Tips from the Agile Virtual Summit: Reviving Engagement

I attended the second annual Agile Virtual Summit (AVS) in June looking for some ideas to revive myself after more than a year of working in circumstances none of us could have predicted before February 2020. Two significant, and related, themes emerged throughout the conference this year: engagement and inclusion. Out of all this heady, abstract stuff, I found some great tips, techniques, and reminders that Agile practitioners in the Federal space can put to work. I’m going to tackle engagement first.

Engagement challenges focused on initiating and maintaining connections between people – colleagues, team members, clients, and customers. How do we connect when working remotely? How do we work in hybrid teams that combine remote and in-person team members? How do we stay aligned despite new and sometimes overwhelming ways to communicate? There were several good ideas provided that can be implemented to help answer these questions.

Working Agreements: Does your team have a working agreement? Did they update it when we moved to remote work full time? If you answered no to these questions, it’s time to (re)define a working agreement with your team. Check out this Working Agreement playbook or build a Team Agreement on a whiteboard using a template to get started. The goal of a working agreement is to establish norms about how work gets done, but it can include team enablers such as:

  • How do team members signal they are heads-down and need focus?
  • What are core hours? How can the team balance flexibility with coverage for the project?
  • Are there meeting-free days or half-days?
  • When is an outdoor/walking meeting OK? When is full focus required?
  • What is your communication technology stack? If we use Slack, text, email, phone, Teams, Zoom, Confluence, and Jira, the team can’t keep pace with diverse information streams. I’m exhausted just writing it, let alone keeping up with it. Pick your toolset and decide what information is communicated in which channel.

Spice Up Remote Meetings: Have you ever gotten that feeling that no one is paying attention on the other end of that Teams or Zoom call? Especially when all you see are avatars, glamour shots, and initials, it’s hard to get the non-verbal feedback we crave when communicating. Some teams may not use cameras due to hardware limitations, security concerns, or the risk of bogging down the network. However, if it’s an option, work with the team to decide which meetings require “camera-ready” interaction and which are okay for audio-only. “Face-to-face” meetings enhance engagement and help teams stay connected.

Whether or not you use cameras, consider using Energizers in your meetings. These work like Icebreakers, but they apply to established teams, too. They get the team thinking differently, improve creativity, and maybe even lead to some laughs or casual rivalry trash-talk. Some to try include:

  • Take a picture or point your camera at the view out your window and post your view
  • Share the weather where you are
  • Post a photo of your pet, plant, favorite mug or something else meaningful in your workspace
  • Take a picture of your workspace and post it to chat – best done at random times to get laughs at “the desk tour of shame”
  • Post a chat or post a sticky to a shared whiteboard with your superpower, a unique skill, or talent; for a twist, post a superpower you wish you had and why
  • Play music as meetings start and compile a team playlist
  • Look online for more great ideas

Revive Your Retrospectives: Why do we settle for retrospectives that are repetitive, dull, and boring? Retrospectives are arguably the most critical ceremony in most Agile frameworks, yet we often do them badly. Planning and facilitating a good retro is hard, and doing so remotely is even harder. Time for Scrum Masters to roll up their sleeves and search for some new tools!

FunRetrospectives is one of many sites that shares alternative ways to hold a retro. Everything you need to look like a facilitation genius is included – just add your team’s fabulous ideas. My favorite formula is:

  • Remind the team of the Prime Directive. Even after the most awful sprint, blame-throwers should be firmly holstered. The focus is process, not people.
  • Consider an Energizer or Check-In to get everyone relaxed and focused. If your team’s retros have been “meh” lately, try ESVP as a check-in.
  • Facilitate your choice of retro.
  • Facilitate a discussion of improvement actions, assigning owners and success indicators to each one.

Kick up your feet and enjoy your favorite adult beverage, secure in the knowledge that you hosted a fabulous retrospective – until you get to do it again next Sprint.

Tune in next time for some ideas to improve inclusion as part of your Agile practices.