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Culture Shock

26 October 2012

Mithun Vaidya

Each Agile team creates its own culture. Moving between teams, and specifically Agile teams, is not only about different work or different team members to work with; it's mainly about adapting to different team cultures.

Team culture takes time to evolve and — like any other type of culture — it will resist a change, no matter how small it is. That change can be in the form of new person (like you), or it can be in the form of new idea that you want to implement.

Remember one thing: Your new team is going to resist you, even if they don't say so openly! So how do you adapt to a different team culture?

I've worked with five different teams in less than a year, and, every time, culture shock has hit hard at the beginning. But once you're used to it, it will become a learning experience. Once I learned that the tendency to resist was natural, there were no hard feelings and no personality clashes.

Different Agile teams can take different approaches to a task. As I experienced in one team (I'll call it Team A), QA guys started testing the stories when the developer said, "Story A is ready for testing" in the Daily Scrum. The QA guys in Team B, however, only started to test when a developer or PM sent a specific email to the team stating, "Story A is ready for testing." This was true even if Story A's readiness was already mentioned in the stand-up meeting. Initially, as a new member of the team, I insisted on not sending a "ready for testing" email. But then I realized that since Team B is geographically divided, sometimes they would miss a few words during the Daily Scrum, and that was why Team B QA members relied on such an email.

In another incident, I observed that QA and UAT (user acceptance testing) members of Team B met daily to be in sync, which was totally different from what they did in Team A. There, QA and UAT folks simply relied on the Daily Scrum. Initially, I wasn't prepared to handle these "extra" daily meetings with Team B; I thought they were a waste and should be stopped. When I tried to make this change, the team resisted, as expected. I realized — after some time — that if these daily meetings were helping the team, then there was no harm in them. I started to facilitate the meetings instead.

The best way to adapt to a new team culture, I've found, is to watch and wait. As a new team member, it's better not to force new ideas on the team but, rather, to observe and learn the methodologies and culture team is already working with. Once the team starts accepting you, you can slowly and gradually introduce your own ideas. Initially, you might perceive personality clashes or even an ego clash, but it's usually just a different team culture that you need to — and can — learn. So don't rush to conclusions, and don't try to judge a team based on its working methodologies. It's not the team but you who works differently, and it's you who needs to adapt to the team culture.

People spend time and money to travel to different parts of their society or of the world, just to know more about different cultures. So if you get the chance to learn a different culture at work, consider yourself lucky!

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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Sikunj Savaliya, CSP,CSM,CSPO, 10/26/2012 6:45:23 AM
I read an article sometime back on 'first fifteen days to new jobs' and seems very inline what you have experienced.

The first few days of every new career opportunity, team or groups that matter should always be spent on observing things. It is very hard resisting temptation to jump in and give suggestion, solutions, comments, etc. but the best way would be to remain silent observer even if you see things going out of way a little - you never know, it is the strategy the team has learnt and are using and works for them.

So I would always say "Just give it a rest" for few days and evaluate what each component of team has to offer. The more people consider you as dumb, the better they will teach and open up very fast.
I have experienced that people tend to open up more when they know that you are newbie and are learning or rather if I speak up psychologically - they want you to join them (the learned group). This is the best situation to be in. You know what is going around and then start moving your baby steps. Once you know the deal it's better to negotiate.

Thanks for sharing your experience.
Mithun Vaidya, CSM, 10/26/2012 6:53:23 AM
Thanks Sikunj for your comments....I completely agree with your views.its better to inspect and adapt rather then try to bring/impose changes,specially when you are a "new" team member.If your "new" team is following some practices, they are doing that for a reason and you might not be aware of those reason. So its better to understand those reason.If you feel something should be changed in your "new" team, try to bring that change after your team accepts/understands you.

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