How would you assist a team member exposed to Agile for the first time?
Welcome to part 6 in our Agile coach Interview Questions series where John McFadyen answers questions commonly asked of agile coaches and scrum masters in interviews and client engagements.
Many people would say that you should coach that person, ask powerful questions, and help them integrate Agile into their style of working but I don’t believe that is the most helpful way to start.
Perspective matters here. The person you are going to be working with may well be exposed to an agile framework or methodology for the first time, but more importantly, they are being exposed to a whole new team and team dynamic for the first time.
Whilst this may not be scary for that individual, it will be unsettling and require a great deal of their concentration, effort, and commitment to integrate well into the team.
They don’t know how they fit into the team, and they don’t know how to play the game. They certainly won’t be aware of the rules of engagement, the mindset, and the culture of the team.
As an agile coach, this is where we come into play.
So, yes, we can ask powerful questions and attempt to coach from the onset, but our role lies in helping that person by teaching them.
Articulate the rules of the Agile game
There is no point in putting someone into a scrum team and not taking the time to explain what scrum is, what values and principles it is built upon, and why the team consider this framework a great fit for what they are attempting and aligned with.
You need to explain the role of a scrum master and why it is so important in a scrum team. You need to explain what a product owner is, why that is so important to both the scrum team and the customers you serve. You need to explain how the developers work and how that integrates into the design and production of products that truly delight customers.
Identify which coaching stance is appropriate
As an agile coach, you need to wear many different hats. At times you are a teacher whilst at times you may be acting as a consultant.
You need to be present and engaged to identify what stance is appropriate for the moment.
- Is this a teaching opportunity?
- Is this a coaching opportunity?
- Is this a moment that requires facilitation?
- Should I be giving my personal insight and recommendations based on my experience?
- Do I demonstrate my expertise and simply provide the correct answer?
- Do I ask questions to allow that individual to explore their own line of reasoning?
You need to be able to shapeshift between these stances and mentor where that is appropriate and valuable yet be fluid enough to switch to a coaching stance when it makes sense for that person to achieve clarity of purpose and intention.
Remember, there is no one way through this. It requires you to exercise your entire skillset and draw upon all of your experience and expertise to guide that individual or team appropriately.
Consider the team
Whilst integrating into a new team can be tough for the individual, it can also be fairly disruptive and uncomfortable for the team. You need to include them in the process of integration and recognise that they will need your coaching, teaching, and mentoring skills too.
For me, it starts with the basics like working agreements and charters.
The team are inviting a new member into their world and so it is appropriate for the team to make the new individual aware of ‘how things work around here’. The team will have agreed to a working agreement that governs their interactions and processes.
They will have defined a charter that governs elements of vision, mission, and purpose. The new team member needs to be aware of these elements and choose to align themselves, personally and professionally, with these working agreements if they are to integrate successfully into the team.
- How do we work together and why have we chosen this style of work?
- Who is in the team and who is not?
- How does the team approach X problem and how do they escalate that problem if it lies outside the influence and scope of the team?
All of these working agreement elements are something the new team member will know nothing about and working through them gives them every opportunity to absorb, observe and ask questions for clarity and insight.
Is this something you need to lead as an agile coach? Yes and No. I would start by reminding the team that a new team member has joined and that it would be valuable to walk them through the rules of the game and introduce them to the team’s values and principles.
If they decide they would like me to facilitate that, great, happy to do so. If they embrace the opportunity to lead this process as a team, great, happy to observe.
Slow things down
Sometimes, the cost of bringing new people into a team is that things slow down.
The team need to focus on the integration of the new team member, and they need to take time to show them how things work, how it flows throughout the organization, and help the new team member adopt best practice within the team environment.
They will want to demonstrate how value is created and consumed throughout the value stream and they will want to showcase the standard of work that is considered acceptable, good, and great.
You want to encourage the team to make use of the opportunity to build a solid foundation for the new team member and give that person every opportunity to thrive within the environment.
That may mean taking their foot off the gas for a short period of time to allow that person to catch up and integrate into the team. From there, the team can increase the pace until the new team member is able to match the team’s capability.
About John McFadyen
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For more information on John McFadyen, connect with John on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/johnmcfadyen/.
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