Five Guiding Principles of an Agile Team Facilitation Stance

agile collaboration

Collaboration is a core value in agile.

Regardless of the agile framework(s) you use, agile practices require some level of collaboration within teams or between teams, customers and stakeholders.

Collaboration is two or more people coming together to co-create something. When collaboration is effective it can have a euphoric feeling of accomplishment, success, trust and teamwork. When collaboration is ineffective it can drain a team – that feeling that you get of ‘here we go again…same discussion, same outcome, just a different day’. Effective or ineffective, collaboration is messy – you can’t predict how it will go, things don’t always unfold the way you might think they will, and it’s always emergent.

Facilitation is a core competency for Agile Coaches – teams need facilitators who can foster effective collaboration, support meaningful dialogues and enable team decision-making.

In this introduction, and then the five ensuing posts, we’ll identify and offer guidance regarding four of the most common traits that can subtly surface and begin to erode a team’s efficacy.

First, here are some common challenges that can get in the way of effective collaboration in agile teams.

  • Asking for input when you’ve already made up your mind about what the decision or outcome will be
  • Using your positional authority of leading a meeting to drive your own agenda and influence a particular outcome
  • An unclear purpose and/or desired outcome for the collaboration
  • The team is unclear about how the final decision will be made (i.e. Is the group making a recommendation or a final decision? Will majority rule or will we strive for consensus?)

How we think is how we lead.

Learning facilitation tools and techniques are really useful but if what you believe is different from what you’re doing, well, the tools won’t really matter. Collaboration will be frustrating and less impactful than you might desire.

It begins with you
Facilitation is like a complex dance of polarities. When teams come together to collaborate, rarely are topics or decisions black and white with a clear ‘right’ answer. At any given time when you are leading a group from a facilitative stance you’re interweaving different ideas and perspectives together, creating a rich and textured network of ideas that serve to deepen understanding and seek diversity. You’re helping the group define the shades of gray so that they can make more informed decisions.

You are managing yourself
It takes a high degree of self awareness, self management and group awareness to navigate the dance. People are putting their trust in you to lead them through a complex process; to be heard, to be respected, to be valued and to contribute to something greater than what they could accomplish on their own.

Facilitators, you’ll prepare for this kind of work by starting with what you believe.

How we think informs how we act.

And now, the 5 Guiding Principles
The five guiding principles of The Agile Team Facilitation Stance form the foundation upon what we believe about groups and teams and how those beliefs might show up in the room.

self-management

Maintain Neutrality:

At the highest level, this principle is about you owning the process, and the team owning the content.
In practice, this looks like bridging competing ideas, sharing what you see in the process with facts, and without judgement.

Review the following tables for each guiding principle and see what each one can look like in action

Internal Assumptions and Beliefs

  • I am active and engaged (not passive)
  • I own the process, they own the content
  • I add value by reflecting back to the group what’s actually happening
  • I am open minded and see value in all voices
  • Polarities in opinions offer opportunities to find common ground
  • I am vested in helping the group achieve their desired outcomes
  • Critique about the group process is not a critique about who I am

Practices

  • Say what you see, in a factual, non-judgmental way
  • Let go of judging right vs wrong
  • Take a systems perspective
  • Bridge competing ideas
  • Listen for the 2% common ground
  • Offer ideas with no attachment to the outcome
  • Inquire by asking powerful questions
  • Seek to understand and deepen the group’s understanding

Stand in the Storm:

The term “storm” can look, feel and behave differently in each team. This is about seeking out and really listening to differing stances, perspectives, options, solutions and paths. Without taking sides, a facilitator holds the space for all to speak and be heard during a meeting.

Internal Assumptions and Beliefs

  • Storms create deeper understanding and context for what’s being discussed
  • I don’t need to take sides; I need to be able to help the group hear all perspectives
  • Opposition offers correction
  • The purpose of conflict is to be helpful to a process
  • Dysfunctional behavior is a sign of displeasure with something that is happening, or something that is wanting to happen, more often than it is about what it looks like in the moment (i.e., interpersonal conflict)
  • I don’t need to have the answers; I need to help the group find the solution

Practices 

  • Create the container that allows for storms
  • Sense when there is dissonance – either overt or covert
  • Have empathy with each member of the group
  • Inquire about opposition
  • Be fully present
  • Be self-aware of your own personal bias
  • Adjust the process if the conflict calls for it
  • Activate bystands  – voice what you are seeing or hearing
  • Turn it back to the group to decide 

Hold the Group’s Agenda:

By continually asking, “How can I best serve this group?” or “What does this group really need right now?” you’ll be operating within this principle. At times, a feeling of resistance, or an instinct to shut down may arise. Perhaps you receive feedback about the process and you feel the beginnings of defensive feelings.  The best tool to meet that feeling with is curiosity and a focus on holding the group’s agenda.

Internal Assumptions and Beliefs

  • This is their Agenda (Big ‘A’ agenda – the underlying need; not little ‘a’ agenda of a meeting)
  • Resistance is not dysfunctional; it’s trying to be helpful
  • Inability to converge or decide may mean there is something that needs to be discussed that has not been discussed 

Practices

  • Always be asking ‘How can I best serve this group?’
  • Treating all actions by the group as data about what they really need
  • Meeting resistance with curiosity
  • Aware of the difference between the facilitators desire and what the group needs
  • Creating a space that allows for opposition to both process and content
  • Owning the process and being open to feedback about the process 

Honor the Wisdom of the Group:

Related to Stand in the Storm, mentioned earlier, this principle, at its core is about trust. Trusting that the group has it’s own wisdom and developing an environment where each member of the team can grow, stretch and achieve as a respected and valued collaborator. Everyone on the team has both wisdom to learn and wisdom to share.

Internal Assumptions and Beliefs

  • Trust in the collective intelligence, capacity, and experience of the group
  • People are more committed to what they have helped to create
  • The whole is greater than the sum of its parts
  • Diversity and difference enhance the outcome
  • Inclusiveness and engagement of all is needed
  • An environment of trust will lead to participation by all
  • The group already has all it needs, my job is to help them access that knowledge 

Practices

  • Create a container that fosters trust, connection and inclusiveness
  • Design group processes that engage the whole group
  • Make it safe for all voices
  • Ask for the opposing voice
  • Find the thread that leads to consensus, and help the group pull it through 

Uphold the Agile Mindset:

In practice, this principle can be agility itself: mindset, methods and actions. There’s a foundational belief that a facilitator can help the team adapt the agile practices in the moment while still upholding the agile values and principles. Best accomplished by modeling agile  values and maintaining a servant leadership stance.

Internal Assumptions and Beliefs

  • I honor the values and principles of the agile mindset, and use it to inform group processes, both planned and in the moment
  • I hold the agile mindset, lightly, so that the way the group holds the mindset can be prominent
  • I understand the agile practices well enough to support the team
  • I can adapt the agile practices in the moment while still upholding the agile values

Practices

  • Model agile practices
  • Adapt the practices based on the performance, maturity and needs of the team
  • Embrace a lean/agile mindset
  • Lead with servant leadership

 

These are, on the surface, simple principles. You’ve likely noticed in the sections of internal assumptions and practices that it can get complex quickly. Each guiding principle offers it’s own complex, rich lessons and dynamics. In future posts, we’ll take deeper dives into these complexities with specific examples of each principle in action. We’ll show what they are in action…and what they aren’t too.

For now, which of these principles feels like a mindset that you already hold – it comes naturally for you? Which principle feels more like a stretch? What’s one belief you might “try on” in an upcoming meeting? What actions would you take that might be different from what you have done in the past?

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