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Part of the Covid Hack series by John McFadyen

In a recent Zoom session with Laura Howie, CEO of Reel Media Africa, we chatted about the importance of having the right skills, the right mindset, and a culture that embraces excellence.

Sometimes you’re fortunate enough to have a great team with a Business Agility mindset, culture and the rock star skillset necessary to thrive. At other times, you find that a corporate restructuring or a global Pandemic throws a spanner in the works.

Laura raised a question around identifying new talent and integrating them into her organisation when there is a lockdown and a legislated social distancing mandate. 

Fair point.

For me, the key point is always the Mindset.

One of the core Agile principles in the Agile Manifesto is to embrace disruption and setbacks as an opportunity. Doing so enables you to view the challenges you face through a completely different lens.

A fixed mindset can paralyse you. A growth mindset unlocks heaps of potential.

So, back to the question. How do you hire and nurture talent, given the parameters Covid-19 has defined for us?

The answer. Pairing.

By pairing, I don’t mean job shadowing.

I mean working together collaboratively, on specific and measurable objectives that are realistic and achievable in short sprints.

Zoom. Slack. Trello. And a host of other remote working digital platforms enable us to work together even when we’re apart. They enable us to maintain connection despite losing contact.

Pairing with a potential hire, as part of the hiring process, enables you to determine fit. If you’ve done your homework, the skillset is a given. It’s whether they are capable of integrating effectively into a high-performing team that truly matters.

Pairing also enables you to identify whether they possess the skills necessary for high performance.

The short sprint cycles combined with the collaborative, teamwork-based nature of pairing reveal chinks in the skills armour faster and more effectively than a traditional waterfall-based working environment ever could.

You simply cannot hide in a high-performing, paired team environment.

You’ve either done the most valuable work this week, or you haven’t. There’s either a legitimate impediment to progress, or there isn’t. Your new hire proved a great fit, or they didn’t.

Critics sometimes point to the philosophy of teamwork within Agile as being too esoteric. Like we’re finger painting with watercolours and discussing feelings in a ‘safe space’. A circle jerk.

But Agile is always about evidence. Empirical evidence.

We know what we know because we have evidence that proves what we do or don’t know.


New hires are, by their very nature, an unknown entity. Interviews have traditionally proven to be a very, very poor way of identifying who might be a great fit for your organisation and who isn’t.

Some people are great in interviews, but poor team players, whilst those who come across poorly in interviews are sometimes the MVP on any team they work with.

The current circumstances offer you a fantastic opportunity to test potential hires, whether that’s a ScrumMaster or an Agile coach, over a short series of sprints. It doesn’t have to be a full-time pairing, but there’s also no reason why it couldn’t be.

If the people knocking on your door for opportunity are prepared to embrace the disruption and setback as an opportunity, you’ve already distinguished good from great in terms of mindset and attitude.

Providing a paid opportunity for them to prove themselves a great fit and investment for your organisation is how you demonstrate respect for them in difficult circumstances. It demonstrates respect for your current teams and includes them in the key decision-making around new hires.

Given the nature of Covid-19, there are going to be people who fall ill over the coming 12 months. It is a given. Working in pairs allows you to prepare for that eventuality. It enables you to ensure that there is continuity and momentum regardless of what happens.

Using pairing as part of a hiring process enables you to onboard people within a framework that supports your best ways of working together rather than disrupting it.