Agile Project Team Webinar Q&A

Agile Project Team Webinar Q&A
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Lately, I’ve been working with a lot of people who are struggling with new ways of building teams based on skills, collaboration, transparency, and honesty. In my recent webinar, Project Team Collaboration: Leading One Big Happy Family, I shared strategies and recommendations to help overcome some of the most common challenges agile (and traditional) teams face. Good teamwork is hard, but it doesn’t have to be! Our audience asked a lot of great questions that I wasn’t able to address, but I wanted to share my answers in this blog post.

How can I avoid a situation where the team says that I push the decision-making on their side and don’t want to do my job as a manager?

I would suggest talking to the team and explaining why you want to delegate certain decisions: the people doing the work should decide how that works is accomplished. Perhaps try a round of Management 3.0 “Delegation Poker” to illustrate the different levels of decision-making and delegation. Assure your team that they are safe in decision-making; you cannot punish for mistakes made or they will not want to take on the responsibility of making the decision.

What’s the best way to handle personality clashes within the team?

Find ways to bring the team together and promote understanding and empathy. Team-building exercises are a great way to do this. Find some exercises that allow people to share one-on-one with each other. An example I gave in the webinar was to have people, in pairs, get together and answer these three questions:

  1. What are all the things we do together (list as many as possible in one minute)?
  2. Name one thing I like about you.
  3. What is one thing we could do better together?

How do you engage a siloed team when a dominant member is unwilling to engage and pushes back every step of the way?

Well, first let me say that there are times when a person just isn’t a good fit for a team. I have had to recommend moving someone ‘around’ before. But most times, there is a reason they are pushing back. Having an open, honest conversation with them about their behavior might work. Instead of accusing, ask probing questions like, “How do you feel your team works together; is it a good environment?”, “What could your team do better to be more effective and work together better?”. Try to avoid escalating the problem with any negative feelings you have. Perhaps observe the team and try some coaching.

How do you recommend dealing with a manager who doesn’t get involved in the project until the very end, then criticizes everyone’s work?

This is a tough one. Some suggestions:

  • Suggest that the team, including the manager, has a regular (maybe daily) ‘standup’ or quick meeting to encourage more involvement.
  • Lay out the risks of non-involvement of ALL stakeholders, including them, in the analysis. This might help resolve the issue without singling them out.
  • “Manage up”: try to understand them; what might be driving this behavior? Support them if you can. If they really are bad, they probably will self-destruct on their own!
  • Document what happens when you cannot get answers you need for the project and document the resulting effects.

How do you support decision making up the chain when leadership is increasingly distancing themselves from the team? (i.e. Project going poorly – leadership huddles to try and figure it out in a smaller leadership group.)

Perhaps try to find someone in that leadership group who might be willing to be more transparent. Why is the project going poorly? Can the team make suggestions to help resolve the issue? Invite management to a meeting to discuss.

When do you draw the line in coaching a dysfunctional behavior versus enabling the team to move past it and encourage self-selection?

That’s a good question. That line can be tough to discern. I would say that if you have attempted to coach dysfunctional behavior and it persists, you probably need to rearrange or disband the team. If it’s ‘one bad apple’ disrupting the team, can you switch them to another team or role? If the entire team is dysfunctional, there’s probably some reason. Are they under undue stress? Given projects or goals that are impossible to achieve successfully?

How do you effectively work with a manager that is saying that they are empowering the team to make decisions, but ultimately, wants everything to be their way?!

Call them out on it. Whenever I do this, I try to make sure my words are “I feel that xyz is happening”. You might say, “We had understood that we were going to make this decision as a team, but I feel like we were not able to do that, what do you think happened?”. Not accusatory, just observation. Show them the 7 levels of delegation and ask which they think they used. Maybe they just don’t realize that they are behaving that way.

How do you increase a team’s sense of urgency?

