Archive for category Self-organized

When self-organization does NOT work: teamwork hints

Scrum is based on “Empower the Team” Lean principle that prescribes self-organization. This means that regardless of age and experience team members are equal and serve as managers to one another. There is strong rationale behind: people that do the work are the best to manage it as they own responsibility of results and know best how to handle it.

Daily stand-up or daily SCRUM is a team tool to reflect on changing reality and adapt accordingly.

I’d like to point out some cases when self-organization does not work as should and help those teams out to boost their productivity.

Let us discover some sick stand-up/self-organization symptoms first…

1. Refraining from exposing problems (ignorance of reality):

  • Task takes longer than planned and reasons are not clear to everyone (or something holds back people from raising problems);
  • Task is blocked and impediment is not exposed/raised (this also may indicate some other problem with task that is not comfortable to raise);
  • It’s just a way it is (yes we all know that we’ve planned 4 hours for that task, but as usual it takes us 2,3,5,… times longer or this guy always messes things up, we can do nothing, etc…);
  • Team does not reflect during a day on changing reality (just in stand-ups), leading to impediments piling up and being addressed late, so that they mask something else;
  • Etc…;

2. Intolerance to critical feedback:

  • Team member pushes back heavily when someone tries to rise a problem related to his/her task;
  • Raising problems considered as de-motivating and team silently prefer to hide them until it’s too late;
  • Team members prefer to stay “nice” to each other rather than constructively criticize their plan in order to adapt it daily;
  • Etc…;

Those two are inter-related. As a team member one will hold back from giving critical feedback if receives push back from his/her peer leading to confrontation and poor->no self-organization…

Scrum Masters, look around. Don’t you observe those symptoms during your stand-ups and/or during daily work?

If yes then…

Try out following cures ….

  • Talk to push-backers one on one, try to understand what makes them do so? It could be personal issues with team members, lack of positive feedback or self-esteem, or other personal or inter-personal problem(s). It also could be absence of trust (readiness to look vulnerable to the team).
  • Explain that feedback is not oriented towards person, rather towards team (exposes problem) as there are no personal problems in a team, since problem causes wastes, further slowness, incompleteness and later sprint failure of entire team.
  • Focus person on constructiveness rather de-structiveness when exposing problem and coach on asking why 5 times, usually it helps to come up with adequate counter measures to remove root cause of the problem;
  • Educate other team members that raising questions is crucial and needed, but highlight issues and offer them to try out different ways to do so (there may be personal barriers for push-backers, so more “gentle” way may be less stressful while lead to the same result, e.g. instead of asking “Why you did not finish this task so far”?, try “What holds you back from completing this task”?
  • Cultivate more solution oriented then problem stating approach (as solution is vector, while problem is scalar);
  • Talk to entire team that problems are normal and ignoring them just postpones failure. So they require courage to face and team spirit to overcome, that makes difference between team and group of people. Exposing problem does not mean it shall become energy-drainer and de-motivator, rather it’s in-time red flag that shall re-focus team on next right thing to do;
  • If conflict is unavoidable and your peers do not go with “exposing problems approach”, steer it, but not let pile it up (nice article on conflict avoidance here);
  • Launch team storming to “shorten the distance” between team members, so that exposing problems is more constructive and easy (see: “Teamleads, “Storming”, Self-organization and Entropy”)
  • Propose and drive team branding activity to help them find out shared values and motivators (see: “Team DNA: how to Brand up your team”);

To summarize, work both ways with ones who raise (also including you if you are in SM role) and with ones who push back to make raising problems comfortable and easy.

Good Luck!

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Teamleads, “Storming”, Self-organization and Entropy

“To shape it, destroy it” Lao Tzu.

Recently I had a Scrum introduction for a small team of developers at my friend’s office. There were huge amount of questions I dealt with.  However one looked more challenging to handle: “How team of developers can work without team lead? How group of 5-7 people can be equally responsible for success?” Followed by “It simply will not work. You suggest to destroy everything. One needs to tell them what to do” statement.

