I am currently working with a group of people internally to organize a virtual agile conference on whole teams. This topic is one of my pet subjects with agile development, you hear a lot about how agile teams are self organizing and composed of team members that are able to fill multiple roles on the team. The challenge that I see very often is that existing teams transitioning from waterfall to agile tend to keep working in their dev/qa/id silos and do not work any better as a whole team. Through this conference, we are trying to pull out information from teams that have made a successful transition so they can pass along some of their experiences to others. How do I feel about helping organize this? It would not be a teaser if I did not encourage you to read on… 🙂At IBM, I am part of the leadership team of the Quality Software Engineering (QSE) Agile Community. This is typically a six month mandate, I am currently on my second one. As part of the Leadership team, we try to identify where teams are struggling for information and we work towards getting the right information out to them on the community web site. This can be through articles, experience reports or just about any other way you can think of for sharing information.

As I stated in my previous paragraph, whole teams has always been a fascinating subject to me. I worked in smaller companies earlier in my career so I am used to wearing many hats so to speak. In my current day job, I am the User Experience lead for my team, as well as their scrum master. I dabble in development and testing as well when necessary and one could argue that my user story/use cases have appeared as documentation at times. I also have project management skills I pull out of my hat when I need them. For me, it’s natural to flip from one role to the next. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do to have a successful sprint! 🙂

The challenge that I find with whole teams is that often, people tend to specialize in a specific area. So you have your developers, your testers, your documentation folks, etc… I have seen that often, team members from one group are not effective in the domain of the other group or are just not plain interested in doing that kind of work. So how do you get there? I think it starts with passionate people, folks that take pride in getting their stuff to done and get it there with quality. Those folks are usually willing to pitch in anywhere to help the team be successful. Aside from that, you need people with a willingness to learn something they have not done before.

Now that my little rant is done, I will come back to the original topic of the conference… At the start of our mandate in the leadership team, we identify topics we would like to work on and for me, it was getting more information out there about whole teams. We tossed around different ideas and organizing a virtual conference on the subject seemed like the best idea to get people talking about the subject. Because we needed a champion to see it through and it was my pet topic, I took on the leadership role for the conference.

My first steps were creating a new virtual community on an internal site to recruit people to help organize and there were also others members of the leadership team that were interested in contributing towards the organization of the conference. We communicate through the community site but we also meet on a weekly basis to discuss our progress, set up action items and follow-up on where we are. The regulars that participate in the weekly call are what those that we refer to as the core team for the conference.

One of the first things you need to learn when working as part of a community is that not everyone has the same vision or ideas as you. So in the initial sessions, you need to try to understand everyone else’s vision and try to come up with a common vision to work towards. I consider myself fortunate to work with the group of people on this core team because we have many people with opinions, we have good participation during the calls and folks really seem to consider the opinions of others to finally come to a consensus on the right things to do.

I consider that my role during these calls is to make sure we maintain a common understanding of what we are discussing, take ownership of some pieces and to let others take ownership of pieces of work that are of interest to them. Anyone that knows me will understand that letting others take ownership can be a challenge for me because I am a very driven person that can accidentally take over something at one point, then drive it to completion myself all with the best intentions in mind and not realizing I am doing it.

I hear a lot about collaborative leadership these days around me and I am learning lots about it through books and presentations. These days, I am finding that playing the event coordinator role in this conference is having me practice exactly that… Collaborative leadership… Lead the team to the greater goal, but work on letting the individuals on your team do things their way. Let them take ownership of what is interesting to them and let them talk about it in the meetings. Respect the opinions of your team members and help facilitate conversations to help them come to a consensus. Recognize the efforts of people in front of others.

I can tell you one thing I am learning in all this… Collaborative leadership is hard!!! 🙂