One of the pleasures of what I do is having a front row seat for the adventure people experience as they form and grow into incredible teams. While working with these teams, I am often reminded of a technique groups of mountain climbers will often use.
When navigating glacier routes prone to crevices, climbers will often “rope up” by tethering themselves together with a length of climbing rope. If one of the climbers should encounter a crevice others are there to help arrest their fall and pull them to safety.
Thankfully, most of our adventures at work are not of the life and death variety but through my observations, incredible teams will find a way to be moving together – they are always “roped up.” Why is this?
There is movement but always at the same pace. The group is only as fast as the slowest person. Every step must be taken together regardless of individual skill, domain knowledge, or personal ambition.
There is risk but also reward. If one person on the the team is struggling, the entire sprint may be put at risk. Every struggle, however, becomes an opportunity for the team to strengthen and bond.
There is individual effort but group success. If one person is not putting in full effort the entire team will feel it. Every member of the group contributes to the best of their ability.
Introducing this concept is not always easy so if you are a Scrum Master or in a position to coach Agile teams, here are a few thoughts on how to get your teams moving together:
Reinforce empathy and build trust. I believe “the rope” tying a team together is built with empathy and trust. When people begin to understand what others are feeling and experiencing, relationships develop, connections form, and confidence emerges. Here are a few techniques to try (“How to Define Role Clarity” and “When Developers and Testers Collide“) and there are many more out there.
Start at the beginning (or do a reset.) It’s too late to rope up when challenges arise. Trust and empathy are only developed by spending time together so start from the very first time the team gets together. If a team has been together for awhile and are still somewhat dysfunctional, it may be time to do a team reset and start over.
Use every team meeting, session, or event. I mentioned in the post “The 5 Stages of Story Sizing” how using a seemingly simple activity as story sizing can be used to bring individual perspectives into group wisdom. Intentionally design every session to (sometimes subtly) move the team together.
But especially the retrospective. Use the retrospective to foster grace and forgiveness. This is the team’s chance to pull team members from their “crevice” and begin their journey anew.