I was talking to my colleague about painting a picture of an ideal self-organized team so that we can share with our teams. We had to appreciate that for many, this was their first experience with self-organization and that this was a whole new world for them. I was trying to find better way to express the characteristics of an ideal self-organizing team.  My first inclination was the trusty checklist of tried and true characteristics, but immediately thought better…why not a role play? Instead of words on a sheet, let’s make it come to life. So I decided to craft an email from a department director writing to her VP on how she feels about her successful self-organized team. The email and all the characters are fictitious :).

Hi Mike,

I wanted to drop a note about how happy I am working with my team. They are really amazing! It makes my day when I occasionally peek into their retrospective meeting through the glass door of the conference room and they are discussing, with full passion, how to improve their team performance and team happiness. I sometimes attend their daily meeting as a chicken and I get happy to see them being concerned about each other’s work and helping each other to remove impediments. They are highly respectful to each other and concerned about their sprint goal rather than just their individual goals. I think as they practice shared responsibility through the sprint they foster better teamwork.  And making the whole team accountable for the sprint outcome, has helped them to embrace team responsibility as well. I learned the hard way when I always asked David (Tech Lead) about the status. He suddenly changed course and started acting in a more command and control manner to the team; probably due to me pressuring him personally to get things done. Hence, I immediately adjusted my approach if they missed a sprint goal.  I realize now I should speak to whole team and not just to David. Through my observation I grew in admiration for David as conducted himself as an equal team member in the meetings. An excellent illustration of truly “being” Agile. It was clear that the after granting autonomy to the team,  they are highly committed to the sprint backlog items that they have accepted into the sprint. Empowering them to decide their sprint scope themselves was clearly the right direction. Initially I was skeptical if they would play it too safe and commit to less than what they could really do, but they really surprised me on how courageous they were by challenging themselves to be and they even started taking on more sprint after sprint.

The Product Owner Sally is highly dedicated as well, she attends scrum meetings every day and helps the team clarify doubt. In addition, she really tries out the new features of the application on a daily basis and provides valuable feedback to the team. Sally really protects the team when John (the sales guy) attempts to bother them about when his feature will be done. Of course I cannot talk enough about Brad the scrum master, he is super! He knows how to facilitate the meeting really well and always encourages the team to follow the scrum ceremonies. He is really on top of all the impediments the team has, clearing away hurdles so the flow of work is never interrupted. He also really keeps himself up to date on the latest practices in Agile and scrum and gets excited about sharing it with the team.

I just love these guys!  Even though some team members are in India, they always make it possible to have a good amount of overlap time. Sometimes the US folks stay late and India people come in early or the other way around. I know not having team members co-located is not ideal, however watching how they creatively solve for what works best for them has been amazing.   They really rock! They showed me their velocity chart and I really see it progressing sprint to sprint.  They even go out together often socially, of course the ones who are in same location. They have been asking me to get budget approved to get them together for a week in one location (either in US or in India), and well you know I have been asking you for a long time about that :).  Just the other day they showed me a list that they have created and they call it “Agile Team Health Checkup” that has items they want to improve as a team. Brad mentioned they review the list in every retro and see if they made any improvement in each sprint.

Oh, they are getting very active on inviting their stakeholders to their sprint review meetings and showing their demos as well. John (the sales guy) actually came to my office last week and told me how happy he is to actually sit in the review meeting and give his feedback. He mentioned he wants to get his customer at the retro some time soon. We definitely will find some good time to do that as well.  The product owner Sally told me she was so happy that team members are highly engaged in backlog refinement sessions; they ask very critical questions and help her refine the stories.

And to top that I found that they have printed their vision and working agreement and displayed it in each of their cubes. I asked about them and Sagar told me that the whole team worked together to craft the vision of their team. “Always strive to achieve the best and make the customer happy.”  I found it interesting that they have crafted a working agreement that says, “Be committed, be courageous, be honest, be open, help each other and more.” Want to hear something funny? They have a jar to deposit a dollar if anyone violates the working agreement. Well, I think its 50 rupees in India and a dollar in US. They are collecting money hoping someday it might help all the team members meet in one place :). I did not ask how much they have collected so far, but I think the collection rate is declining and that’s actually good news to me.

As much as we’ve given them education around this process, they’ve also taught me well.  I’ve learned a lot about Servant Leadership and I find myself really trying to not disrupt them. They’ve mentioned my leadership style has really changed a lot after my last servant leadership training :). Honestly the last thing I want is to be labeled as an impediment myself! Instead, I really want to focus on the technology vision for our product and help them when they need anything from me. And oh, I read a book Management 3.0 which explained we cannot manage people but instead we should manage the  environment and I found it really interesting.  I highly recommend!. So I am really focused on creating an environment for them to thrive in as an agile team. I know they are the ones who deliver the work, hence I really need to attend to their needs and serve them well,.  So my re-adjusted focus has been on communicating our department vision and product vision and collaborating with the product owner regularly, to ensure alignment and engagement. In the last meeting, I shared the purpose of our product/service and explained to them where their work fits in and how it has impacted our customers. They were thrilled with the transparency and I made sure the team knew how impressed the product owners were.

Sorry, I was thinking of sending you just a quick note, but I guess I got too carried away – Oops!  Well, have to go to my meeting now. Anyway, I will talk to you more in our one on one meeting. Again, thank you so much for giving me autonomy to run my department and supporting me in all the impediments I try to eliminate for the team. I think I learned servant leadership from you as well. And oh, I really want to thank our Agile coach too, not sure we could’ve done it without him. I feel so lucky to work with my amazing team!



Director – Application development- The Servant Leader :).

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