Well  my immediate answer was: “Team needs to be formed and as soon as “one boat in ” unavoidable  storming starts that makes team glue and self-manage in most natural way, so that no specific role needed to tell them what to do”.

Afterwards this question lead to insights on how it would be easier to explain  self-organization and steps to get there to Agile newbies…

Old style symptoms

  • What if group of people that just starts to work together does not want to glue, or it takes much time for them to form and come to storm?
  • How to make them storm earlier and faster?
  • What if you observe stand-ups when no one interested in what others did/up to and everyone report to Scrum Master?
  • Silent (or 100% happy) retrospectives?
  • People avoiding conflicts?
  • Or you see how people with old-style mindset wait that someone will tell them what to do?
  • Poor or no peer-management?

All these are the symptoms of no teamwork. These teams will unlikely deliver on time, having quality in.

As Ester Derby states: “Groups that avoid conflict won’t be able to face tough issues or handle the creative conflict that generates new ideas”.

Well, self-organization requires definite mind-shift, time and efforts. If that does not happen, team facilitators (coaches, scrum-masters) need to make them storm. Sometimes “throwing” team into storming helps here. Here is how.

“Throwing” team into storming

Here is simple, fast (and a bit harsh) way of doing it. Usually applicable when there is not much time to hit the deadline:

  1. Take (or invent) the deadline. A bit less than realistic is fine. Needs to be challenging. That is easy, ‘cos business usually has them.
  2. Make it clear when achievement considered as success and when it’s considered as failure, based on outcome.
  3. Communicate the deadline and cultivate sense of urgency within team. Tell the team that business needs predictability;
  4. Point out that all this matters if the outcome (product) is releasable;
  5. Bind team objective with result  (and eventually a paycheck);

Observe hawk-eyed

Look what happens with forming stage team when it goes under pressure like this. It immediately starts storming.  It simply has to storm, otherwise it will be unable to realize their potential as a team and eventually will be closed down (I intentionally worsen things here).

This is pretty much like in physics. You increase “pressure” and the measure of disorder of the closed system, called entropy increases as well. Storming is kind of  disorder. The outcome of it however is the order.

That’s just beginning. Observe what happens further. Some people will start to manage peers. Some will invent norms. Others will start to call for those. Some will start to follow. Not all. Some. Some may become “Mavericks”. Others, resisting  “bad guys”.

Team starts storming. It’s hard, harsh, emotional, but normal and needed. It’s unavoidable step for team to really glue together, fit best way and become a TEAM. It’s the price to pay to get team on their path towards being truly self-organized and hyper productive.

As an Agile leader (or Scrum master) you need to observe this stage very closely and take care of conflicts to resolve them in the way to lessen distressing impact on team members. In short, – take care of people!

After a while you will figure out that storming goes down (although it never ends, just becomes more “constructive” and less hard to do) as your team starts to balance each other and  having some “roles”. It depends on individuals managerial skills, characters and combination of people in the team.

The end” of Storming

I’ve seen team that ended up storming phase having several “team leads” (almost entire team) that managed each other. But compared to one formal team lead, they’re deserved and recognized leaders rather than formal authorities. Therefore, such a team is way stronger as managerial unit than a team having single and given team lead.

Let me explain that differently….

Several managerial roles in such a team are mutually complementing, since everyone manages some parts/aspects, focuses on different areas, sees picture from different angles that fits together naturally and keeps right balance between chaos and “autocracy”. Among other benefits of working together, self-organized team has an ability to compensate each other’s negative sides that allows them to become way better.  Rare person can compete with such a “balanced mix”.

That makes self-managed team stronger.

And my answer to the question in the beginning would be “YES”. At some point you need to destroy things to re-shape them.

