Challenge: to split or not to split?

Agile is about self-organisation. Yet self-organisation does not mean self-creation.

Yes, agile teams can take all the decisions they need to make, yet sometimes, especially in the beginning, they can use a little help with it.

One of the ways I am helping teams is playing games.

We have agile games that are good at teaching people new skills, like leadership, iterations etc. And we also have so called serious games.

Serious games, don’t teach people stuff, they help do stuff. And sometimes what needs to be done is take a decision.

In one of the teams I coached, there was the option to split the team in two.
In the team, we had people in favor, and we had people strongly against it. Which is good, at least it did not let people indifferent.
Taking a decision like this, should not be taken lightly. To help the team take this decision, we took the time.


Let’s  have a look at what we did.

1) As a coach I had F2F with everyone on the team (which was normal as I had been joining the team only recently, and I asked every team member his or her opinion.

2) In the coaches team we had long talks about:
– the why (Remember Why over how)
– was it the right time? (is it ever?)
– Did the team have a choice? (yes they had)
-etc etc…

3) It was not the first time I had helped a team split up. I knew a technique that was really good at helping a team split. Yet this blogpost is about the decision, does the team want it.
I will post a few follow post on how to do a split. And how to evaluated it, 8 weeks later.

4) On Thursday after the standup I announced that we would have a workshop about the split on Friday. (Instead of a “normal” retrospective, whatever that is…) I wanted to do the announcement earlier, I let slip a few occasions, were I could have done it. In retrospective it was a good moment to announce the workshop (not a perfect one, as one team member was missing at that time.)

We had lots of idea’s and made a few plans on how will we help them decide.
In the end, we chose the challenge cards game, I had played this before with my friend Jurgen De Smet, yet then he led it, now I would be in charge. My PairCoach would be an observer for this exercise.

I asked the team to split into 2 parts. (I made clear that this was not the real split)
One part would write on pink post it’s why splitting the team was a bad idea.The other would write green post it’s why splitting the team was a good idea.

People sat at opposite sides of a large table.
Lots of laughter, funny idea’s and some real good serious ones. We had it all.  We did this workshop, after the demo (Show & Tell), so we had chocolates and beverages on the table.
After that, I asked the groups to change places.  Now thye replayed the exercise, yet from the reversed position.

After that we played the real challenge game. People could choose the site they wanted.

I did a decide to see if they had all the information to take a decision.
They did not. A few questions where still unanswered. I let them write down the questions.
We let the team go to lunch and the coaches team + management met, to gather the answers.
After the lunch we (actually management) answered all the questions.

When I then asked the team to decide, they could not. Discussions went in multiple directions, yet I felt they needed some space alone to discuss freely.
So I proposed we (coaches team + management) would leave the room for 15 minutes . This would give them the option to speak clearly.
And so we did.
We left to go to the roof of the building where it was sunny and windy. It was my first time at this roof and it was good as I felt I was tense.

When we came back. The team had not decide, yet it looked they were close, so we left them for another 15 minutes.

After 10minutes they called us. They had decided they wanted to split.

In retrospect, I think it’s dangerous to leave a team without facilitator to discuss such a hot topic.
It’s good as it shows a team I trust them. As a “media is the message” it is strong.  Yet I have seen a lot of teams having a hard time to take decisions without a facilitator. It was a risk I took.

I also think that the small timeboxes, helped them to focus.

Update: if you are interested in this, you might also be interested in how I help teams split up