concocting  extraordinary  teams

March 13, 2006

Alignment as an Agile Way of Life

Reading Mishkin's "The Art of Obstacle Removal" I became aware of something I do at work, mostly without thinking about it.

I often do very physical things in the team space, things that need doing, but which have an additional intangible goal. I pick up garbage after the team lunch. I move an information radiator so all of the team can see it. I put a partition where it blocks noisy traffic outside the team room. I help team members move furniture for better collaboration. I order a whiteboard. I shop for more thumb tacks.

What am I really doing? I am modeling alignment by making our reality match with the values we teach: picking up garbage says "we are all peers", making the big-visible-charts visible to all says "every person on the team counts", helping the team make the space work for them says "you are free to self-organize", physically blocking traffic and noise models the ScrumMaster's "sheepdog" role in protecting the team from distraction. I tend to enlist the help of at least one team member in these events, to amplify learning.

Agile work is not about practices, it's about culture, and cultural change happens deep inside people. But we can use actions and artifacts to model the interior changes we espouse and desire in others. I think that one key benefit of Agile work is the correction, the re-alignment it makes between what we know to be right, and what we do. Business people own requirements. Developers own estimates. Physical infrastructure need to foster collaboration. Compensation schemes must not pit people against one another. Teamwork requires respect. Managers must serve their teams.

I do believe that people absorb all this, whether they realize it or not. There is a reason that retention on Agile teams is higher than the average. I believe it is because, over time, people learn to treat each other honestly and respectfully.

The human mind is a marvelous thing, and in the background we are constantly synthesizing what we hear and see at work. And so, I pick up the garbage after my team's celebration lunch.