Agile Odyssey

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Own it!

CoachingPosted by Shane Billings Mon, October 05, 2015 09:29:03


In my last post, we discussed the Stockholm Syndrome in which we may identify with our captors. There is another danger that can come to a team when they are not empowered - they own nothing.

The reason is simple. Because someone else has all the power and control, that person also has all the ownership. Teams that are not empowered simply have less skin in the game.

Why? Because it's safe. The cost is too high when compared to the reward. Teams without control are more interested in protecting themselves than succeeding.

The first thing they protect is their egos. They look at failure as not their fault. After all, they didn't make those dumb decisions. And they are right. It's not their fault. But the flip side is also true. It's not their fault if they succeed. Without commitment, there is no success or failure. Without that, there is no reward; no motivation; no true growth.

The next thing they protect is their careers. When power is in another's hands, so are the consequences. Rather than do the right things, they do things to please a boss. Don't get me wrong. That's not inherently bad - if the boss is always right. But they aren't.

If a boss rewards based on their desire, then the flip side is true as well. They can punish just as assuredly.

Which brings us to our next protection - alliances. Teams become divided as alliances can form. They align with those that are rewarded and shun the punished. Decisions are made based on politics.

All this ends up stifling creativity, inhibiting productivity, and destroying morale.

So how do we identify a team caught in this loop? In scrum it's easy - the burndown. I can guarantee that a team without ownership will not reach the completion of all their tasks. One time is alright. But look for a pattern over time. How many sprints have they missed? By how much?

Teams that don't hit zero will feel defeated. They will feel pushed around. They will feel that the failure is not their fault.

At that point you have work to do. There could be many issues at play here and the solution will take time. I can tell you that the team will feel comfortable and that breaking them free will take some work.

Recently I had a retrospective with a team that had no ownership. In this case, management was trying to give it to them but they were not taking it.

We'd an activity where we put up their burndown on a whiteboard and had them label it. I let them go and with very little prompting they identified that they rarely reach a completed burndown.

We listed the reasons for this. Then we voted for the biggest. At the top of the list they said was that they were waiting on others to deliver vital tasks before they could complete their items such as reviews.

"Oh!" I said. "Which teams are you waiting on?"

The reply, "It's not another team. It's us. We are waiting on each other."

Wow! Talk about a team with problems. Actually, it's hard to call them a team at all. They wouldn't help each other out like a team should.

We talked about prioritization and helping each other out. We talked about focus. They have a long way to go.

A couple of people came up to me and privately blamed other members of the team. No ownership. They blamed their difficult work, their management, the schedule, and the tools. No ownership. Never did they blame themselves. They took now responsibility for success either. Never did they take ownership.

There is a lot of work to do for them, but they can.

They can own it!




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