A Mnemonic Sentence for an Agile-Supportive Culture

16 May 2014

Dele Oluwole
Qual IT


As I prepared to attend my first IT job interview many years ago, I made sure I memorized the value statement of the organization, so that I could demonstrate how passionate I was about joining them. As the interview progressed, I deliberately dragged the interviewers into discussing their value statement. Surprisingly, they admitted not knowing it, after my recitation.

The physical and social environments needed for Agile team success are provided by the organization, but the team members must collaboratively adapt to the environment both psychologically and physically.

Culture consists of the shared beliefs and behaviors of an organization, but unfortunately not many employees can remember or even know their organizational values, let alone the Agile-supportive culture.

I have now thought of a way to remember the Agile-supportive culture and have come up with a sentence:

As you respect me, I will be committed to managing conflicts, learning, and also creating space for others to learn.

Let me summarize how I was able carve out a mnemonic sentence from the Agile-supportive culture. Respect, they say, begets respect, and it's almost a natural instinct to be committed when you feel loved. Needless to say, managing conflict, learning, and creating space for others to learn will follow suit as you become committed to the group or team.

Let us now examine the Agile-supportive culture and the ways in which it applies to the mnemonic sentence.

Respect

  • I trust my colleagues.
  • I feel trusted by my colleagues.
  • Our team is trusted by the rest of the business.
  • Individuals and the team feel empowered to tackle challenges themselves, without waiting for senior assistance or permission.


Commitment

  • Each team member is always nudging for improvement.
  • We are willing to ask for help, and to give help when asked.
  • We have a whole-team attitude (we all own the whole product).
  • We have a permanent team attitude (stability, shared history, commitment to a shared future).


Managing conflicts

  • We avoid allowing conflict to damage the team.
  • We avoid wasted energy.
  • We avoid disappointment.
  • We do not want individuals feeling disengaged from the team effort.
  • We extract value from diversity of opinion.


Learning

  • Agile says that for everything we do, we must treat it as an opportunity to learn.
  • We embrace the fact that when we a task is completed, we'll see more clearly what we should have done -- and use this to help us see what to do next.


Creating space to learn

  • We have a "no blame" culture.
  • We have an appropriate proportion of slack time -- to stop, think, and experiment.
  • We celebrate failure as an opportunity to learn.
  • We take appropriate risks.
The focal points in discussing the Agile-supportive culture are respect and learning. Learning in Agile is not a choice but a requirement for a collaborative and self-managing team. A knowledge silo is one dangerous place no Scrum team wants to have. Abraham Maslow's theory of needs says man has a desire to aspire for ego after meeting all physiological needs, and man's covetousness for ego might drive a Scrum team member to not share knowledge or acquired skills with others. Some individuals in a Scrum team do this for job security and appreciation -- appreciation borne out of the desires of ego.

Agile environments are created around 12 core principles. These principles focus on fostering trust within Agile teams and between teams and their customers and users. Trust grows out of respect; respect is one key ingredient of any relationship. It can drive an individual to give his best to a course. Most conflicts arise from lack of respect. Man's ego wants respect and will do anything to acquire it.

In an Agile environment, as anywhere else, the blame-game can quickly result in victimization. I have worked in an environment in the southwest of England where everyone consciously looked out for whom to blame for failing in the team. It was a causal effect from a monthly contract renewal, every IT contractor had to both work and also be prepared to target someone to blame for failing. It was a regrettable cat-and-mouse environment where the most articulate -- and not necessarily the most skilled -- survived.

Robert Anthony says, "When you blame others, you give up your power to change." The blame-game, lack of trust, and lack of respect will kill any Scrum team and ultimately result in underperformance.

It is also most unlikely for a Scrum team member who does not know the Agile-supportive culture to learn to imbibe and practice it.


Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.



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