Sharing Values, an Agile Team-Building Exercise

A few months ago, I was facilitating sprint retrospective for a multi-cultural team that had members of different national origins (UK, South Africa, Angola and United States). We started gathering information regarding their first sprint. I realized that this team was struggling to simply get along! We took a step back and created a focus for our retrospective. We elicited the following goal for our retrospective:

agile development team goals

During the course of this retrospective, team members discussed how they can improve trust, respect & communication within the team. The fact that the team had individuals from different cultural background was not missed. The crowning moment during the retrospective came when one of the team members said:

“In my culture, we have to be friends, for me to do good work. In the western culture, I have to do good work, for us to be friends.”

These words have echoed in my head for a very long time. His insight has been a great learning experience for me. I have learned to acknowledge and appreciate differences in individual values. But what are these values?

Exercise: Sharing Values

Step I: Identify a pair (optional)

Ask your team members to identify someone within the team that they are comfortable with. Ensure all pairs have been identified and if there are odd numbers of people, the facilitator can pair with the lone individual. Ensure that every one has some index cards and a sharpie.

Step II: I don’t like it …

On a single index card, ask each team member to complete this statement:

“I don’t like it when someone/people …… “

Encourage each team member to write down 2-5 such statements on separate index cards.

i dont like it when team members agile

i dont like it when agile develelopment team member thinks he is superior

i dont like it when agile develelopment team members bully me

I have found that it is easier for us to identify behaviors that we don’t like, especially when we have been at the receiving end.

Step III: Exchange Cards

After everyone is done writing, exchange all your cards with your partner.

Variation: If you have opted not to do Step I, then place all these cards in the basket/hat. Now randomly pick cards from the Basket/Hat. If you get a card that is yours, then place it back into the bucket/hat. Ensure all cards have been distributed.

Step IV: I like it …

On the back of each index card, write down a statement that will counter your partners “I don’t like it …” statement with

“I like it when someone/people….”

i would like agile development team members to treat me equally

i would like agile development team members to make me feel safe

i would like agile development team members to question my statements assumptions

You will be amazed how your team member’s insight into your hot-button issue helps you recognize behavior that you will truly appreciate!

Step V: Share Values

Go around the table where each team member reads aloud a statement that begins with “I like it when …”. Take turns reading one statement per team member at a time until all statements are exhausted.

These are your team’s value statements. These statements provide a simple list of positive behaviors that are currently valued in your team.

Caution: As a facilitator/scrummaster refrain from vocalizing these statements yourself. I believe it is very important for everyone in the team to hear these positive behavioral statements from their peers.

Step VI: Team Values Chart

On a Big Visible Chart only capture statements, that begin with “I like it when …”. Radiate this information in your team area for the benefit of your team members and others who interact with your team.

This exercise takes less than 30 minutes to do. Try this exercise again after a couple of months; see how far your team’s values have evolved. As a manager/scrummaster/team member, if you feel tempted to dictate good behaviors to your team, take a deep breath and try this exercise with them. Maybe, just maybe, your team will self-organize to correct its own behavior.

P.S. Suggest destroying index cards that were used for this exercise.

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