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A couple of weeks ago Elon Musk caused yet another stir by removing all of his Tesla titles in response to the SEC settlement in which he has to step down from his role as Chairman of the Tesla Board by the end of the year. While this probably is just a jab at the SEC, it got me thinking about how someone’s title impacts overall team engagement and collaboration, and whether this was the underlying cause of the lack of cohesion that we’ve been experiencing in one of our Agile teams.

The Agile Delivery team in question consisted of 7 members with varying levels of experience i.e. Product Owner, Scrum Master, Architect, Developers, and QA Automation Engineers, distributed across two locations and time zones.
At first, we thought that the lack of cohesion was related to the team members not being collocated or in the same time zone and that it would improve over time. I mean there is a natural ramp-up time in every Agile team, after all. However, by the end of the third sprint, we realised the lack of cohesion had nothing to do with the team being distributed across different time zones.
We were using the same approach and collaboration tools that we used with great success for our Agile teams, so there was clearly something else going on.

I thought I’d take the time to catch up with each team member in a casual but private conversation to see if I could get an insight as to what was really holding people back from being open and honest with one another.
I knew that I needed to approach these interactions with a high degree of empathy, and put myself in the position of each team member as I spoke with them in order to truly appreciate and understand how this situation was affecting them and what was stopping them from performing at their best.
With enough time and reassurance, I learnt that there was a disconnect between the more experienced and less experienced team members. The more experienced team thought that their less experienced peers were not engaged in achieving the outcomes, while the less experienced team members felt that their opinions were of no value.

It turns out that the reason for the less experienced team members not feeling as though they could contribute was not related to how they were being treated but simply because their more experienced teammates had a more senior title. I am referring to the formal title of the team member rather than their role within the Agile Delivery team.
To improve the cohesion of the team we introduced a pseudo pair programming practice where two members of the team work with one another on the same task via a screen share during the time zone overlap on a rotational basis. The approach has certainly improved the cohesion of the team improving the velocity and morale, creating unexpected friendships along the way.
This was a good learning experience for me, as we clearly need to be more aware of creating opportunities to open up communication channels between team members with different levels of experience.

I hope that this post was informative. I’d be really interested to hear any feedback so please feel to leave a comment or drop me an email: kjenneke@smexdigital.com