Reducing Cultural Debt – An Element that Management & Scrum Master needs to understand

What is that we are discussing?

Some of the problems that multi-cultural virtual teams or even co-located teams experience include: time delays in replies, lack of synergy among cross-cultural team members, communications breakdowns, unresolved conflicts among members, limited hours allowed to be worked and different holidays (happens with virtual teams).  All of the above lead to bad productivity and finally a loss to the organization and the customer (eventually to the society at large).

What is a cultural debt?

Cross-cultural teams can have their fair share of problems once the novelty of interacting with new people fades. From simple issues like understanding language idioms to more complex work culture issues, there is scope of a varied set of unique problems. Global organizations are transferring people increasingly to other countries which creates cultural diversity within work teams. Though teams are now an accepted form of planning, strategizing and operation, team based management techniques are still evolving world over and when you introduce the additional element of cultural diversity, it throws a whole new spanner in the works!

Problems are further complicated by the Management

A major problem is the way the scrum team is structured and organized. We have seen in recent past that team members are spread across geographical location across the country / globe. Distributed teams have different needs and requirements, but somehow, all of us believe, think and apply the same approaches as we would do it with the local teams (can we agree that even local teams are badly managed)

Managing the virtual team is a task in itself. Scrum Masters must be aware of particular issues in order to avoid any potential problems / conflicts. In building the virtual teams, Scrum Master must be able to understand the diversity in international cultures so that understanding the trait is a success. If there is trust within a team, communication becomes simpler. Scrum Masters must ensure that all parties in the virtual team can participate and benefit from the interaction. Some individuals need guidance and direction while others are more independent. E.g. part of the development is from Japan (a country who believes in working in teams and don’t seem to mind being directed and pushed). And if the other part of the team is in US , then it will be common to go an extra mile alone and without seeking support from team. This is important to remember when managing virtual teams

Potential Problems Areas in Cross Cultural Teams:

Communication, Language and Expression

The quality of communication is a key concern in cross cultural teams. Everybody could be speaking English, but certain forms of slang or colloquialisms may not be clearly understood leading to misinterpretations. Teamwork is a collective effort and all the players must fully understand the direction that the discussion is taking. Misinterpretations can be kept to a minimum if everybody aims for clarity, otherwise team effectiveness is bound to suffer. To prevent problems associated with miscommunication, team members must be encouraged to check with each other for clarity either through paraphrasing or by asking questions. Paraphrasing basically involves restating a point and then asking – “Is that what you meant?”

Communication problems are particularly significant in cross cultural ‘virtual’ teams. Here is an example of two kinds of problems with virtual teams:

  1. The international virtual team that typically interacts across continents and countries, to collaborate on a common task. This is almost always a cross cultural team.
  2. Virtual teams within the same country or city when a part of the team opts for telecommuting – they use email and other forms of telecommunication technologies to coordinate work.

Both types of teams will work on a project without regular face-to-face interaction, and therefore have to make their written email communication and telephone conversations as clear as possible. They also have to develop a work ethic of prompt response to queries, if this is not forthcoming it can be a little unnerving and there is no chance of you dropping by the office of your team colleague to discuss the issue.

In the global virtual team with its cross cultural mix of people, it should be expected that some amount of ambiguity is bound to creep in. Care has to be taken with wordings especially when there is disagreement on an issue. Even mildly sarcastic comments meant as a joke can be misinterpreted by a team member in another country and cause a conflict.

Information gaps are another problem area for the virtual cross cultural team. Everybody must be on the same wave length as far as information and data goes. These teams can greatly benefit from ‘Groupware’ software, a relatively recent concept in networking using multi-user technology. This kind of software allows access to a shared database, provides email services, allows sharing of work files, allows online chats, scheduling, and tracking of joint projects. Companies are paying a lot of attention to the use of the right technology to make communication and collaboration among virtual teams effective.

The other issue with international virtual teams is decision making. Decision making is a team activity and given the time zone differences, the team has to find a mutually agreeable time band for direct communication through conference calls or video conferencing. If there is a great deal of divergence and disagreement on the right course of action to be adopted, then a stalemate may be reached. The team may need to follow up with lots of explanatory emails and calls before they reach a consensus.

Work Style

Work styles and approaches may also vary when a team has a cross-cultural mix of individuals. Some work cultures foster individual thinking and offer rewards for individual contributions– like the American’s for instance. In some work cultures people are uncomfortable with independence on the job and prefer to be tied to the apron strings of the boss in decision making! When your team has a mix of styles, the individualistic team members may prove to be aggressive team players while the not-so-individualistic ones may merge into the team and outwardly seem to contribute very little to the team process. It is important to draw out and get the best out of all the team members despite the differences in personality types. 