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Team DNA: how to Brand up your team

“People like talking about people. Makes us feel superior. Makes us feel in control.
And sometimes, for some people, knowing some things makes them care.” [HouseMD #113]

As described in earlier post in “TEAM: 7 indispensable ingredients for Together Everyone Accomplishes More” one of the key elements of a strong team is Brand.

An idea to apply known brand-building practice to team management seemed to me interesting and made me write this blog post.

So I would like to cover a useful tool that can be applied to build up your team brand…

Team Brand is essential team motivator that cannot be given to the team (by company, management, money, etc.), it needs to be build inside, owned and maintained by the team. Actually this is type of “achievement” and “idea”-motivator for a Team (here cross-functional, self-organizing teams are meant, although practice is applicable for any team of small size).

In other words, Team Brand serves as an alignment on its core values/ways to achieve, inspires team by having strong and challenging core set, while distinguishes team among others.

Team brand may be built as any corporate brand starting from key cause or a purpose, moving from core through the benefits (qualities, values) to attributes (tools, norms) supporting and transmitting them.

Well, but an agile self-organizing team needs a hint  to start thinking of themselves as a “company”, having a “brand”. A hint that envisions this mind shift would sound like:  think of your TEAM as of an entrepreneurship and your collaboration as of an inspiring challenge! Imagine you’re running business with your peers (which is not that far away from reality, considering self-organized  development team doing SCRUM).

There are 3 questions to be addressed then by Team members together to get an alignment on:
  1. WHY are we here, what we want to achieve together, what is our core, our strongest believe and our purpose? Why do we exist as a TEAM? Which core value we all share?
  2. HOW we can make this happen? What principles (benefits, qualities) support this?
  3. WHAT we exactly will do (and will NOT tolerate) to support each of the key principles we’ve agreed upon that contribute to our purpose?

A tool I recommend to use at this step to create and maintain team DNA is known “Team Radar” retrospective facilitation activity (see “Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great”  by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen for detailed explanation).

It simply suits best  this exercise.  Here it is used to gather data on team itself and perform self-assessment in the future.

An outcome applying this practice to an Agile self-organizing team may look like this:

As soon as agreed Team DNA is documented, printed out and placed in visible area (ideally at the team scrum board and/or also very usefull in retrospective room). This will serve as a point to refer/remind when choosing for right decision/action and will keep team motivated to comply everything they think, decide and do with their core.

But this “artifact” shall not be “curved in stone”. It’s living, since team is also living. So on and on reviewing it, team curves itself, making their brand stronger and more unique, by finding out deeper levels of their own common values, purposes, beliefs  and means, achieving them.

The more team does so, the more it finds it’s own distinctive way doing things and becomes more distinguished (“branded”) and valued by managers, stakeholders, POs, etc…

Good teams that value the way they perform and look, care about this and move further finding out more challenging cores, supporting principles and norms.

Besides that it’s a funny collaborative action that contributes to team building.

Brand up your Team, guys 🙂

Further reading/sources:

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TEAM: 7 indispensable ingredients for “Together Everyone Accomplishes More”

There are thousands of articles and blogposts about what makes a strong team. Here’s my view on what makes bunch of people being a TEAM and what qualities strong team should have. It is based on observation of all successful (and therefore strong) teams I’ve ever met, experience working with and/or built.

Assumption: it would be necessary to assume that group of people shall have common Goal as key motive and prerequisite to become a TEAM.

1. Self-commitment:  this is key important characteristic of a strong team. Commitment to the team, putting the team interests first—and commitment to each individual on the team in helping him or her become everything he or she can.

2. Brand: this is aligned vision, strategy, purpose and values of the team. Team identity, both internally spoken/unspoken and transported inside and outside. These are the things every team member believes in and those that are “reflected” in team norms and via way team perceived from outside, that determines unique team behavior,  team distinctiveness. This is team motivator first place and only second place team “label”.

