Team growth through conflict - by Alan Taylor
Just like any agile coach worth their salt, I want to learn and grow my craft. I read books and blogs and attend MeetUps and conferences and also seek feedback regularly. However, there are limited opportunities to learn and grow with one another. I went into the day with a few things on my wish list; I wanted to see an expert in action and learn from her techniques, I hoped she help would Matt and I move forward and resolve our issues, and equally importantly I wanted to understand how we (in the Business Agility Group) were expected to fit and work together to achieve win-wins for Innodev, our clients and ourselves.
One part of my personal challenges is that the role of a coach is often solitary and despite all the sources of information, sometimes a lonely journey. We often work alone and clash with stakeholders in (mostly) productive ways. Yet where is the team in this picture?
Despite being a member of the VicLand team, where we do occasionally work together for a short time, we are still not working as a whole team, as a development team would. We are a group of separate souls with similar goals. When Martin advised us that Lyssa would work with us for a day when she was next in Melbourne, I for one was skeptical - too good to be true? And when it became clearly real, Martin introduced us to Marco Polo. Now I am not a big blogger or social media user, so I was unsure where its value was. However, within a few posts of it starting, it started to take shape with sincere thoughts being shared. Martin and Lyssa’s video posts helped turn the wheel a little faster throughout the next couple of weeks and there was transparent sharing of our personal wishes … and demons. Budget limitations leading to the people coming in from afar having no accommodation was, I believe, a good thing too. It gave me an opportunity to do something for one of the team by offering a room for the night (thank you Dave for taking up my offer), and Lyssa for providing a room for Saman was so beautiful too - someone she had never met. It all really helped me connect with the team, and be even more excited about the big day.
In The Art of Gathering, Priya Parker wrote about how the preparation before a ‘gathering’ can build up the meaning and have people prepared. I felt the Marco Polo experience did just that, under the guise of setting an agenda. Of course it did help us create a draft agenda, which, as in any unconference, was just a draft.
Martin was first up, and underwent a deep dive into his hopes and dreams. Being willing to be so open, uncomfortable and vulnerable in front of us all demonstrated that there were no false takes in the day - all covers were off and we could look inside.
Of course we all wanted to earn throughout the day and the exercise started on that footing well. However it also showed us that there was a certain amount of our world that we didn’t understand and that was challenging. I was watching and trying to follow how Lyssa was navigating the exercise, to learn. At the same time I was listening to what Martin was saying, to understand. The experience also played a significant part in shaping the later part of the day, in shining a light on the elephant in the room - how we will all fit into the Innodev journey. That was parked for later.
The loose agenda stayed consistent for a little while longer as Matt and I ‘got into the ring’. I am the Scrum Master for a team which has Matt as the Product Owner. This situation which, on the face of it, should be easier than in most of my previous roles - a P.O. who understands Scrum and Agile :-) . Yet that has ironically challenged us at times, along with the fact than Matt has played Scrum Master many times in the past and is new to the Product Owner role - we have very blurred boundaries based on our past experiences. So during the open and vulnerable Marco Polo discussions we had openly agreed to go head to head… bring on Eye of the Tiger :-)
Being at the front of the room, bearing all was not as hard as I expected it to be. The team was supportive in their silence and Lyssa effective in facilitating the discussion - even spicing it up a little after getting bored and calling that fact out! It enabled us to vent our feelings and frustrations and make peace … with each other and even ourselves. We made commitments and although being late with one, we have progressed a long way with another. The next day we arrived at the client’s office and despite the fear of arriving with battle scars, both came in soothed and relaxed.
The afternoon session was a different beast. Lyssa gathered insights from us at a few times throughout the day and determined the way forward from them. We digressed from explicit coaching in the morning. Most significantly was addressing the elephant in the room, whereby Martin shared more about the expectations of Innodev, and we made commitments to one another.
The team was strengthened, information was shared, lessons learned…. and the list of things we know we don’t know enlarged!
It was a wonderful, insightful, team bonding day and I would love to have more of them. I hope we all remember how much better and stronger a team is, than the sum of its parts.
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