Team Facilitation

Teams have problems no matter how smart, motivated, or experienced they are in their field. As a ScrumMaster on an agile team, my role is to facilitate team building and self-organization. But when things go awry, it's sometimes hard to recall and enact the right technique for the problem. Freaking out is not an option.

A few years ago, a colleague handed me a sheet of paper in the hopes it would help me better manage project meetings. Written across the top it said, "Common Team Problems." Initially, I thought, "Yeah, I know what the problems are! But what do I do?" When I read further, the true value of this information became clear. It included real life actions to resolve each problem. Awesome!

I just pulled out this sheet again to remind myself of how to serve the team as we embark on another project together. I hope you find this information as awesome as I did, and that it helps you navigate some tricky situations on your projects!

Problem Description Leader/Facilitator Actions
Floundering Wondering what actions to take next; no progress being made; no one is stepping up/taking initiative. Initiate project planning discussions, agendas, minutes, timetables, milestones, and accountability.
Dominant Team Members Talking or pushing their way into getting the team to go along; using authority to overrule discussion, solutions. Use consensus decision-making, vary ways of getting participation, and ensure everyone is actively involved.
Non-participating Team Members Never talking or adding to the group. Find different ways to gain participation; involve non-verbal activities and small group activities; use 3x5 cards; invite to record on chart; talk to separately.
Acceptance of Opinions as Fact Team listens and accepts "loudest and/or most senior voice" in the room Ensure sources are noted and opinions are stated as such; do not defer to this opinion and ask for additional and/or different operational perspectives.
Rush to Accomplishment Trying to finish too quickly with work that is not complete or quality. Plan out work, set expectations for quality and completeness; ask routinely "What else?", "What if?", and "What's missing?"
Assumptions Assigning motives to others, making assumptions about others and acting on those assumptions. Check for understanding and ask for clarification; challenge the person making the assumptions.
Discounts Losing ideas that are not readily acknowledged by others. Establish a way to list and later address ideas; ask group what they want to do with the items.
Tangents Digressing and getting off topic or away from the goal. Lead group through pre-established agenda; use active facilitation; ask for agreement with group agreements; put tangential items on a future agenda.
Conflict Among Team Members Bringing issues from other situations and disrupting the group. Start with low-level intervention; monitor situation; intervene and ask to deal with outside meeting.
Lack of Commitment Team members don't meet deadlines, come late to meetings and/or leave early; do other work at team meetings. Bring up observations and ask group to address the issues; ask for commitment to team and goal.



"Common Team Problems" figure taken from Guide to Team Dynamics (2011) by E. Schilling.

Samantha Straede