My personal crusade towards people engagement

How would this… look big?

During all my career as a developer I have consciously decided to work for small to medium size businesses. I did so because I wanted to see the whole package, how the business worked, what made it tick, how the different departments related to each other, cross the owners and everybody else by the coffee machine (although I do not drink coffee) and be able to have a quick chat, … I find it cool that it was easy to show my craft - and be called upon when I did not. Becoming a Scrum Master enable me to reach and experiment different types of problems and challenges in this environment, more related to the business and its people and that was indeed great fun.

When I first joined a huge enterprise size company I was keen to see how similar issues that I had experienced in the past would surface under a mega size company perspective. What sort of new problems would I be challenged with? New job, new challenges, right? There we go.


A giant game of small pieces

At my first day at work I was impressive by the size of things. Big building, many floors, loads of people, bubbly and dynamic, right? Not really. I was surprised to realise how much compartmented work and relationships were. You cannot just remove all the walls, put everybody in a single floor and expect them to gel like old friends. The modern silos are invisible. They are way more subtle, hard to be noticed and addressed than when you had odd Joe working alone on his cubicle. It is easy to feel alone in the middle of the crown and is also hard for others to realise you might be feeling like that since there is just too much going on.

It transpires in simple stuff like not making eye contact or acknowledging people by the lift, to more concerning ones like not knowing who or what the guy on the next hub works with. How is it that at some point we – and I include myself - became too lazy and complacent to not bother to know who is that guy around the corner?

Most big business were at some point in their journey a small business. They are in essence a giant game of small pieces. A business is not if their employees and once they are now hundreds, thousands, having these guys to engage and collaborate becomes a BIG challenge.

And what is the point in having all these people talking? Old school mentality would say that this would just be another distraction. They chat therefore they produce less… Well, it is not like we work in an assembly line. I believe that what would happen is actually the opposite. Through engagement and communication is that creativity springs. Those Eureka moments by the shower need constant input of variated sources in order to happen.

So how do we start?

Ok. First stage is acceptance. You acknowledge that there is an issue. Second is how to go about that. How can you work towards change? Good news is that you do not need to be a Scrum Master to work towards what you believe. You do not need to be anyone’s boos. There’s always room for improvement and if you believe communication is key and people engaging is crucial, you can do your part to help in that process. Work around your colleagues  change yourself, change your team, your hub and at some point, by simply being an example, you will inspire others to change. The goal is to become a source of inspiration. If you only bother to do what is on your job spec, you are likely to drown ashore and ended up transforming yourself in a bitter employee, a moaning expert.

I currently work as a Software Engineer.  I have no power in saying how my team or department or anyone else should do their work and this is great! Having officially no power is key to have a real effect because if and when someone decides to give me some credit, they are genuinely doing so. Not because I am their freaking boss or someone in a posh suit. The house patron will seldom hear the cleaner’s gossips. I am fighting on the front line, within the trenches. My crusade is bottom up!

My idea was to start performing small experiments to see how they will help in improving communication and motivation around the team and I am happy to share my ideas and hear your suggestions and feedbacks.


1-2-1 by the Coffee Machine

Getting to know your team members and the others around you is crucial for building health and open relationships.Only when you can see from others perspective is that you can actively work towards changing and improving their lives (and yours). Trust only comes from such connections and if you want your team to be bold and try and experiment new things, they need to trustyou and themselves. Take opportunity to chat with new faces, introduce yourself, see what they do, show them what you do. Discover their pain and their joy!!


Team Lunches


Yeah, we did have team lunches but it was one of these things that would happen once in a while. Now I have set up calendar reminders to make it happen every month or whenever I feel there is an opportunity for a nice catch up. I am trying to schedule regular lunches not only among our own Scrum Team but also among different teams and people. Break the invisible barrier by trying to involve other members of the business as well - POs, DevOps etc. All of a sudden the miracle of full collaboration might occur… You feel open to stop your colleague by the hall and have a catch up! You feel at easy to bother the big grumpy DevOp guy on the lower floor and dig further in an issue your team is experiencing..


Lunch & Learn

These is a very old school idea, the famous brow bag session. Every Wednesday we go into a room round lunch time and together we watch a cool video/course about some interesting topic (we already have had BDD, DDD and UML) or someone will come around and talk about something cool -  the guys from Security had recently done an awesome presentation and the room was full! Topics are suggested and voted through our Yammer Lunch & Learn page. I  believe this improves visibility on what other people do in the company and is also a chance to learn something new. Sometimes it will be only you in the room but persevere, find the right format, interesting topics and volunteers and you will get there. Note that this is more than just learning, it is a crucial opportunity for very different people – who would not normally see each other all day long – to engage.


Monday Thought

My goal with this is to slowly scope sensitive Scrum values and ceremonies and plant a small seed of  “doubt" among the teams. They need to become suspicious of what they do so that they start questioning What we do, Why do we do, and How we do it (WWH as I like to say)! I send and email every couple weeks, on Monday as the title suggests, where I briefly touch a critical subject such as the Scrum Values, DoD, Review, etc. There will always be someone disagreeing, questioning and debating my email and that’s when the fun starts :-) It is not about agreeing about something but to start a discussion and let the team reflect by themselves.


Definition of Done

We have recently formalised our Team Definition of Done. Among all the benefits of it I highlight the subtle one that the DoD is crucial in establishing our quality standards as a Team so that we do not get satisfied with less. If you cannot find quality and meaning in what you do you are likely to leave work demotivated. Don’t accept crap code, re-write bad users stories that lack sense of proper acceptance criteria, chase the PO to have your work validated! As a team, fight for what you believe is right. One or all and All for One! Excellence is a matter of choice.


Social Media


We have recently adopted Yammer and I am a great enthusiast of it. I have created a Climber’s group, Runners Group and our Lunch & Learn group. It feels like Facebook but more business faced and has being a nice way to share thoughts, events and get to know people from other floors with similar interests, specially the shy ones. It is also a great way to share your team results within their Agile journey so that other teams can be inspired to try something new. Don’t waste such precious opportunities to engage and group people around their commonalities being that their love for Agile or a passion for bread baking.


Gun yourself up with good friends!

Old cowboys had good pistols, good Agilists have good friends. Find who are the other Agile enthusiasts of your business, within the trenches and from the top chain of command. Connect with them. While you try to push bottom up, you are sure to have support and energy from top down. More “senior” and experienced people are good allies when the going get’s tough and can help in disseminating the idea at other levels of the business. You cannot win alone.


Visual Radiators

This has being a very positive one. Here we do not use a physical Scrum board but a Jira board so that the other geographically dislocated teams can have visibility of the work. Amazingly the virtual board works great for us but I still missed a colourful wall with nice posters and motivational notes. I slowly started to mess our wall and now we have great posters reminding the team of SOLID Principles, our Definition of Done and what are we working in improving in the current sprint. We are now creating each other's avatar and start attaching them to who is responsible for helping an specific item of our Retro to be driven forward.

The past sprint was the one we improved the most in terms of targeting the items we have found to be problematic in our Retro and I believe the wall played a good part in reminding and driving the team towards such goals.


What about you? How do you radiate your values of Agility? How do you work towards springing innovation at your work place? How do you help people being happier at work?