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Facilitators: Just try! Experiment!

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Facilitators: Just try! Experiment!

You rarely have anything to lose

During my first experience as a Scrum Master, I wanted to try new things with my team but I was fearing their reaction.

I later realized that this fear was pointless. Just try and experiment!

My first times

I was a little nervous when I ran my first Retrospective meeting. How would the team react? They were not used to it; at best the company ran big “Post-Mortem” sessions at the end of year-long projects. Running a Retro after just a few weeks of work, asking team members how they could improve the way they work, with no manager in the room, was something that nobody experienced before.

In hindsight I know today that these Retrospective meetings were not very good and that I did a rather poor job as a facilitator.

Still the meetings went OK and that’s what mattered most.

I tried, I learned, and nothing dramatic happened.

Playing at work!?

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I was even more nervous when I introduced Planning Poker. I was going to ask my team to estimate by playing with cards! How childish…

What happened: the team accepted “playing” Planning Poker and was even enthusiastic about it!

Of course not everything was OK. For instance the team asked really hard to answer questions like this one:

“Can we give separate estimations for development and testing? As testers we can’t estimate nor work on development, and the same goes for developers about testing!”

As you can guess my answer was a little basic and shortsighted. I did not understand at the time that the real answer does not lie in the Planning Poker practice itself but in the company’s and team’s organization and mindset.

Yet, whatever my answer — good or bad — we estimated in Story Points and most people in the team was enthusiastic about this new way of doing.

That would have been silly not to try Planning Poker just because it is funnier!

A few years later

Since then, I learned that you rarely have much to lose by trying new things with your team, or even by trying childish things.

I learned that what was holding me back the most was myself. We set our own limits!

Just browse my blog and you’ll see that today I do not hesitate anymore to drag my teammates in quirky situations. I am always eager to try things and I rarely fear any backlash from my team. (links with the most surprising activities are at the end of the article 😅)

In most teams, people are not that serious. They enjoy playing games, and as long as it serves some purpose they will gladly take part in it.

Psychological safety

People’s willingness to participate has more to do about psychological safety than it has to do about anything else.

When we start playing at work, we stop acting the corporate game to enter another game. By switching to another, more basic game, we become more authentic, sharing more of ourselves with others while being more engaged.

That’s great for team building. That’s a well-known trick to make learning easier. That’s an incredibly powerful way to generate innovation and to solve hard problems.

But be careful… The context must be friendly of authentic behavior. The famous psychological safety.

If being authentic is forbidden, you’ll have a really hard time getting everyone aboard playing a game. Worse even, in some contexts it can be dangerous to be authentic: everything you share will be held against you. As a facilitator you’ll have to build psychological safety first.

Just try!

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Yet, what is the worst thing that can happen by trying new, original things?

At best, it’ll work beautifully and will create an awesome experience that everyone will remember.

At worst, nobody wants to play along with you and they end up doing like they are used to.

Whatever the situation, you’ll learn a lot but you barely risk losing anything. So just try!

Sources and further reading

How I became a self-taught Scrum Master

Surprising Retrospective activities

How to build psychological safety

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