Dominating Influences

There are concerns that a section of the team that has a certain cultural similarity or homogeneity may attempt to dominate the team process and overrule the rest of the team. The dominant group within the team may try to swing decisions towards a direction that they are comfortable with. This can create a frustrating environment for the rest of the team.

Motivators and Expectations from the Job

Motivators are basically the factors that indicate the things that make a person tick in a business and team environment. Team leaders who handle cross-cultural teams usually find that the factors that motivate each team member vary. It is essential to make the effort to gauge individual motivators in order to encourage and motivate each team member to excel at their roles. In the absence of the right stimulus, the individuals may lack the enthusiasm and drive necessary to perform their role within the team

Making it Work

Cross cultural teamwork is going to increase as businesses expand on a more global scale meaning that people from diverse backgrounds interact on a regular basis as a team. Many large corporations have clients with whom they work across multiple countries and these clients look for integrated global solutions. In such a scenario the cross cultural team has a definite advantage in being able to understand the needs of their clients better.

The key to making the multi-cultural team work well, is focusing on the objectives of the team. The objective is the team output that a cross cultural team can potentially deliver. Team output is usually better when there is diversity of experience among the team players. This applies to any team output, whether or not multi-cultural. The chances of drawing out innovative thinking gets amplified when there is diversity. This is the factor that works in favor of cross cultural teams.

The problems and conflicts are certainly going to be there just as one would have conflicts and problems within teams who belong to the same market. Pre-emptive measures in areas like communication, information sharing, motivation drivers, and group dynamics are called for to assist in the cross-cultural team process. The goal should be to try and build on the strengths of such cross-cultural teams, minimize conflicts, and diffuse the occasional miscommunication that diversity creates.

DiSC – An approach to create the right team balance

Use DiSC profiling an approach to select the team and its members, It is an important element to understand that Agile / Scrum would work not on plans, but on “TEAM CHEMISTRY”. Organizations need to invest to reap the benefits.

Not having the right team and members with a right mind-set would not help the cause of the Agile or the organization trying to adopt / implement the new thought process.

DiSC profile is a non-judgmental tool used for discussion of people’s behavioral differences. The DiSC model provides a common language that people can use to better understand themselves and adapt their behaviors with others – within a work team

DiSC profiles help you and your team:

  • Increase one’s self-knowledge: how one responds to conflict, what motivates? what causes stress and how do we solve problems?
  • Improve working relationships by recognizing the communication needs of team members
  • Facilitate better teamwork and minimize team conflict
  • Develop stronger negotiating skills by identifying and responding to customer styles
  • Manage more effectively by understanding the dispositions and priorities of employees and team members
  • Become more self-knowledgeable, well-rounded and effective leaders

What does DiSC stand for? What do the letters mean

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Last but not the least …. If you want to win a lottery (read as … better agile adoption and transformation), you would have to buy a lottery ticket (read as … invest in team building, getting the right people, good infrastructure, education, awareness and Leadership aligned to the agile thought process)

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Improving people engagement and Retention – In an Agile World

One factor that impacts our ability as organization / project to have a consistent and predictable velocity is in-stability of our team members, we are in the industry, where employee stability is a major issue. This bring to my mind a bigger question, as to why organizations are not able to retain their best employees. It is important to remember that your best employee is the person who desires to leave, under performers do not leave.

Employee retention refers to the ability of an organization to retain its employees. Employee retention can be represented by a simple statistic (for example, a retention rate of 80% usually indicates that an organization kept 80% of its employees in a given period).

In addition to performing exit interviews to learn why employees are leaving, consider asking longer-tenured employees why they stay. Ask questions such as: Why did you come to work here? Why have you stayed? What would make you leave? And what are your non-negotiable issues? What about your team members, your scrum master? What would you change or improve? Then use that information to strengthen your employee-retention strategies.

Communicate your business’s mission and the current project vision. Feeling connected to the organization’s goals is one way to keep employees mentally and emotionally tied to your company.

In a recent research / survey done, it was identified that …

More than half (59%) of respondents believe that chief executive officers (CEOs) are focused on the numbers, rather than their employees, according to research by Coleman Parkes and the Workforce Institute at Kronos. The ‘The £60bn question report’, interviewed 500 people including business/operations managers, HR professionals, and employees amongst a cross section of UK-based organisations

An organisation that engages its employees will be more successful and profitable than one that does not. Organisations of today need employees who are psychologically connected to their work, especially in an economy of service and information industries

Engagement is not the same as motivation. Engagement is when employees are experiencing job satisfaction from a shared understanding of organisational goals that results in enhanced productivity or service levels. Motivation sits on a solid foundation of engagement. It is about firing up employees to achieve specific goals such as sales targets or meeting the defined and agreed service levels.

