Tagged: Team

Mending Walls

Scrum is focused on teams. But who’s on the team? And how can others help?

Not too long ago, a manager told me, “It’s seems like you’re saying that Scrum separates me from my team. That doesn’t feel right, because I’ve worked hard to create an open atmosphere here.” And he had a point: the language we often use when talking about Scrum teams includes “protecting” the team, focusing on the people who have “hands on the keyboard.” We think we need to separate the Scrum team from their partners in the organization.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
– Robert Frost, “Mending Wall

That conversation reminded me of a time, years ago, when I was working with a team whose managers had asked me to help them learn how to deliver using Scrum. These folks worked in what some technology professionals might see as an extremely stable company; many people had been at the company for double-digit numbers of years. They worked together, celebrated together, knew each other’s families and kids. They knew a lot about being together before I ever came into their lives.

When it came to the time when we were forming the Scrum team – choosing who’d work on which team, who’d serve as ScrumMaster, and so on – we got a bit stuck. “I think I should definitely be on the team,” said Richard, who was the manager of most of the developers and testers who’d be working together. “I need to see what the team is doing.” Others piped up, remembering what we’d learned about cross-functional delivery teams, and offered that Richard didn’t have a delivery role; he was a manager.

The brand-new ScrumMaster, Amy, suddenly brightened. “Richard,” she said, what if you were a ‘team friend’? We’re going to have lots of challenges as we learn to work using this Scrum thing, and we’ll need all the help we can get. And friends are important: they care about you, they’ll listen, offer advice…they’ll pitch in and help you out when you’re in a tough spot. Sometimes, they’ll even lend you money!”

Amy had captured everything I’d wanted to say about supportive work environments and empowered teams. Our team was going to need friends to survive our learning and adapting times ahead. And so Amy made a poster labeled “Our Team Friends” and invited Richard to come over and sign in as our first friend.

When the poster went up on the team’s wall later that week, it quickly attracted attention from others whose work brought them into frequent contact with our team. “Can I be your team friend too?” they’d ask, in all earnestness. Amy would explain what our expectations were from friends, and to our surprise, one by one they happily signed their names.

Here’s the best part: we soon discovered that one of the team members had to be gone for two entire sprints, and the team felt shorthanded without him. Richard heard our concerns, and said, “Could I help? Could you use an extra hand?” The team was surprised at his offer, but quickly accepted it. Richard, like a true friend, backed us up wholeheartedly – he temporarily moved out of his office and onto a table in the team room and there paired with team members to deliver software, complete stories, and accomplish our iteration goal. Reflecting on Richard’s contributions at our retrospective a month later, we realized we couldn’t have done it without him. And the team felt that they had a real commitment from management to support them through this time of change.

I wished that I’d remembered Amy’s idea when I was working with that recent team and its involved, supportive manager. But it’s not too late for them, nor for your team. Consider inviting the support, understanding, help, and trust of those “outside” your delivery team. Make more friends, and try to keep them. And don’t forget to invite them to the post-sprint celebration at the pub!