If the team has a good understanding of the vision and goal and their part in it, this usually leads to more focus on that goal and getting it done well. Make sure that the goal’s “why” is also well understand. If my boss says “This is what I need done” but doesn’t tell me why (or the risks of NOT doing it!), I probably am not that motivated.

How do you deal with a team with too many big-idea team members?

Big-idea team members are great, they maybe just need to be corralled a little if necessary. How do we do this? By, once again, making sure that everyone understands the vision and goal of what we are doing and why we are doing it. What are the boundaries (budget, time, scope)? If we all understand our boundaries and constraints and that we need to work within them, usually that helps the creeping of scope. If the project is dealing with the unknown and we are looking for innovation, we may not want to corral thoughts at all!

If you have team that has both scrum master and team lead (mgmt), who is responsible for team collaboration (or should be)?

If you are using the Scrum process, ideally the team is responsible for figuring out how to collaborate best together. If it’s a new team, the scrum master typically will help coach the team on common scrum practices and ceremonies. I usually recommend that a team try the ‘standard’ scrum ceremonies and practices, at least until they figure out what works best. If there is a confusion of roles, the team, including the scrum master and this ‘team lead’, should get together and discuss roles and come up with a working agreement. There typically is no team lead in Scrum teams because the team is self-organized.

How do we build a team with people who are too distracted with their personal issues than actually focusing on work?

The team might want to discuss this problem as a team, honestly and openly. If you’ve got people not working at work, that means the other team members suffer. This doesn’t mean we can’t have empathy for team members that are struggling with a personal issue. But if these struggles are ongoing and affect the team’s ability to deliver value, it needs to be addressed. Are there ways to help them so that the team can be effective? Clear expectations on behavior, work times, etc. need to be communicated and agreed upon by the entire team.

2 Questions – 1 Answer

1. How do you encourage collaboration with teams located in different time zones and countries?

2. I have a split team offshore/onshore and am struggling to get accountability and ownership of the agile stories from the offshore group and overall multi-tasking by all members during overlap time. I’ve tried rotating the daily stand up to try to get them to feel more ownership. I feel like they are more task talkers than trying to challenge what’s in the acceptance criteria and contributing to what we may be missing or have wrong. I try to do some interactive quick/fun ideas to get to learn more about each other vs. all work. What are some other suggestions to get the offshore members to feel comfortable to speak up and voice opinions and get everyone to stay on task and stop multitasking?

Look at the sixth and eleventh principles of the agile manifesto: “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation” and “The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams”. Based on these two principles, try these suggestions:

  1. Whenever possible, see your teammates. So, use video conferencing, Skype, etc. Get over the feeling of “I don’t like how I look on camera” by using it often. This also helps with people not multi-tasking; if you are all seeing each other, it’s harder to get away with distractions. Remember: people cannot multi-task (The human brain cannot perform two tasks that require high-level brain function at once)
  2. Around multi-tasking: if you are having problems with people taking on too many tasks at one time, try using a Kanban where you limit the number of items someone is working on ‘at one time’. Usually people have a comfortable limit to the number of tasks they can ‘bounce between’. My comfort level is about four. Anything over that makes me bounce too much and get very little done! Right now, I have five in my “Doing” column, and it’s just a bit much!
  3. Take turns adjusting to someone else’s time zone. Perhaps each month, switch collaboration times so that one group is not working during ‘off-times’ for them.
  4. Develop times to play and laugh together. There are lots of online games you can play quickly.
  5. Have somewhere you can post notices, chat, etc. I have used tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams on a couple of different teams lately with great success.

I hope these answers provide some tips and helpful recommendations for building a more collaborative and effective team! If not, and you need more help, please let us know. I also recommend taking a look at our Management 3.0 course. It is a  workshop-style class that includes a ton of modern, unique techniques to help even more!

– Ali


More on the Project Team Collaboration

How to Organize Self-Organizing Teams Article

Collaboration Model Template

Create a High Performing Team Quick Tip

Management 3.0: Agile Management and Leadership Course


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