Agile teams are built on democratic foundations: every person in the room should be able to voice their concerns and recommendations. But under time pressure, quite often only the most senior people in the meeting do all the talking. That’s a shame, because these teams miss a significant opportunity to innovate and engage everyone.
So what should the meeting facilitator do to get the team involved during Scrum meetings?
Set the right expectations
Begin the meeting by saying that you expect everyone to both contribute and allow the others to contribute. You could check commitment by doing roman voting. Thumbs up = “I agree”, thumbs sideways = “I will do it if the others do it”, thumbs down = “I disagree”.
Especially if you are transitioning from a more command and control culture to one that is based on self-organizing, it’s important to set the right expectations for team involvement. Team leaders and managers often consider it’s their main responsibility to offer suggestions for every question, so you have to make sure they too understand that it’s ok to let others speak first.
I have one uncle that I visit once or twice a year. Whenever I do it, even though there are usually five or six of us present, he ends up speaking more than everyone else combined. Like a polite little nephew, I’ve never done anything about it. Fortunately, for team meetings there is a simple solution.
Just interrupt the loud mouths. But do it gently. You might say: “John, I think the team understood your point of view by now. Mary, we still haven’t heard from you. What do you think we should do?”. Carefully watch the other person’s reaction and make sure to explain your motivation later if they become upset.
Take turns speaking
A simple technique for making sure everyone gets involved is to take turns speaking. A very popular format is round robin: one person says their opinion, then the one next to her continues and so on. You could even insert a bit of fun by using a “talking stick”: only the person holding the stick can talk.
Some of us are really good at making fast judgements. For others like me, it might take a few seconds. If this is your case, before you invite the team to discuss a point, give them a minute or two to brainstorm individually. When appropriate, they can jot down the ideas on sticky notes that get collected on a whiteboard.
Whenever you notice the entire team getting engaged during the meetings, make sure you give this feedback. The same goes if you notice some team members holding back or, on the contrary, hijacking the conversation. Be careful when giving negative feedback though. Some teams are mature enough so that you could offer it in public, during the meeting. More often, it’s probably safer to do it in private.
But why should the entire team be involved anyway?
You might still be wondering whether encouraging democratic contribution is a good idea. Isn’t it better if the specialists and senior team members do most of the talking instead? I say no, and here’s why I prefer everybody to be involved:
- the team generates more ideas and refines them further
- feeling that you’re listened to increases motivation and engagement
- junior team members learn faster
What about you? What happens during your meetings? How do you make sure everyone gets a chance to contribute?
Image credit: Ann Powell Groner