Saturday, October 29, 2011

Be truthful about working in teams! It's not for everyone

I have been thinking about some of the conversations I've had recently and in the past with different team members and realized....there seems to be very little discussion and truthfulness about the reality that high-performance teams are not for everyone. Some people will just never like it, some will tolerate it, some will love it, and some will just simply move on.

So much time is spent on the rah, rah of how great it will be for everyone, we need to remember to pay attention to the natural reactions and concerns of those that have never experienced a high-performance team before.

Speaking as a developer myself, I remember how I started in I.T. back in 1984. Someone presented me with a problem, and I sat in my apartment by myself working my own hours, watching TV, working through the night and generally being a loner.  I do admit, I enjoyed those days.

My company grew and eventually I found myself working with different types of people; developers, marketing types, sales people, accountants, graphic artists and many more.

That's when I discovered something I enjoyed MUCH more.... Working in Teams! 

But what about those that are unsure about what to expect.

My advice... Be TRUTHFUL and LISTEN.

For those that have never worked in a high-performance team environment, the change can be frightening.  Allow new team members to talk openly about their fears and concerns.  Show them that you care.

The concerns may not be real to you but they are definitely real to them!

Consider the following situation;
·        You are working with a new team that has been told they are doing an Adoption.
·        They are comfortable working totally on their own and interface with other team members only when necessary.

Our natural tendency will be to try and minimize their negative feelings or concerns.
After all, we totally believe in Agile and really just want them to come around to our way of thinking.  Instead, allow the person to say what they have to say and then be honest with them.

Explain to them that “Teams are NOT for everyone, and ask them to PLEASE give it a try first and see how you feel about it in a year from now”.

“The goal of the company, me and everyone in the team is that you're here and enjoy it going into the future!  I am here to help you in the transition.”

The LAST thing you want to do is try and convince that person that their fears are not valid.  They are valid to them.  Explain that you are there for them to talk to at any time.
Explain that you believe in your heart that they will never want to go back to a non-agile environment.  Don’t be afraid to talk about your own skepticism when you first started with an Agile team.

I personally find that honesty and truthfulness about the situation is the best way to approach the subject.  The recipient will gain trust in what you say.  After all, if you are willing to be honest about possibly attrition, then they will realize you are being truthful about how things might be if they ride it out.

For me at least, the people who have argued with me the most about joining teams have become my biggest allies when a management change happened and the POSSIBILITY of breaking up the teams even came up in conversation.

My experience is that the honesty and rapport you built up with the person who was "worried", "not sure", "didn't think they would like it", etc. will be beneficial to both of you. The truthfulness you showed about their situation will help that person have a healthy, open-minded view to what will happen next.

Consider how much easier future changes will be when the person is totally aware they may be uncomfortable with them and is willing to give it a try.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A thought about Verbal vs. Written Communication in Teams

The topic of verbal vs. other forms of communication has come up for me a fair bit recently with a friend of mine trying to keep an off-shore team working efficiently. His teams are using OpenAgile as a framework.

I decided it was time to make a post about the subject.

I came up with this example as a Flight Instructor when explaining to students about the difficulties that air traffic controllers face when talking to pilots on the Radio.  The controllers cannot easily hear inflection in your voice, so the words used are very important and need to be completely accurate and follow specific rules.

This idea is even more significant when discussing the idea of ‘documentation’ or ‘email’ communication between co-workers and/or team members.

Consider the following phrase which is purposely designed to invoke emotion.


Every person who reads this will read it differently!

Let me explain.....  Follow this explanation by saying each of the following OUT LOUD.
The learning will be better that way.

The () characters are the explanation of the different possible interpretation.

  • Put a loud or raised emphasis on the bolded word.
  • Say the rest of the words without emphasis.  
  • Leave a few moments before each attempt.

Here we go…....

I NEVER SAID YOUR WIFE WAS UGLY. (Perhaps implying someone else did)
I NEVER SAID YOUR WIFE WAS UGLY. (out right denial)
I NEVER SAID YOUR WIFE WAS UGLY. (although I may have written it)
I NEVER SAID YOUR WIFE WAS UGLY. (but I may have said someone else's is)
I NEVER SAID YOUR WIFE WAS UGLY. (but perhaps your dog is)
I NEVER SAID YOUR WIFE WAS UGLY. (I said she was beautiful)

As you can see, I may have had an intended purpose for my message to you.  However, your interpretation could be considerably different than what I had hoped for.

Agile Frameworks such as OpenAgile or SCRUM, rely on high-bandwidth communication between team members.

Consider this example next time someone tells you that written communication is as effective as in-person or webcam verbal communication between members in high-performance teams.

If you are in an environment requiring remote communications, make sure that the remote workers have access to high-bandwidth communications capacity within their teams.