Facilitation Principles for Agile Teams

How many times have teams and leadership complained that agile has too many meetings? My answer is – all the time. Why is it that people walk away from agile events saying it was a waste of time, boring, or went off track and only a few people were engaged in? It’s likely that there wasn’t a purpose or outcome from this interaction.  To be effective, agile events need to be focused, productive and collaborative. For me, facilitation is the key.  

In an Agile Scrum team environment, facilitation is an important skill for Scrum Masters and any Scrum team member to use to enhance their team’s success and improve interaction through facilitation.  Facilitating the dynamics and interactions within these events is essential. These 5 principles are key to guiding a group of people collectively towards a shared objective.

5 Facilitation Principles for Agile Teams

Participatory – Agile teams are self managing, cross functional and made of of team members with a mix of capabilities that all contribute to shared goals to deliver increments of customer value each and every sprint. They have a shared responsibility. This requires all the people in the team to be involved and have a say. If ideas and processes are forced upon people, they are less likely to want to participate.  Agile emphasises the value of collaboration as an effectvie way to build workable solutions to complex problems. Participation means bringing people together to discuss ideas, explore and learn with each other in order to acheive goals better and quicker. This participation also provides team members with meaningful involvement in influenceing decison making and action.  This principle involves:

  • Intellectual, emotional and energetic engagement
  • Full participation
  • Share responsibility

Healthy  – Facilitation should create a safe space for people to be heard and have robust discussion, even if sometimes there will inevitably be conflicting perspectives. People should feel safe to raise conflicting perspectives and opinions. A facilitator should create a safe place for healthy discussion and build trust. For this reason, facilitators are expected to remain neutral in the conversation. They are there to guide and ensure that conversations remain respectful and a place where people can empathise and learn from each other, even if they don’t agree. Allowing teams the opportunity to discuss and learn together creates trust, respect and growth. Organsiations committed to learning can growing significantly by using the time together to learn about working together more effectively. In our digital world, fast learning is critical so this facilitation prinicple helps keep converstaions relevant and healthy. Creating a healthy and safe environment helps people explore different perspectvies and come to a shared understanding. Healthy facilitation promotes:

  • Human respect
  • Deep learning
  • Energetic culture

Transparency – The emergent process and work must be visible to people performing the work and  stakeholders who receive the work. This is because important decisions are based on the perceived state of outcome of a sprint’s increment as well as other artifacts such as the product backlog and sprint backlog. If these artifacts have low transparency, this can lead to decisions that diminish value and increase risk. The key pillars of empiricism are transparency, inspection and adaptation. Sometimes transparency gets confused with visibility. Visibility helps create transparency, but ultimately transparency only exists when there is shared understanding through conversation and discussion to udnerstand the perspectives, anaylsis and process that contributed to the outcome. . Transparency enables inspection. Inspection without transparency is misleading and wasteful. once we have inpected the true nature of teh increment, can we then make decision on the next steps.  Transparency therefore creates:

  • Aligned energy
  • Collective wisdom
  • Clear action and learning

ProcessFacilitation helps participants to be guided towards a desired objective for the interaction during the agile events. Facilitation isn’t about just doing fun ice breakers. The techniques choosen should clearly link to the objectvies for the event to be effective. To enact this process, facilitators will need to have a “toolkit” of approaches and techniques that encourage participation, promote inclusion as well as finding ways to navigate and leverage diversity within teams. There are many ways groups can agree, decide, create or plan together. It is important for facilitators to prepare and develop a process that will work best for the size and nature of the agile team that also fits within the event timebox. Facilitators need to plan a facilitation sequence that will prompt engaging discussion and actvities that will help ensure the objective of the event is achieved.  A clear process helps keep teh team focused. The process facilitation principle is aimed to:

  • Achieve objectives
  • Maximise energy and participation
  • Harness diversity and inclusion

PurposefulTo be effectvie, agile events should keep the purpose and the objective in mind. Each sprint event has a clear purpose that helps team to iteratively show progress towards agreed the sprint goal and ultimately having an increment of product at the end of each sprint to obtain feedback to help guide decisions for the next increment. The sprint goal helps move the scrum team towards the product goal which is the longer term objective and is clearly linked to wider organsiation goals to deliver value outcomes to customers. Lots of  people only focus on the format in which we can facilitate Scrum Events. However, it  is the relationships and interactions that occur that make great facilitation a powerful ‘tool’ to help teams move to their shared objectives.  Facilitators need to prepare for the event to ensure the intent of each agile event purpose is met.  Clear event objectives will help facilitate the process by which the team members will interact and ensures the interaction moves towards an outcome. Purposefulness provides:

  • Focus 
  • Clear objectives

As a facilitator it is important to have a good understanding of the agile events and have a range of facilitation techniques and approaches, however it is facilitating the dynamics and interactions within these events that are essential for reaching the group’s objective.  All five principles work hand in hand to ensure that agile events will be more focused, productive and effectvie. This requires a facilitator to plan for the facilitation to get the most out of the interaction of each event. Facilitation is a key skill to help your scrum teams become awesome and high performing.agile

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Facilitation Techniques – When to Use and Why

Facilitators can use many techniques, but this does guarantee that the outcome will be reached. Ultimately linking the facilitation pattern to the objective of the interaction, makes the event more effective and helps contribute to team success in achieving their goals.

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