"The Hook"

Friday, 13 November, 2015

Within a meeting where a scrum team gathers, a good ‘hook’ can be a subject or issue that gets the teams attention and encourages those types of emotional responses.

One of my favourite business books is The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni. This is a book that I would say is high-value reading for any agile practitioner. It’s written in the form of a narrative, which is great for those like me who prefer to read a story rather than an encyclopaedia.

There is a supplementary book to the original called Overcoming The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Field Guide” (same author) which describes some techniques for identifying and overcoming those dysfunctions.  Within the chapter called Mastering Conflict” the author talks about how a team needs to be comfortable in dealing with conflict when it happens – and encourage it to happen.

A team consists of people under pressure to do their best. Conflict is natural and the team needs to know how to deal with the conflict and have resources to draw on when needed." – Ken Schwaber

We have all been in laborious meetings where time seems to stand still. And usually those meetings tend to become more interesting when a disagreement or contentious issue arises which creates an emotional response from one or more attendees. As humans we crave the heightened tension around conflict but rarely want to get involved ourselves and prefer to observe from a distance.

Lencioni talks about meeting facilitators (ScrumMaster or otherwise) stealing a well-known technique used by movie screenwriters. A well-written screenplay will look to capture the attention of the audience within the first 10 minutes, or risk losing the audience’s interest for the entirety of the movie. This is known as the hook”. A good ‘hook’ usually revolves around good vs. evil, or a relationship between two people for example.

The movie The King's Speech” won 4 Oscars in 2011, including best original screenplay. Without wishing to spoil the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, the opening sequence shows the future King George VI addressing thousands of people at Wembley Stadium, but is unable to utter a single word. This largely silent opening still manages to perfectly illustrate the leading characters internal struggle with a speech impediment, but also his relationship with his deeply loyal wife and an uninspired British public. This captivates the audience for the full two hours and in some theatres there were reports of standing ovations at the end of the movie. This only comes from the audience caring enough about the characters to hold their attention throughout.

Within a meeting where a scrum team gathers, a good ‘hook’ can be a subject or issue that gets the teams attention and encourages those types of emotional responses. A product owner passionately defining a sprint goal at the start of sprint planning is a great example of this. Calling out today’s biggest issue” at the outset of a daily scrum is too. A hook can also be useful at the outset of a retrospective, especially if the team has been sprinting for a while and these meetings have become a little stale over time.

An example of a hook I used in the past, would be a team that was having difficulties with one particular team member constantly bickering and even occasionally upsetting other team members.  I confronted that issue at the start of the next sprint’s retrospective by writing a single word on the flipchart paper teamwork’. Subsequently we discussed questions such as what makes us a good team?” and what makes us a bad team?” These questions were very difficult for anyone to answer given the conflict that would inevitably follow. This is where a ScrumMaster comes into their own by helping the team find the conflict and then deal with it in a constructive way without fracturing the team or alienating individual team members.

The principle of ‘hooking’ an audience in the first part of a retrospective has been a great use to me as an agile coach. With this in mind, together with fellow agile coach Geoff Watts, I have created a set of retrospective designs available as a new training offering from Front Row Agile called The THEMED Retrospective Handbook”. Each of these retrospective designs are completely unique, and all of them include an example of a ‘hook’ you can use at the start of your retrospective to provoke an emotional response from your team in your own retrospectives.

You can download these retrospective designs by visiting www.frontrowagile.com, and if you enter the code HOOK you will receive 50% off the standard price – but be quick, only 100 of these codes are available!