How To Be a Good Team Member
One of the prime objectives of any leader is to create a team who can work well with one another. There have been several models, frameworks and diagnostic tools established to identify the ideal balance of skills, characteristics and demographics but what is behind any great team is essentially a commitment to be – as Bill and Ted put it in their excellent adventure – excellent to each other.
I do a lot of work with ScrumMasters and they have a tough job as a servant-leader. They are expected to help develop a self-organising team with little to no authority. Almost every training course I run I will get asked questions like:
“How do I get this one person in the team to turn up to meetings on time?”
“How do I get these two people in the team to get along with each other?”
“How do I stop this one guy from completely dominating meetings?“
More often than not, the group of people that the ScrumMaster is referring to are not actually a team. I mean, they are officially a team because the organisation calls them a team. But they are often missing one or more key aspects that are necessary to be an effective team and often haven’t created their definition of what “team” means to them.
All of the best teams I have been part of or seen have had an identity based on explicit agreement of common values and then mutual commitment to specific behaviours designed to uphold those values.
If I have had a conversation with my colleagues and agree that one of our common values is “Respect” for example, we could then discuss and agree what that means in practice for us as a team.
It could mean that we respect each other’s opinions and everyone has an equal right to an opinion. It could mean that we commit to respecting agreements by turning up to meetings on time. It could mean something completely different. Whichever of these behaviours that we agree upon will become part of our team identity. If we have had this discussion and come to an explicit agreement then it is much more likely that we will be a happy, productive, highly functioning team.
So going back to those questions that I often get asked by ScrumMasters. There’s another important point to be made there. As ScrumMasters are servant-leaders and focussed primarily on helping a team become self-managing, the question about time keeping should arguably be:
“How can I help the team manage themselves with regards to time keeping?”
When I teach the Scrum Master role in classes like a Certified ScrumMaster class, we spend a lot of time emphasising the need for the team to manage itself and the ScrumMaster is responsible for providing the environment, tools, space and confidence to do this effectively.
Let Go Of Your Feeling of Responsibility
If we were to be brutally honest about it, the only people who can get two people to get along with each other are those two people. The ScrumMaster may have some techniques they can run with those people’s permission and they can focus on creating a safe environment for them to have a neutral, respectful conversation but ultimately the only way that the ScrumMaster can solve this problem is by accepting that they can’t solve this problem. The team members themselves have to solve it.
In reality then, what do ScrumMasters – and other servant-leaders – do? In my experience the best ScrumMasters come back to facilitating a team through the process of defining what these team members mean by “team” and what they mean by “being excellent to each other”.
What behaviours have you committed to in your team’s that have helped create a great team?
More resources and details of my training courses can be found here
This post was inspired by Michael Casey’s post on Programming Human Beings to Build a Hate-Free Internet.