How Others See Us Is Important Too

I was having a conversation once with an executive sponsor who was frustrated by friction between competing organizational silos. One silo adopted Agile, the other stuck with more traditional plan driven development. Each side mocked the other’s “head in the clouds” or “lost in the past” approach to projects.

When I was asked what I thought about the situation I found myself saying something along these lines,

“We (the Agile teams) have become very good at being open and collaborative with each other. We have created these marvelous cross-functional teams and have done a great job of breaking down the walls that used to exist between team members. From an insiders perspective on any given team we have made dramatic improvements to the way we work.”

“However, from the outside we don’t look that much different. In fact from the outside, we still react with hostility when provoked and we don’t offer much transparency into our work beyond using a handful of project tracking tools. It’s just not enough. I have high expectations of an Agile development team. I believe that an outsider who works with an Agile development team should come away from the experience feeling like they were welcomed, informed, and energized. I want a team using plan-driven methods to welcome an Agile team, because they will be that much more likely to succeed. The experience will be one of openness and a general willingness to work together.”

“But that’s not often what we get. Instead we get fear, hostility and resentment on both sides. Some of that is human nature. Some of that is silos. And some of that is because we focus too much on the process. I think we should leave the process out of it. Working on a project is a chance to make friends and meet new people.”

“What I need are people who are friendly, open and honest. People who smile when I walk into the room. People I can crack jokes with. If I lead with friendship, I can make more ground than if I lecture them on Agile practices. People should feel at ease when they work with my teams. They should know that they are safe.”

At this point in the conversation I was:

  1. out of my chair
  2. pacing the room
  3. and gesticulating wildly

The first two meant I was feeling emotional, the last one meant I was talking. I was surprised at the heat of my own passion on the topic. In writing it down, it even sounds naive. But here’s the thing: I’ve worked with enough Agile teams to know that they can be real jerks to outsiders…and that is a shame. I would have hoped that all of that vaunted openness and transparency would make that go away, but it doesn’t.

If Agile in whatever form is ultimately to be successful, then both people inside and outside the team need to feel safe and respected. If you are starting a new team, please realize that getting things working smoothly within the team is critical, but don’t forget to look at how your team interacts with others to – in many ways it’s just as important to the success of your team – perhaps even more so.

2 Responses to How Others See Us Is Important Too

  1. Bob Marshall says:

    I’d go so far as to say this is inevitable, absent direct, effective, explicit interventions to tackle the condition. Rightshifting explains why this is so. In a nutshell, effective Agile teams find themselves adopting a new (Synergistic) way of being (aka mindset, perspective on the world of work). This new way is so at odds with the conventional (Analytic) way of being that it creates a great deal of cognitive dissonance on both “sides”. It is this cognitive dissonance that lies at the root of the condition you report.

    – Bob @FlowchainSensei

    • Tom Perry says:

      Bob,

      I don’t know much about Rightshifting, but your explanation makes sense to me. As you say, absent direct intervention, this is very likely to happen. Thanks for the distilled insight.

      -Tom

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