3. Trust and care: mutual trust and value of each other, expressed in giving positiveness to each other regularly and helping out just if someone feels bad for whatever reason. Not being afraid to be/look vulnerable to each other. Standing for each other in hard times! All for one and one for all!

4. Peer-pressure: to be able to move, team should have a mechanism that keeps “wheels rotating” daily. Either a team lead (or a peer-pressure in self-organized teams). That is managerial ability of a team to put constructive pressure and spread sense of urgency and accountability around peers that makes team doing whatever is needed to achieve the Goal.

5. “Short Distance” for continuous improvement: having time together creates a good context where “distance” becomes “shorter”, leading to being more comfortable and open with non-comfortable questions, – key for state known as “storming” (see Tuckman’s stages of group development) that is indefensible for team to change (self-improve). Strong teams embrace change when they need to.

6. Transparently communicating: to understand each other, a team has to be willing to invest the time necessary to share their states, feelings and opinions openly. Without talking and listening to each other on a daily basis, team may fall apart. And it’s very important to happen also informally, not just during status meetings or stand-ups.

7. One Boat in to win-win: there is no my/your work to be done or my/your goals to be met or “I’m done, now it’s your turn while I’ll slack around…”. Responsibility and accountability for everything team does and is shared among team members. Successes and failures, happiness and disappointment, praise and blame is a shared pie to eat.

There are many other specific traits that different teams have, however those mentioned, are common pattern for almost all strong ones, regardless of what they are up to, what business they are working for, etc.

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So willing to SUCCEED that not seeing FAILURE coming: the difference between urgency and panic

Defer Commitment + Deliver Fast!

Recently I observed an interesting trap one team fall into. When asked how confident guys feel about hitting the target, they was almost jointly saying they’re absolutely confident, however burndown chart  trend told me they won’t make it.

Well, I am absolutely sure that this is what we all want to have – 100% confidence, however here’s the dangerous trap.

We may stay satisfied and oversee problems (or pretend that tomorow the problems will be gone). Or try not to rise them. Or feel uncomfortable rising them. Or think that others will feel uncomfortable if we raise them, etc…

But, they will NOT disappear. Problems usually have tendency to pile up… And when such a team recognizes that, it’s already too late…. and painful.

Kaizen mindset and “Toyota way of Lean Leadership” cultivate culture of  “continuous crisis” that requires continuous improvement . Only having daily cultivated feeling of urgency and need, maintains the rhythm of tense and productive environment that reduces risk of facing a FAILURE.

As Toyota management team stated in 2010:

“We realized we need to develop a grater sense of urgency, in our business. Success is good, but without urgency serious weakness sets in, customer focus declines, creative ideas dry up and before you know it, you’re in trouble”.

So here is the trick to recognize: before you know it, you’re in trouble.

But the word and concept has negative tone and may have de-motivating impact on a team. How to make it distinct and positive?

Here is an advice…

Unlike panic or hysteria, urgency is a constructive, ordered and focused sense, therefore it should not de-motivate. Simply because it results in targeted and the only correct decision and action. Deffer commitment + deliver fast, guys!

To illustrate this imagine fighter aircraft pilot that needs to make the only correct decision and act accordingly within 10 seconds left before he may crash. And here is the difference that also proven by multiple real-life cases:

  • Panic: an ordinary pilot most likely starts to hit all buttons around (maximizes focus and work-in-progress) or worse, thinks about death (we will fail…), not believing that this happens to him (we will not fail, I do not see problem, it’s not about us/me…);
  • Urgency: trained pilot usually freezes for 7 seconds (analysis, defer commitment), makes decision, then within 3 remaining seconds quickly does (focused, fast) the only correct action to stabilize aircraft;

Feel the difference?

A takeaway is simple: stay open-eyed with reality, constantly challenge your confidence, do not fall into trap of satisfied optimism, distinguish among your will and reality, spread urgency around and stay hungry © for constant improvement.

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