One of the biggest challenges I have observed in professional adoption of Scrum is that team members (especially me) resist the need to address concerns with other team members 1×1, in a courageous and compassionate way.

As human beings, we tend to avoid conflict by complaining about a colleague to anyone who will lend a sympathetic year instead of talking to the one person who can make a difference – the person with whom we have a problem. The first line of the Agile Manifesto – “Individuals and Interactions” continues to be one of the biggest challenges as a profession and I feel, as a race.

I was trying to figure out how I might enable team members to have these difficult conversations when “Just talk it out” wasn’t working. So I adopted an idea from a controversial book I read called “Three Cups of Tea”. From Wikipedia…

The book’s title was inspired by a saying Haji Ali shared with Mortenson: “The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family…”

I merged this idea with a practice called Feedforward by Marshall Goldsmith and have been asking my Scrum Teams to try this experiment over the past couple of few years. So here’s how it works…

  • Each member of the Scrum Team schedules a recurring monthly 1×1 cup of tea / coffee / jamba-juice / whatever with every other member of the Scrum Team for the next 3 months. If the team members are in different locations, they can use some meeting tool as long as they use a webcam to see each other’s faces
  • Since some introverted geeks (or nerds…?) like me have trouble with interpersonal communication, I share the script that I used in my cups of tea…

How are you doing as a person? What does it feel to be in your shoes?

I am a flawed human being and I have blind spots. I might be inadvertently doing things that are hurting our Scrum Team

I value your opinion and I need your help. You see things that I don’t see. Can you suggest one improvement I can make in the next 30 days or less to help our Scrum Team meet our Sprint Goal? What can I start doing / stop doing / keep doing?

I promise that I will demonstrate the Scrum Values in every one of our conversations…

      • Openness: I promise that I will be open about all our work and the challenges with performing our work.
      • Respect: I promise that I will treat you and all our Scrum Team members respectfully and as capable, independent people.
      • Focus: I promise that I will focus on how my choices impact the work of our Sprints and the goals of our Scrum Team.
      • Courage: I promise to demonstrate the courage to do the right thing and work on tough problems.
      • Commitment: I am personally committing to making whatever adjustments I need to make so that we achieve the goals of our Scrum Team.

 I also promise that..

      • I will not get defensive, argue, criticize or judge what you share
      • I will make adjustments based on your suggestions
      • I will check-back with you in our next cup of tea to see how I can get better

After you share your thoughts, I would like to do the same.”

  • Now listen to the suggestions, ask clarifying questions and then say thank you.
  • Reverse roles provide suggestions to your team member.
  • Each team member keeps notes so they can share what they learned with their Scrum Team members in the next Retrospective.
  • In the next retrospective, Scrum Team members are vulnerable and courageous in front of their peers and answer these questions…
    1. What is the biggest insight I got about myself from my cups of tea?
    2. Based on what I learned, what is one adjustment I will make in the coming Sprint to help our Scrum Team get better?
  • After trying this experiment for 3 months, the Scrum Team reflects on it in the next Sprint Retrospective and makes necessary course corrections.

I hope you enjoy your cups of tea and would love to find out how it turns out for your Scrum Team.

Until our next conversation, keep calm and Scrum on!