Agile Etiquette

Here are my top ten tips to help build a strong team. They are really basic etiquette. And in Agile teams there are a few extra things you should be mindful of:

1. Be punctual

I used to do karate, and one of the first and most important lessons you learn is to be at the Dojo on time. In karate, you normally have to do 100 push-ups when you arrive late before you join the class. However, if you’re late to a Stand Up, Planning Session, Elaboration meeting, Showcase or Retro, the whole team pays the price. The truth is when you’re late you’re wasting your team’s time. The rest of the team has done their part to meet at the agreed time. So even if it’s unintentional — making them wait is ripping them off. Now it’s true you’re not robbing them of cash but of something more valuable… their time.

Agile has a lot of ceremonies. They are not optional they are core to the process. We “sprint” to the finish and time is one of the single most valuable assets we have! Don’t be late!

2. Know your teammates

I’ve made lifelong friendships with teammates from my first real Agile project. We came to understand one another really well. I grew to understand that India has a lot of important cultural festivals. I can still remember my first introduction to Indian sweets! When you really get to know your teammate’s they become like family. You know when they are stressed or relaxed. You know when they need you to help or back off. If you know a teammate’s wife has had major medical issues you will be more patient and offer to help. Getting to know people builds trust and mutual respect.

3. Be situationally aware

Working closely with a group of co-located team members means you really need to have awareness of what is happening around you. Are some of your teammates trying to work through a complex problem and just need a little quiet? Does the conversation need to happen in a meeting room? Do you really need to use the whole whiteboard? Do we have guests? Is that fish sandwich a good idea? Make sure you’re not disturbing someone else.

4. Don’t interrupt

You shouldn’t walk into a meeting and start interrupting while other people are talking. You shouldn’t just jump in or cut them off when they’re still trying to explain something. Everyone’s voice is heard, we are a team. Remember by interrupting a teammate — you act like you fully understand what your teammate is saying before they’ve even finished. You might throw in incorrect comments without knowing the whole context of the discussion. And that can lead to your team viewing you as someone arrogant or domineering. Remember — we each have two ears and one mouth. So that probably means we should listen more than we talk! Listening and adding valuable feedback or thoughtful questions builds trust and respect with your team.

5. Make introductions

I’ve been to a lot of project initiations. Usually, we go around the room and say where we’re from and what our role is in the project. This is helpful. I’ve noticed that when we break or the meeting becomes less formal people tend to form groups. These groups are usually people who already know one another. Don’t be afraid of getting out of your comfort zone and talk to that new guy just idly standing beside the door by themselves. It only takes a few seconds to make a quick introduction again.

6. Don’t use foul language

If there is one thing that turns people off it’s working in a team with someone who uses foul language. It’s not just foul language. It’s also inappropriate language. Have you ever seen someone being completely inappropriate without even knowing it? Having worked with people from all over the world, I know that you need to watch your language. I once worked with a group of Pacific Islanders. They always rushed into the meetings and would never stand up at the Stand Ups, unless they were speaking. My manager at the time kept saying they needed to stand up at the meeting and it was just laziness for them to sit. I had to pull him aside and say that he was being culturally insensitive. This group of people showed respect my being lower than the leader. They would only stand if they were required. My manager called them lazy without understanding their culture and traditions.

7. Be patient

This one has a lot to do with empathy, putting yourself in other people’s shoes.

It’s very likely that your team members will all face different situations at home. They may have kids, long travel times, be studying or have other obligations that don’t allow them to be as quick to respond as you’d like. That’s why you need to understand their situation and find a way to compromise.

You need to manage your work so you don’t create bottle necks or blockers. By being proactive you can better manage the work. And those little acts of patience make a huge difference in your relationships with your teammates.

8. Don’t make your phone more important than your team

“So have you been able to look at that User Story?”

*No response*

“Excuse me!”

*Looks up* “Oh sorry I was just looking at a great Facebook post!”

…..FAIL

Smartphones immerse us in a world of instant connectivity. However our priority should be the people who are talking to us. It’s really important when we are completing an Agile ceremony. I’ve always felt sick when I see someone taking a call or looking at emails during a Stand Up. Your attention needs to be on the people talking! Yes there will always be exceptions, like when you have to take an emergency call from home. In all other cases your teammates deserve and expect your full attention.

9. Have fun

I’ve enjoyed working in Agile teams. The way of working generally builds strong friendships. And having friends at work makes work much more fun. I love the sound of laughter. I like being part of a team that has a few running jokes and jokers. Whenever you can make work fun.

10. Show respect

This is kind of a summary in many ways. Showing respect is all about being punctual, knowing your teammates, not interrupting, speaking appropriately and being patient with your team. I always thank people for doing a good job. I ask them if they have time to talk first, and if they don’t I accept it and come back later. Being respectful is about being aware of what’s going on. Yes I may have an important issue that needs to be fixed, but is it really more important than what my teammate is doing? It’s impossible in my view to have trust without respect.

You can go fast alone, but you can go farther together.

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