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QConSF - Creating Awesome Teams

| by Susan McIntosh Follow 10 Followers on Dec 07, 2016. Estimated reading time: 3 minutes |

Alexandre Freire of Industrial Logic presented information on Enabling Awesome Teams at QConSF. Based on the framework of Modern Agile, and on his own work with teams, including building an award-winning house in Brazil, Freire provided a handful of guidelines.

Freire starts by identifying that real teams are not "like stock photos" but dealing with the realities of the world, and balancing life and work. Freire references a Gallup survey, in which only one out of eight workers are engaged with their jobs, and two of eight are actively disengaged. Freire then asks whether awesome teams exist, describing teams that depend on each, and trust each other. 

The secret to great teams isn't scrum, in part because practices like scrum and XP fail when you simply copy them by the book. You need a culture and a set of shared values that support the practices within agile.

Following a practice, like those supported within an agile framework, without the culture that supports it is equivalent to running a cargo cult. The underlying values and principles need to be present in order to really benefit from these practices. Leadership within a company must take seriously their job to create teams of people with complementary skills and a shared vision. However, that in itself is insufficient to create awesome teams. Freire spends the rest of his discussion identifying the elements needed to create awesome teams.

Freire notes four areas to help with employee engagement, all elements of the Modern Agile framework. These elements help to shape a company's culture.

The first principle that Freire addresses is "Make safety a prerequisite." Freire refers to the many previous sessions within QCon that identified psychological safety as an important element in building strong teams. Teams must feel safe from all threats, even perceived threats, or triggers. Artificial threats to status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness can trigger the same responses physiologically as real threats. 

Freire identifies several ways to increase psychological safety at work. He provided "Stop Work Authority" cards which can be used to by anyone who sees potentially harmful behavior - from coming into the office with a cold, to bullying a colleague. He also introduced the concept of tailboard meetings. These are quick gatherings at job sites or by emergency crews to identify the situation and provide reminders of what is needed at the time to be safe and still get the work done.

Additionally, Freire provided some suggestions to make meetings more psychologically safe, such as listen to one another; encourage everyone to contribute; review or repeat others' points; avoid dominating or interrupting; and be caring, curious, and nonjudgmental.

"Experiment and Learn Rapidly" is the second Modern Agile principle that Freire addresses. Make it safe to fail, and add structure around experiments so you know what you want to achieve. Many companies have discovered new ways to work through their own experimentation, such as Zappos, Valve, NextJump, and Spotify. While one can learn about the experiments these companies did, it doesn't work to simply copy these cultures. Instead, Freire encourages the audience to try their own experiments to find better ways to do things. Agreements and operating protocols (such as The Core Protocols) help a culture find a starting point that supports curiosity, learning, safety, and customer delight.

The third principle, "Deliver Value Continuously," encourages frequent deploys to the customer. Freire notes that is should be safe to deploy code every time a change is made.

The final principle, "Make People Awesome," helps companies see what they can do to support people, and assume that they are going to act in the company's best interest. Additionally, this principle focuses on the manager's job, doing what's in your power to provide the trust and environment needed for people to do amazing work. The manager's tool kit includes things like regular one-on-one meetings, instilling trust, defining success, and celebrating successes.

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