Employee engagement is not a tick box exercise. It demands a holistic approach to create the conditions that foster engagement. In some cases, that may mean driving a sea change in corporate culture. In an ideal world employee should be presented with a balance between the demands made of them and the resources they can access to meet those demands. Resources may be physical, such as having a laptop for mobile working, but just as often resources may be social or even emotional, in the form of support from colleagues and management. This type of support may look like a ‘nice to have’ but actually organisations derive much of their performance from it.

Just as importantly, engagement cannot be imposed on employees. There needs to be commitment to employee engagement at a senior level, and organisations need to recognise that Scrum Masters and Product Owners that provide support also need to be supported themselves.

Achieving engagement can have a dramatic motivational effect, resulting in low levels of cynicism and excellent performance. Employees demonstrate the best job performance in challenging, yet resourceful work environments. With engagement, a high workload can in fact be a positive motivator rather than a negative issue.

Low engagement can be seen through factors such as high absenteeism and staff turnover, as well as poor staff satisfaction levels as expressed in anonymous qualitative surveys. A Gallup poll found that engagement levels could be predictors of sickness absence, with more highly engaged employees taking an average of 2.7 days per year off sick, compared with disengaged employees taking an average of 6.2 days per year.

Conduct “stay” interviews. In addition to performing exit interviews to learn why employees are leaving, consider asking longer-tenured employees why they stay. Ask questions such as: Why did you come to work here? Why have you stayed? What would make you leave? And what are your non negotiable issues? What about your managers? What would you change or improve? Then use that information to strengthen your employee-retention strategies.

On a very honest side, I would have to say, that in my large expanded career, not a single organization has ever conducted with me or with others (that I know), a STAY interview, is this unheard of? Is that so difficult? Why do we react and try to retain an employee when they put in their papers, all of a sudden we wake up. Can’t we have a type of alarm done to spot these elements and be pro-active … We have also failed to apply the basic principle.

Risk Mitigation is always cheaper than Issue resolution … or put it in simpler approach. Prevention is better than Cure …

I am not sure if in my life time of career … I would see this change coming in … we are heavily engaged in target meetings …. Without understanding the basics, that it is the people who would help us meet the target.

Uninspired Team – Reasons why your team is not fully engaged

As a scrum master your main role is to ensure that your team stay motivated, productive and more importantly happy. It is also your job responsibility to identify what is causing them to be de-attached with the system, why are they non-responsive, what is causing them to be dis-engaged and uninspired so you can correct the situation

Inspiring teams is not about just keeping your employees happy. It’s about having well-defined roles that allow your people to advance in their jobs as well as make meaningful and useful contribution to the company goals.

Let’s explore a few reasons as to why teams might be feeling uninspired:

 

You Demand Perfection

Perfection seems like a recipe for success. But when good is no longer good enough, your team will have a hard time starting things and an even a harder time finishing them. Great leaders don’t complicate things by obsessing over every last detail. They understand that solution is to simplify things. Allow your team to choose something that they think will work and let them give it a try. If they fail, consider it as a learning experience and move on to the next assignment / project

You are not approachable

Too many times managers lock themselves in their office claiming to be busy the entire time. What they do not understand is that being approachable is essential to building inspired teams. When you’re approachable your team can comfortably discuss the latest happening with you and will not try and cover up problems once they arise. This also allows your team to share new ideas with you and they will be confident that you are open to their suggestions.

You Mirco-Manage your team

If you keep insisting on doing things your way, don’t be surprised when you team stops pushing for a change. A micro-manager is someone who holds back on delegating and focuses on minor details and discourages the team members from taking their own decisions. Micro-Management is now an old style of management and is no longer productive in trying to control all aspects of the team’s work. It hurts the team morale and productivity, and is often ranked as one of the top reasons why employees quit

You Cannot tolerate mistakes

If you want to have a creative, innovative and inspired team, you need to give them the permission to fail. If you respond to mistakes and unsuccessful ideas with disappointment or blame, your team will be de-motivated and dis-couraged. However, when you turn challenges into a learning experience, you build up the confidence of your team. Create a culture of creative confidence, which is the ability to come up with new ideas and trying them out. Change your team’s mindset from being risk-averse to being empowered to seek new ideas, thoughts and endeavours

 You Hired a wrong team  

The success of your company depends on the people you hire, if you team seems to be uninspired for good reason, then there’s something fundamentally wrong with your hiring process. It’s either that your employees are not well informed about what is expected of them or you just don’t know what you want in the hire. Successful recruitment is never an easy task. You need to look for successful patterns that have worked in the past to guide you through. Super performers are out there, but just as in good old days, you may need to do some detective work and to actively seek out the people who will turn your company from good to great

 

Servant leadership is no longer about managing and stepping back, it is all about identifying when to step back and allow the team to take the control of the situation and doing it on their own. It is all about guiding the team to do better, achieve higher altitudes.

