them.  Honestly, why I stayed in IT after that project is beyond me but, I did.

Following that project, the next team I had was already formed and doing well on their own.  I still hadn’t had any training but, was asked to be the Scrum Master.  I started reading more and asking more questions of those around me who seemed to get this whole Agile thing.  I came into the team sure I would make them different and better.  I came in without acknowledging or respecting their history.  I asked them all kinds of questions about the work they were doing, why they were doing things the way they were doing them, pushing them a little so, in short, I didn’t really learn much and it still wasn’t clicking for me.  It was not a very comfortable place to be for anyone.  Then, someone had the brilliant idea to combine two teams together – mine and another – and that was when things started to get interesting.  The team that joined my team DID get Agile and they were not at all OK about how I was running them.  They pushed back.  I went to CSM training.

Joe Little and Jeff Sutherland were teaching the course and, as I sat there, all the pieces started coming together.  I understood how it was supposed to work and how I wasn’t doing anything AT ALL to make it easier.  Jeff Sutherland made the point that I still true back to all the time:  Protect The Team.  I came back to work energized and excited.  It clicked and I couldn’t wait to get going.  That said, there was this HUGE team which was really two teams trying to keep their individual team identities in place and continue to be the good teams they were separately.  It wasn’t working. I knew, in theory, what I was supposed to do but I didn’t know HOW to do it.  They fought over desk position, norms, how stand up should be run, how planning should be run and we were all incredibly miserable.  I thought I was doing the right things and protecting the team.  I wasn’t.

I asked another Scrum Master for help.  He came to observe a retro and, at the end of an hour, told me I couldn’t stop.  I had to keep the team talking for as long as it took for them to work their issues out.  The retro lasted all day.  Seriously, all.day.long.  Everyone was open and honest including me.  There were things said which were really hard to swallow for me.  I really had been trying to do the right things.  They made me question everything I had ever thought about my abilities. However, after that retro there was something different.  We all realized we were all trying to do the right things.  There was no malice or ill intent.  We trusted each other a little and we had overcome a decent amount of pain together.  After that retro, I started reading, researching, asking and experimenting and the team let me.  I would tell them what I wanted to try and why and I knew they would tell me when I was off track. They would tell me because they knew I was trying and I wanted to get better.  They also wanted to be better.  We all wanted to be the best team possible.

So, we’re all on an upswing now and someone decides to split the team back up.  Yes.  After ALL that pain we needed to split.  I remember being in the room with several other people figuring out who would go where and they were all looking at me to make the new teams.  It tore me up though.  I had gotten close to everyone and they were doing so well but, I did it, and I chose the team I was going to stay with.  The team was named BOB.  We worked together for about a year and it was the single-most rewarding and fun time of my career.  What I learned from that team in terms of trust, what empowered teams can do, what protecting a team meant and what the role of a Scrum Master really was is what has shaped me and guided me to where I am now.  It is an experience I hope everyone working in Agile can have.

We were nearing performance management time and I was writing my self-appraisal.  I didn’t have anything to write.  I didn’t have any results.  There were no “BIG WINS”.  In fact, I sat there thinking I hadn’t had to do much with the team at all.  I started to get truly worried about what was going to happen come end of year.  With none of the usual problem-solving, risk mitigating, implementation strategizing and scheduling management-type-stuff my piece of paper looked really empty.

“Scrum Master for a team who has delivered more scope than originally requested within the same amount of time.  No defects released into production.  Team has created automated test harnesses to enable faster identification of defects and leverage the QS resource more effectively.  Team members have learned new skills to be more efficient in their delivery approaches.  The team manages themselves, including removing most impediments. The team has created a build book to be used by the platform and serve as guidelines for UI development.  The team is able to respond quickly to change and is frequently sought after by the business to help shape strategy and inform intent.”

The TEAM had done great.  They had knocked everything thrown their way out of the park.  They were having fun and everyone wanted them.  Then it hit me.  They did it!  They were a self-managing, self-organizing, high-performing machine.  That’s what is supposed to happen.

 

 

This Old House – Agile Edition

When you’re transitioning to Agile, there’s a lot going on all at once.  It occurred to me  it’s similar to home renovation – a really, really big home renovation.  Personally, I LOVE old homes.  I love going to see them and, one day, I want to buy one and fix it up.  Sometimes, I walk into a house and while I’m oohing and aahing my husband is groaning.  He’s groaning because the houses don’t generally meet any criteria he has for a home.  I’m oohing because I can see the potential a house has.  All you need is some imagination, good bones and time.  That’s what an organization needs to create a great environment for Agility too.

IMAGINATION:  To begin, you need to be able to ooh and aah instead of groan. You need to be able to see what is possible for teams, management and your users.  If you don’t have imagination absolutely everything about the process will frustrate the hell out of you.  You can’t hire someone to “take care of it” for you or oversee it.  Nope.  You need to be willing to be architect, general contractor and all the subs.  If you have imagination and can envision what it will look like you have an open mind.  An open mind is necessary because everything you thought you knew about “how your house was built” is going to get thrown out the window.

