Three Simple Questions That Foster Great Collaboration

December 5, 2012

Agile development is a highly collaborative approach, both in terms of developing of the software and in reflecting on what is working and what needs improvement. And because software development also involves decision-making every step of the way (from the requirements and their prioritization to systems architecture to detailed implementation in code to tools to testing, and so on...), anyone involved with agile teams needs great interaction skills in order for teams to be great.

We need the ability to question and explore another person’s thinking, to raise issues or concerns about the team’s direction, and to constructively challenge each others’ thinking. We need the ability to have an open, honest dialog where people feel respected and safe.

High-performing teams don’t get to a high-performance state through avoidance. Nor can we get to a good place if our exploration puts people on the defensive. We need respectful inquiry that is depersonalized; and this best accomplished through structured interactions.[1]

Sprint planning is a structured interaction. A team retrospective is a structured interaction. In a collaborative environment. Structured interactions – each one having a specific, defined purpose – creates a safe place for people to operate in because the goal and ground rules are established. The next step is to get people to open up.

You must be sincerely interested in what others have to say, to understand what is on their mind, to have a dialog and not a monologue. If you really want to know what people think in ways that keep the dialog going, here are three simple questions to ask:[2]
  1. What do you think?
  2. Why do you think that?
  3. What would you do?
The next, very important step is to listen! Demonstrate that you value what the other person is saying and that you aren’t leaving things open to misinterpretation by employing the active listening technique.

What about your own opinions? What if you’ve researched something in depth and feel quite confident that you are right? Well, you can present your thoughts and back them, absolutely. And you could very well be right, from your perspective. But perhaps someone else has a different take on an issue based on their own understanding and experience. All you need to do here is avoid being anchored by your own opinion.