Yes, I agree we all are humans and have a legacy approach of command and control, it is difficult to do away on day one, the old thoughts and embrace the new world, but if do not change now, we shall never change, do not expect the team to change, the change has to start from one own-self and that is difficult, but again not impossible …

The softer side of Agile – Neglected and unnoticed ….

The word agility is on the lips and tips of most business executives throughout the world as they try to increase their employees’ and organizations’ ability to anticipate change and respond efficiently and effectively.

Agile adoption requires all departments and functions to be aligned and think likewise, which includes the HR function.  However, many HR executives are clueless on the intent and the focus of agility in the current HR processes. Creating the Agile Organization turns its focus on agility itself and asks the question. What is the role of HR in the agile adoption in the organization, how and where and what should the HR folks contribute to make the organization Agile.

Well the answer: learning and performance management.

In fact, a major challenge is organizations are trying to move from a historical management approach that is highly structured and perceived as more safe to one that is less structured and perceived as more risky.

There are numerous elements that go into enabling employees and leaders to behave in a more agile fashion—and many of these elements are outside the influence of HR. To that end, HR should first establish a strong collaboration with senior leaders focused on evolving the organization to a more agile model before making changes to processes. Without this agreement, efforts by HR to increase organizational agility are likely to be mostly futile.

Assuming HR has this agreement, the question becomes, “Where should HR focus its efforts?” While many talent processes are important, our research indicates there are two levers of talent management that are at the core of enabling agile behaviours: learning and performance management

Learning enables individuals to anticipate changes as a result of constantly enhancing their understanding of the organization, its markets, and future opportunities and challenges. Further, learning also enables individuals to respond effectively and efficiently to those opportunities and challenges, if that learning can occur in the moment and in response to specific needs.

Traditional performance evaluations, which focus solely on individual performance, create a “chasm of disconnect” for agile team members. Because agile is all about team performance and trust, the typical HR performance evaluation system is not congruent with agile development.

Performance management enables agility by establishing clear goals and reinforcing and rewarding those who respond effectively and efficiently. If performance management does not reinforce the importance of acting with agility but instead emphasizes following the historical plan, then employees will not perform in an agile fashion.

Many companies shifting to Agile. But, most continue to use their existing performance evaluation methods! Agile organization with Traditional measurements will always behave and do the following:

• Rewards the wrong behaviours
• Creates/exacerbates the chasm
• Individual stature
• Promote myself
• Me first, team second
• Me versus everyone else
• Desire to become an SME

We like it or not, most executives love to measure and measure wrong things and have no linkage with the organizational goals and strategies. Most of the measurements in the SW industry has been due to the adoption of models and frameworks like CMMI and ISO’s of the world, which focus on the measurement driven system.

No, No, No, I am not against the measurement, but would have reservations against what is getting measured and why it is getting measured and the usage of these numbers in the system.

Measurements drive behaviour, why team measurement is important, what to measure, and what not to measure. Agile introduces tangible techniques for measuring agile team performance-end of sprint retrospectives, sprint and project burn down charts, peer reviews, and release performance reviews. To demonstrate Agile uses role plays to contrast traditional, dysfunctional annual reviews with agile-focused performance reviews. Take back practical knowledge, based on fundamental agile principles, about how to integrate team measurement techniques into your existing environment-whether the HR department buys in to this practice or not.

As Eliyahu Goldratt mentioned …. “Tell me how you will measure me and I will tell you how I will behave.”

It is human nature for people to modify their behaviours to match the evaluation system.

  • A very important part of any agile rollout is to align the performance evaluation system (and other HR practices) with what Agile emphasizes.
  • Not doing so causes dysfunction that will erode the team’s effectiveness.

As with any new approach, introducing an agile performance evaluation system will have its challenges:

  • Resistance to change
  • Fear – too revealing
  • Deflates the general optimism
  • Loss of control
  • Cheese mover comfort zone, Etc.

Some final thoughts on this front ….

  • It is human nature for people to modify their behaviours to match the evaluation system.
  • A very important part of any agile rollout is to align the performance evaluation system (and other HR practices) with what Agile emphasizes.
  • Not doing so causes dysfunction that will erode the team’s effectiveness.