Thursday, December 01, 2011

Three Simple Tools for New Teams

When I am delivering Certified ScrumMaster classes or starting up new agile teams, I share three simple tools that really help collaboration: creating a working agreement (also called team agreement), the art of the possible, and the fist of five. Based on feedback, these three items are often some of the important tools that team members take back and use immediately. Below is a simple way to introduce these by facilitating creating working agreements with your team.

Photo by Greencolander via Flickr.

Before you kick off your new team, get the team together and let them know the goal is to come up with some team agreements so that we all agree on how we’re going to work together. You might have some ideas, but first go around and hear others first. If you’re in a large group, pair up, otherwise each person can individually write down one statement about how their time together should be – everything from working hours to working conditions. Now collect these and put them on the wall, under the title “Working Agreements.” For general work, I often hear: take personal calls out of the working area, headphones on for music, keep your chat program on, put a flag or sign up if you don’t want to be interrupted (for less than an hour), shower regularly (seriously), no eating fish at your desk (yep, that too). Some common ones for meetings that I’d recommend are: one conversation at a time, start and end on time, electronics by exception (that is, no cell phones or computers unless it’s an emergency and everyone understands that), and have an attitude of the art of the possible.
The art of the possible means keeping an open mind that something covered here could work ormight be true, even if you disagree, instead of an attitude of “that could never work here” (even if that is your experience). There’s always a first time, and the difference of our attitude, effort and approach differ vastly when something “just might be” possible, rather than impossible. MacGyver believed in the art of the possible.
Now that we have everyone’s recommendations, decide on what the final working agreement list will be. My preferred way of collaborating on quick yes/no group decisions is with the technique called the “Fist of Five.” When you’re in a group deciding on something (such as where to go to lunch that day), you can simply say the recommendation and then have everyone hold up one to five fingers. The number of fingers represent where they stand: 5 means they love the idea, 4 means they like the idea, 3 means they’re not that happy but they won’t get in the way, 2 means they have some questions or concerns that if answered they’ll get on-board, and 1 means “No way, ever, never!” (and make sure the one finger is the index finger…) Fist of five is a great way to hear everyone’s voice and quickly see who’s not in agreement and why (and then work to get them in agreement).

I hope these tools help your team get off to a great start.

(This post also published on the BigVisible company blog at

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