Let me start with saying - once you know what you need to do, you have to go ahead and do it. Good or ill, the sooner you take the critical task on, the sooner you can get to the other side. I feel this is valid in relationships, finances, work, personal goals, almost any area of importance to individuals. It is extremely valuable, and a little hard to get to. The "Figuring out what I have to do" can take a fair amount of time, effort, emotions. Because of the cost, once you have it, you have to do it. This is where I was yesterday afternoon. How I got there was a conversation, where I finally laid out all the pieces to the puzzle, and how they fell right in place.
I was looking at why the team and I were having issues. We had just finished our Sprint 1, and the different teams had learned different lessons - as is expected. Some exchanges were passionate, others a little on the mischievous side - all well within what a Scrum Master can expect to see. But in planning, something interesting happened. A team member felt that they needed to take on the ceremony itself and sow a little derision. It almost worked! One different team member took the bait - and was checked in place by the rest of the team. This got me to thinking - why would the team feel they need to do this? Later in the week, a separate and incoming team member, of the same discipline, did the same in a separate meeting. This time, it was coupled with a full on Junior High School, Mean Girls type of tantrum. And the original derision sower jumped right in and tried - again - to stir the pot. Thinking about this, and looking at other existing issues in the environment drove me to a conversation with a good coach I know and hang out with.
The facts were simple really. But they were hidden. This team had worked for 6 years without change, challenge or support with a very disengaged and silent manager. This person had provided no reinforcing feedback, but plenty of "perceived criticism". In a bid to make things better by saving money, he had placed this team in a situation where they had to work with deprecated tools, in a stale environment, and with little to know planning. The environment was one of obscurity, blame and mistrust. The team functioned under this for SIX YEARS. Needless to say the team developed defensive mechanisms, which helped them to gel together into what they became. In addition to this, the corporate culture was not much better. Outwardly, they said all the right things. But in the IT department, it was all little more than lip service - this organization has managed to create a fractured culture within one building! When I got there, and started practicing transparency and trust, I was not well received. When we started using a trust based process, things got very heated. But we moved on. And possibly with this added level of transparency, the "company man" was let go.
This last thing was one too many changes for the team. They started to resent everything, and question all that had happened. The new team member, (the derision sower) started acting up again. And the old guard - who had been separated to support a different team for a while - came back with the stale arguments and roaring like a lion. So - when I spoke to my friend, it was interesting. Here is how it laid out:
- I had gotten to a trust and friendship level with about 70% of the team. Mainly developers
- I had made no progress with supporting teams
- I was in a toxic environment that showed the beginnings of a desire to change
- Everyone in management in the organization is too busy to listen
- We were starting to see clear and progressive success - through experience
Now, some people will read this and think - that sounds like a winning hand! Why would you want to quit? Here are my weaknesses that I am aware of:
- I try to help out, especially when hope is slim. I get a kick out of doing the impossible (I have "white knight" syndrome)
- Toxic environments are very difficult to change - they take a lot of time and a lot of trust to overcome
- I am extremely direct, and extremely impatient with people who can make changes but are too timid to do so
- I am working at the wrong level in the organization - in a place where that actually matters a lot
With all this information, it became clear that I was set up perfectly for a big, fat failure. Because some small, positive changes had occurred. You see, we just got a new, open minded and listening manager. Who actually has a reputation for defending her people, and had a long and extensive history with the organization. She is stepping in and wants to succeed. She listens and observes, and tells us that she needs time to stabilize things out (this is one of the reasons I did not walk out yesterday). You see, she defended the team right in front of me and in front of peers and superiors. This is a HUGE thing for me, as normally I am called to do this on my own. But all the challenges, and all my blind-spots, and all the track record point to one thing. I will be a dead Scrum Master if I tarry here any longer. Because I do NOT want to be a permanent part of this organization!
In the end, the team now has a proponent, and a change agent that can guide them through the next few simple steps to get to agility. Yes, she has some huge challenges - as I did when I came in. She has to learn about Agile. And the difference between "doing" agile and "being" agile. And she has to maintain stability to prevent team flight (highly unlikely due to the team's defense mechanism). And she has the right team in place to help her. All they lack is courage. And a comfy blue blanket, for comfort and support. I will give them one more iteration with me, but a holiday is looming. Not only do I know I need to go, but I know where I need to be headed. So, I may just not come back. The reason I must go is that my weaknesses will kill me. When I make my decision, they will find out that this is exactly what not knowing your weaknesses can do to you.
What are your weaknesses or blind-spots? How are you able to mitigate them? If you are in a bad environment, what keeps you there? In the end, only you can take care of yourself. Good Luck!