Pairing and Teamwork for The Uninitiated and Resistant

Dear and Gentle Reader,

Attending the local Lean Agile Coffee, the question arose “How can we get a team to start pair even if they all hate the idea”?

Ever heard this question before?

I thought so.

Well, I’m going to tell you the answer I gave, and if it’s useful to you, then good.  It’s based on an exercise I tried with one of my teams, and it seemed to be effective.

To begin with, I explained to them how were were going to work in the retrospective, proposed a few ground rules on which we voted for agreement, and got underway.

We spent five minutes brain-dumping onto stickies things that puzzled us or that we felt needed attention.  Then we grouped them leaving us with a small handful of things to consider.

I asked the team to spend five minutes writing down ideas to resolve the puzzles or that would have us make progress, one per sticky. But it had to be in absolute silence, and so, they had to work alone.  I had fun enforcing the silence with comedy shushing and angry-librarian looks.

Next, they were to pair up, the rule being that like could not pair like with like. Dev could not pair with Dev, nor QA with QA.  Now they could spend ten minutes discussing their subjects, even coming up with others if they felt they had time.

Next they had to stand up, pair by pair, and sell their solutions to us.  They had a couple of minutes each.  After their pitch, I asked them to comment on what it was like working alone compared to working with the other person.

Finally, with all the solution up on the board, we grouped them again, dot-voted to select one as an experiment for the next Sprint, and wrapped up with a discussion about what it had been like to decide on this as a team. We did a quick low-to-high line for return on time invested, and the consensus was high.

So, not only did we follow the basic framework for a retrospective (set the stage, gather data, draw conclusions, propose an experiment, retro the retro) but this was also an exercise to have them experience pairing, being bold and open, and working together as a team.  I didn’t need to point out to them what I was doing, they got it.

I’ve had to say to some people before now “You’ll hate it before hand, but you’ll love it afterwards”.  In this case, I didn’t need to be that obvious, they just did the exercise and got it.

It’ll need refreshing to help it stick, so I might look for a variant.

Full disclosure: I pinched the basic idea for this from Thiagi’s Hundred Favorite Games, a phenomenal resource of training games and exercises.  Snag a copy for yourself, it’s pure gold.

Folks at the Lean Agile Coffee liked the sound of this exercise, so I hope that they try it, and bring back reports of their experience.

That is all for now, dear Reader. Go with Agility.

P.S. In looking for a link to Thiagi’s book, I found this link to 350 of his games – free!