The Team Really Does Know Best

“Take it to the team” is a refrain in Lyssa Adkins’ Coaching Agile Teams for good reason.  Sure, there is the clear idea that a bunch of heads are better than one, especially when those heads engage in collaborative discussion to synthesize whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts ideas.  But what’s hit me even faster in my early experiments of applying “take it to the team” is just how off the mark my imagined solutions are.  For context: I am no slouch as a problem-solver; I’ve gotten far on my skills in that area.  But the complexity of these problems demands far more than a single brain can achieve in isolation.

Here’s a typical scenario.  Sitting at a retro, I listen to the team discussing a problem, and a solution leaps into my mind.  I start asking the team questions, trying to lead them to my solution.  (More on the foolhardiness of leading questions below.)  More often than not, within two or three questions, I am surprised to find that the very premises on which I based my solution were faulty.  I was solving the wrong problem.  If I had spoken up when I had the urge to (i.e., almost immediately upon hearing the first statement of the problem), I’d have squashed any chance at uncovering the real nuance of the problem, and I’d have pushed a bewildered team to accept a poorly fit solution.

Again, it’s not that I’m a dunce when it comes to problem-solving.  Or maybe I am.  It doesn’t matter.  What matters is that there is no substitute for a proper collaborative discussion amongst team members to suss out the true intricacies of a problem, let alone for coming up with a possible solution.  It is also striking how quickly this happens.  Sure, I’ve got years to learn more deftly how to help the team find their way, but just taking a simple step back has yielded tremendous fruit.

One other note, regarding leading questions.  Trying to get the team to say what you already have in your head is an amateur habit that I am trying to kick.  It’s transparent, somewhat insulting, and an ineffective substitute for actually helping them untangle a problem.  Why did I get into it?  Because I knew that I didn’t want to just give them the answer, but I didn’t know how to proceed otherwise.  The up side is that the question-asking format kept me from trampling the team in the first place and then allowed me to hear just how far off I was.

One thought on “The Team Really Does Know Best

  1. So glad to see you taking the “take it to the team” mantra in the book to heart. And, thanks for so clearly articulating exactly what I learned as well. It’s a hard lesson to realize that sometimes you are what holds them back or sends them off in an erroneous direction, but one that’s very much worth it. You said it with grace!

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