Invitation: The Secret Tool for Distributed Agile Leaders

Mark Kilby is an agile mentor playing many roles on the software and product lifecycle stage. Currently, Mark serves as an agile coach with Sonatype, a completely distributed agile software development company, focusing on automation of software supply chains. Previously, Mark has led agile transformations from startups to Fortune 50 companies.

A key success factor for distributed teams is their ability to self-manage. Fostering team self-management is an essential skill for the team leader working in complex distributed environments. In the absence of self-management, even a good team will flounder.

Further, distributed teams amplify team dysfunctions: Individual status may be misunderstood, conflict over a decision may be masked, problems may go unresolved or details of emerging issues may be lost. It also works the other way: Team strengths can also be amplified by distributed teams—if some team members are quick to action, the access that distributed environments can provide to the work can allow them to take charge quickly. This can spread to slower team members.

With over a decade of working with cross-organizational and cross-geographical teams, I have found that “invitation” is a powerful yet little utilized (nor even discussed) technique to encourage team self-management. Self-management is not a nice-to-have, it is absolutely critical.

Self-Management and the Daily Standup
Typically, I will invite team members to take on a task or responsibility that might fall on to a particular role (e.g., an agile team leader or ScrumMaster) but might be better managed by the entire team. Let me provide …

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I'd rather be a failure at something I love, than a success at something I hate.

- George Burns

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