I recall the first time I saw a “healthy” scrum team. I mistakenly identified the Tech Lead for the Scrum Master. I quickly learned the Scrum Master was back away from the team hardly engaging but intently listening and observing. This was vastly different than what I had previously witnessed with teams. It was at this moment that I thought to myself “How is this facilitation”? I always believed the role of the coach was to be deep within the team leading them to victory! I soon learned the goal of a scrum master is to be present but only heard or active when needed. This brief introduction to healthy facilitation led to my own demonstration of facilitation thru invisibility.
The Product Owner team at my company wanted to determine what team investments they’d like to make to work better in 2017. I facilitated the meeting to help them determine where they felt they had gaps and what they should focus on for the up coming year. They created a list of gaps and ranked them. I found the ranking of one item to be interesting. It didn’t align with the challenges the team constantly talked about yet they ranked it as one of the top 3. I was curious so I asked one simple question as I pointed to the item, “Why this now?” This triggered a long, healthy discussion amongst the team. I sat back quietly, watched and listened. I didn’t give my opinion nor even engaged in the conversation. I let it flow naturally until they said they were ready to re-vote.
The re-vote revealed the team felt there were other things that would help them improve more than item #3. Consequently, that #3 item got moved down to #7. Even though this wasn’t a scrum ceremony, it supported the concept that an “agile coach facilitates by creating a container for the team to fill up”. In this instance, the container was filled up by asking the simple question of “Why this now”. The room filled with varying viewpoints, debates, deep thought, questioning and a revised list the team felt a lot better about in the end. After the meeting, a team member approached me and said he really liked the question I asked. He said it was simple yet the perfect question to pose. “It forced us to really think and not just run off and focus on some ‘new shiny thing’”. He said if I hadn’t asked that one question, the team would have focused on the wrong things.
Just being present, observing what’s happening and interjecting at the right moment then stepping back is actually good facilitation. When a coach becomes invisible in the room and allows the team to run thru a ceremony or meeting by themselves with good results, you know you have a team that has a good level of self-sustainability or self management. If your teams are new and just forming, being up front and leading the ceremonies from the front of the room may be necessary. Also, be mindful of conversation that doesn’t lead to results. It may be necessary to interject multiple times to get the team back on track from wayward conversation. As you and the team mature, become Harry Potter and use your cloak of invisibility to guide your team to a deeper level of agility.