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Have yourself a merry agile THANKSgiving...

Giving thanks for agile methodology.

Yeah I know I got my Holidays mixed up here, but take a moment or two and hear me out.

It’s Thanksgiving week (warning - holiday references included throughout this blog post), for which I will challenge you as to when was the last time you gave “thanks” to the team members you work with each day in a manner that those team members could benefit from directly and quickly?

If you are one of the few that can respond by saying, “we just did that in our retrospective” that’s awesome - but I will challenge you further, when did you give everyone you directly work with “thanks” before that retrospective, and when was the last time you gave your team members kudos “just because” without the need to have the ritual of a retrospective?

Why does this matter - “The So What?”

Recall The Agile Manifesto gives preference to developing quality software based upon “individuals and interactions” vs. “processes and tools”. Merge that with the realization that the delivery of “quality” software requires a motivated team where all team members are working towards an agreed upon definition of success. All too often teams miss the opportunity to sustain their motivation by simply sharing thanks and praise amongst each other for the innovative and creative things they do working together each day. There is nothing to stop any team from giving thanks more, it need not take a lot of time, and you don’t even need to have a meeting or a retrospective to do it. In my mind, the need to give frequent “Kudos” and “Thanks” to your fellow team members is best represented by Nike’s infamous slogan “Just Do It”.

By now, I know some of you are thinking that this just sounds like more of that “warm & fuzzy, touchy-feely” team-bonding agile-games stuff, but kid you not - modern behavior and motivation theory scientists have proven time and time again that everyone (including even Ebenezer Scrooge from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol - as I continue my holiday confusion) responds warmly to receiving positive feedback and praise - ongoing reminders and compliments about the unique perspectives, experiences and personalities each person brings to a cross-discipline team aids in the creation of a climate of strong intrinsic motivation supportive of the whole-team approach. It is frequently observed that teams that focus on sharing ongoing positive feedback and praise amongst themselves are known to be more “enjoyable” to be a part of. Think about it, what type of climate do you think would make you focus on your work more - simply coming to work and working stories off the kanban board, or joining in ongoing collaboration to complete work while receiving praise and feedback for your contributions to enable the team to achieve success. I suspect the later would provide significant benefit to establishing a culture of quality due to increased team focus on the goal at hand and attention to detail.

Another benefit of providing ongoing positive feedback to your fellow team members is building up a positive balance of what I call “motivation credits”. All projects and teams have their challenging moments when something goes wrong, and for which a team or team member needs to receive some constructive criticism. Think about this in common sense terms - if the only time you receive feedback is when it is in response to something bad, it will have a strong impact on you, just like falling through the ice while ice skating with Frosty The Snowman (I need Holiday help). Consider the alternative, you are on a team that focuses on sharing ongoing positive feedback and praise amongst your team members - yes, it is important to not lose track of the constructive feedback (and take action on it), but now you’re skating with Frosty wearing an insulating wet suit - when you fall through a crack in the ice, the wet suit protects you from the shock of that cold and icy water.

It is important to note that you can go a long way to fostering a healthy whole-team environment by providing feedback and praise directly to your team members. While mechanisms such as company facilitated performance reviews are required, many believe that providing person-to-person feedback (either positive or constructive) is the best way to instill intrinsic motivation within a team. Person-to-person feedback also allows your team members to receive feedback in less time, when it will be most relevant and impactful for them - example: “I appreciated your help fixing that integration test just now”, vs. “I appreciated your help fixing that integration test 4 months ago” (to which nearly everyone questions, which integration test, and much of the positive impact of the feedback is lost).

What should we do - “The What?” - Time for Action

Is your team hungry for positive feedback? Why not host an “agile THANKSgiving buffet” on your team. Here’s the recipe (it is so simple everyone can make it - prep time is about 1 minute - even less than deep frying a turkey):

  • Throw a piece of poster board up on the wall
  • Write the names of your team members on it (the folks attending the buffet)
  • Write the things you are “thankful” for by the names of your team members
  • Everyone savors the positive feedback
  • Leave the “buffet” up for a while, everyone loves leftovers (for the next day or week)!

Best of all, over-indulging in the positive feedback of an “agile THANKSgiving buffet” will promote greater physical and mental well-being. Researchers of “Self Determination Theory” (SDT) have found that working in a climate based upon intrinsic motivation fosters higher self-esteem and better interpersonal relationships.

Now that we’ve overcome the risk of “shooting your team’s eye out” using the power of positive feedback and intrinsic motivation to shield against the villainous force of an “Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle”, we can all realize that “Yes Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus”, as we all bask in the “soft-glow of the ‘non-fragile’ major award” that an “agile THANKSgiving buffet” (NOT a leg lamp - for all the “Christmas Story” fans out there) provides where over-indulging in praise and recognition actually improves your focus and inner drive.

Moreover, while indulging in an “agile THANKSgiving buffet” will best drive your team to deliver quality software, indulging in too much of a traditional thanksgiving buffet will only drive you to the gym.

Happy Thanksgiving!