May 10, 2018

Social Contracts and the Agile Team – Part 2

Written by Chris Soule

In part 1, we discussed how a new team could help lay out the foundation of a social contract between itself and the larger organization.  While that works at the macro level, what about the micro, day-to-day interactions within a team?  The focus on a social contract can be a powerful tool in helping a team to perform at its peak.  At its core, this commitment between team members strengthens trust, set expectations, and lets the team push beyond a previously understood comfort level.  Both sides of an interaction must be dedicated to fulfilling their part of the equation.

What are some way this could look like on a day to day basis?

Take the simple act of a code review.  At a surface level, the developer running the review would go over a high level overview of the card being worked.  They would walk through the basic coding that was done, and do a brief demo of the new functionality.  The reviewer nods along, perhaps pointing out an item or two regarding coding standards, and moves along without a deeper probing of the work done.  In a scenario with a strong social contract defined, this would be seen as falling well short of what is expected of both team members.  The developer running the review would do a fuller explanation of the goal of the card, and tie it into the larger picture of the application or the organization’s goals.  The reviewer would ask more intensive questions, including, for example, how test-driven development concepts were used to work the card.  The demo of the new functionality would not only show the happy path, but push at the edge cases that were considered.  The reviewer would prod on the design and maintainability of the code.  The goal of the exercise would be understood to not just check a box, but to provide value to each member of the team, and to the overall team itself.  There would be increased confidence in the quality of the code and the product.  There would be increased knowledge-sharing amongst the team leading to less stove piping of expertise.  Lastly, team members would be building trust between each other so that they could feel more comfortable communicating questions or out-of-the-box ideas.

The same idea can be applied to team-wide activities.  Does your team do a daily stand-up and regular retrospectives?  This is an area where muscle memory can set in, and team members can start to just go with the flow.  If they follow the concepts of the social contract, team members know that they are responsible to make sure the team is generating value from these.  Put down the phone during the meeting.  Make eye contact when addressing the team.  Commit to putting into action the steps generated to make the team work better.

The big picture with the social contract is to ensure team members are fully engaging in the tasks of the team.  Confidence and respect, a sense of responsibility to each other and the larger team builds organically over time.  Only then can teams truly hit the “perform” staging of “Form-Storm-Norm-Perform”, and deliver the full value to the organization and its customers.

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