A Managers Guide to Attending Agile Team Events

I have always been a proponent of keeping most Agile events and rituals open and transparent. If anyone in the organization would like to stop by a daily stand-up session or experience a sprint review, the more the merrier…

…with one exception.

If you are a manager with direct reports on an Agile team (you are making performance, promotion, or salary and bonus assessments on one or more team members), I believe a set of expected behaviors should apply to you.

This is not meant to be exclusionary but your presence, reactions, words, and body language WILL impact team dynamics – sometimes negatively.

For example, I was in the stand-up meeting for a well-performing team a while back when a manager for some of the developers appeared unannounced. This manager proceeded to stand right next to the information radiator. When team members talked about the progress of their work and their impediments, the manager would ask for clarification on what was being done and asked technical questions about what was being developed.

As the stand up continued the tension grew. By the time the last person spoke all attention was focused on the manager and instead of speaking to the team about their progress everyone was looking at the manager when they spoke. When the manager left everyone just looked around as if to say “What just happened?”

This may be an extreme example but it demonstrates the impact someone in authority will have when interacting with direct reports on a team established around the principles of self-organization. When I talked with the manager later they didn’t realize how they had shifted team dynamics.

So, if you are a manager and would like to attend an Agile team session, here are a few suggested behaviors to consider:

During Sprint Planning
Give the team space. A temptation will be to jump in and provide solutions to the team but allow them the experience of working with each other and learn how to solve problems together.

Step in only when necessary. Especially with new or inexperienced team members, coach, train, or mentor as needed but tread lightly. If your direct report is experienced and competent, consider not attending at all. They will appreciate the trust you have in them.

During Daily Stand-ups
Observe and listen. Well-run stand-ups are fun to watch. Stand back and enjoy. If the stand-up feels unorganized or unstructured, have a chat with Scrum Master after it’s over.

Do not participate. Allow the team to get through their daily stand-up without interruption. If you have a question or would like to get more details on team activities, wait until the stand-up is over  (known as the 16th minute). If it appears someone is not “pulling their weight”, follow-up individually and ask probing questions to determine what is really happening.

During Sprint Review
Provide input but respect the product owner role. If you have questions about a feature or why something is being built, follow-up with the product owner after the review.

Encourage and praise. Don’t just walk out when the review is finished. If the team is doing well, tell them. If you don’t, they will be asking themselves “Did we do ok?” Hang back and chat with your direct reports and let them brag a little bit about what they accomplished. Your words and actions are noticed…make them count.

During Sprint Retrospective
Don’t attend, ever. The team should be comfortable sharing areas to improve when necessary and when they believe something may come back to haunt them or someone else in a performance review they may not say what should be said. If you are sensing something is not right with the team, setup a different time with your direct report, the team, product owner and/or Scrum Master to discuss your concerns.

Feel free to forward this on to your managers…or leave an anonymous copy on their desk :) If you have any other suggestions, please add your comments below.

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Posted by on January 7, 2014. Filed under Most Shared,Transformational Leadership. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

5 Responses to A Managers Guide to Attending Agile Team Events

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  4. Daniel Reply

    April 15, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    Would really love this info in an infographic type form to use as a propoganda type poster to influence managers who don’t seem to get this as part of agile transition.

    • Len Lagestee Reply

      April 15, 2014 at 3:23 pm

      Interesting idea. Thanks for sharing! Usually a little conversation with a manager is all it takes but maybe we can come up with something.

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