Avoid false agreements and saying no with a yes. #TeamDeath


One of my favorite things about Agile is how it helps teams get committed toward a shared goal.  There are so many distractions and confusions, that we need to double down ways to help people get and then stay on the same page.  In some cases, it comes down to something as simple as word choice!

First, I feel like I need some explanation…

There comes a time in any disagreement when the team needs everyone to get on the same page even if they don’t agree.  As a rule, this should be a relatively small window (maybe 20 minutes max) because the team can defer issues by having a sprint long spike* or exploration story that collects more information to settle arguments down the road. 

Personal Experience Note: A team should NEVER spend much time arguing about the mid or long-term future!  It’s just not worth the time to convince someone that your vision is more compelling.  It’s more efficient to accept that there are MULTIPLE VALID FUTURES and that the team needs to watch to see which one(s) is  taking shape.  There is no need to be “right” about the future.

So, back to the fake agreement phrases that effective teams avoid.

#1 “Yes, but…”

This statement really means “Will you shut up already?  I don’t agree.”  The speaker says “yes” to acknowledge the first person has finished; however, it does not mean that they agree.  The confusing thing is the speaker typically does not even realize that they are sending you into a discussion death spiral. 

Anytime someone says “but” then they are disagreeing.   Just for fun, trying have discussions where people are not allowed to say but – it creates a whole new positive dynamic.

#2 “I don’t disagree”

This statement really means “You are full of shit and my opinion is more right.”  The speaker is trying to avoid addressing your points directly and refocus discussion on their opinion.  Agreement means that everyone believes the same thing.  There are many ways to not agree and only one way to agree.

This is one of my pet peeves because the speaker thinks they are rewarding you with some back-handed pat on the head.  In reality, they shutting your ideas down without validation or acknowledgement.

There are many such statements that waste team time and mask disagreement.  If you have some that bug you, please comment on this post and add to the dialog.  I’m sure that I won’t disagree with any of them!

* Spike stories are time bounded stories that have specific research or opinion deliverables.  They are intended to collect enough information that the team can take action and move forward.   Sometimes these are also called “time box” stories.

Wearing the Cape

Or Team Death by Heroism

I remember the day that put on the hero’s cape and I killed our team.

A few years ago I would have felt really good about saving the deadline and exposing the deadweight we’d been carrying on the team.   I’d get a good performance review, a bonus, and some expectation that I’d be picked first on the corporate playground baseball team.  Everyone was oblivious that I just cost the company a lot of time and money.

So with all this goodness raining down on me like gumballs in an Adam Sander movie, how does wearing the cape cause team death?  Let us count the ways:

  1. I’m going to do my job badly.  A Hero only focuses on winning the day.  Like Batman saving the Gotham, we aren’t worried about the collateral damage.  We don’t care about the unfortunate drivers in the way of my super awesome armored tank-bike!  Can you afford to have documentation, cross-training and automated tests become collateral damage?
  2. My teammates are going to feel pretty crummy.  Who gets to be Aquaman on you team?   I’m telling them that they could not do their job so I’ve got to do my job AND their job.  There’s no way to sugar coat that ego buster and their not likely to offer much help after that.
  3. Decisions will be one-sided.  Without a team, the hero has no balancing ideas and will go racing off into obvious traps and dead-ends.  On my latest hero project, I worked all weekend and was told on Monday that there was a check-box on the operating system that would have done the same thing!  Doh.  Why didn’t my teammate give me a heads up on Friday?  Why should he bother – it was better cinema to watch me ricochet all over the project.
  4. Heroes require drama, so nothing will ever stabilize.  It’s silly to dash and keep saving the day if everything’s working pretty well.  Once I’ve put on the cape, I’m much more likely to invent crises to solve because most of the work that is needed to ship a product is pretty drama-free.  Some of the heros I’ve met just leap from job to job faster than a speeding bullet.

Looking for some kryptonite?  It’s not that hard to find:

  1. Stop rewarding heroics with praise, money, pizza, or beer.
  2. Make the hero take a long vacation, transfer them, or fire them.  Really, you can live without them.
  3. If you’ve got a hero, pair them with another person (they can respect) to minimize the damage.
  4. Have heros take on the grunt work instead of letting them cherry pick the best work.
  5. Stop the team.  If you believe team needs a hero then you need to reevaluate your deadlines, feature list, or external messaging.  Generally, an emergent hero is a symptom of a larger problem.

Wonder team powers, activate!