GOOD BONES:  There are some things that just need to be in place.  It’s no good and not practical if you have to bulldoze the house and start from scratch.  You need smart people who are willing to opt in and give Agile a serious go.  You need managers who are way more into the products their company produces than they are into their “turf”.  These managers must also understand how to support, motivate and develop people.  You need a culture of drive and commitment.  You need a business who will look at the business differently.  You need a company that invites people to opt in instead of mandates.  OPEN MINDS are essential.

TIME:  It took a long time to build what is, arguably, good enough.  To change, grown, learn and be great you need time.  You know the saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day”?  An Agile transformation doesn’t happen overnight either.  This renovation is going to take time.  Since you know that, you also need to know to be patient.  Also, you should know that you will never be “Done”.  You will always and you should always look for things to improve on.

In my vision of a great Agile environment there are spaces for teams to work together, as a whole team and places to pair or collaborate with a smaller group.  There’s technology available for distributed teams to use.  People laugh!  Anyone walking by can see what the team has going on and how awesome they are.  There’s some corporate furniture around but teams can put their own identity on their spaces too.  There’s a wall for anyone who wants to put an idea up to try and others can join in the effort.  Directly opposite is another wall that celebrates the successes and failures (learning) from the efforts of these self-organizing teams.  The environment is safe for everyone to be open, honest, disagree and try anything they think will be for the good for the team, the company or the user.  This safe environment also has a hum – there’s energy and people are genuinely happy to be there and be a part of it.  There’s also an endless supply of post-its (all colors & sizes), sharpies (all colors), magnets and flip charts.

As with any major project, you’re bound to hit some snags.  That’s OK.  It’s all part of the adventure.  You have no idea what you will learn along the way and the creative solutions you will find.  The time, thought and care you put into creating this environment will be huge.  If done well, at the end, you have teams of completely happy and motivated individuals.  You have a safe environment where learning, trying and trying more is encouraged.  You have users who are loyal and more than satisfied with the products you are producing.  All this because of the environment.   There’s no need for razing the house to get to the land.  Keep what’s good and useful, ditch the rest and strive for the perfect environment.

An Open Mind is a Terrible Thing To Waste

I was given some really good advice tonight:  In every situation you find yourself in, no matter how many times you have seen it, you must treat it like it’s the first time.  You need to look at it with fresh eyes and try to remember what it was like, for you, the first time. I just loved how that was put.  Once you have gone through the “same” process enough times, it would be easy to become a little numb to all the dynamics in play.  It may also be easy to be a little insensitive to those who are experiencing something for the first time.  As a Scrum Master, having an open mind is critical.

I know, personally, I have been put with new teams – just coming together and finding myself less patient with them because I KNOW what’s coming.  But, really, I don’t.  I mean, it may be fair to say that I know where they will end up but that’s not the important part when a new team is coming together.  It’s HOW the team comes together that’s important and, if I’m less patient or dismissive, that can really impact the HOW and can also completely negate my “where they will end up” comfort.

There was a team I worked with a long time ago and the set up was somewhat screwy.  Despite having learned that I don’t know it all several times over, when this team started, I wasn’t in the right frame of mind.  There was a lot going on for me and I wasn’t invested in them.  I wasn’t really there to help them.  I dismissed their concerns and told them to “trust me”.  Rightfully so, they didn’t.  Why should they?  I was very clearly not engaged.  My mind wasn’t open to them and theirs sure wasn’t open to mine.  This team was completely new to Agile and I was doing them a disservice.  I didn’t want to go through their phases with them.  I wanted them to hurry up and get there.  You can imagine how well that worked out.  It didn’t.  Not at all.

I did recognize it and made moves to correct it quickly but, it didn’t matter much.  They had no reason to trust me, value my opinion or seek my advice.  What resulted was dysfunction at my hands.  It was a complete waste of an opportunity for them and for me.  A Scrum Master has a special relationship with a team because her focus is the team.  She can shape the safe environment teams need to learn and grow.  She can guide them through learning Scrum and help them chart their course to greatness IF two things are true:

1.  The Scrum Master has opted in and has an open mind to her new team.

2.  The Team has an open mind with regards to the Scrum Master and tackling Scrum.

I believe, if you begin with an open mind, there’s a bigger potential for greatness.  With an open mind you listen with the goal of understanding.  Being open automatically requires courage which is definitely needed when charting new territory.  Openness allows you to view your team positively.  Openness nurtures trust. When you’re listening, exploring, trying, brainstorming with the team, you’re building that trust and camaraderie.

As a Scrum Master, when you find yourself in a new environment or situation, don’t bring the events of the past with you.  Open your mind to what is possible.  Keep your eyes wide to observe and listen.  Remember that, though familiar, it’s only familiar to you.  Explore the solutions with your team with minds wide open and you’ll find the journey will be full of learning for everyone.  Even you, the Scrum Master who (thinks she) has seen it all.  Every team is different and so is their path.  Be open to their adventure.