How to help teams complete actions effectively

As a Scrum Master my brain is hardwired to be in project delivery mode most of the time. There are deadlines on which we have to deliver (part of) a project to our customers. The only way to achieve this is by communicating often and clearly about our status, so we can respond to change as quickly as possible.

My approach to this is, that I'll gather all actions from a daily standup, meeting, discussion,... and communicate these actions accompanied with an owner and a deadline on which we want an answer. Preferably on a whiteboard in our teamroom, so you can't not see it.

So far, this sounds easy, right?

Transparency and honesty

In reality I sometimes encounter teams where it's common practice to hide slow progress or issues, creating surprises at the end of a sprint. The daily standup is the perfect setting to let your team know you're running behind, won't be able to complete an action, ask for help with something,... Failing to do so, tells your team everything's going according to plan.

When this happens, it's important to coach your team on being transparent and honest when giving a status update.

Imagine you have a date with your SO in a restaurant at 8pm:

  • If it's 7pm and you know you won't make it, you're probably going to call her and tell her you're late. At this time, it's not a big issue and plans can be rearranged.
  • If it's 10pm and you haven't called her, I wouldn't like to be in your shoes. You missed your deadline, the damage is done.

Surprisingly, the second point happens quite a lot when working in teams/with clients.

Can I help you?

So let's circle back to actions, owners and deadlines. Writing them down is the easy part. Completing them can be a lot harder. To avoid frustrating conversations when deadlines pass without completed actions, try this:

Before the deadline passes, ask if the owner of the action needs help to complete it. This serves two purposes:

  • If the answer is no: you know your colleague/client got reminded of an upcoming deadline that's important to you.
  • If the answer is yes: you'll have a better view on the status, you're able to respond to change before the deadline arrives and offer a helping hand.

This is a great step to work towards transparent and honest communication within a team. Team members will learn that taking responsibility is part of working in a team and that the team is there for you when you need help.