What Guardians of the Galaxy teach us about agile teams

Yeah, it might seem a little bit lame at first, but the whole idea is to talk about agile teams, so do not nitpick about the metaphors and examples using the movie. This post has spoilers, so if you have not watched Guardians of the Galaxy yet, go there and watch it, but come back to read the post =).

It’s been some time since I started writing down some ideas about agile teams, culture and how these things reflect in actions. After watching the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, my ideas and thoughts became this blog post. Each section is about skills and practices that agile teams should master. To better understand them, examples from the Guardians of the Galaxy will be used.

The sense of team

The main character of the movie, Quill – also known as Star-Lord -, acts as a scrum master. During the first minutes of the movie he managed to group different people with different purposes and abilities to work together in a very efficient way. He did it in the same way agile teams work: making everyone to have a common goal.

Quill wanted to sell the Orb for money; Rocket and Groot were hunting Quill for money; Gamora wanted to sell the Orb too, not for the money, but because she did not want it fall into the wrong hands; Drax wanted revenge, and hurt Ronan the way Ronan hurted him. Quill managed to set their goals to save the galaxy. Now, everyone works for the same purpose. All the personal problems were vanished, the goal of the team was now bigger than the personal goals.

Selfishness hurts

Have you ever not called for help just because you wanted to show to someone (or even to yourself) that you could accomplish it by yourself? Well, Drax did it. And It was selfish. He called Ronan to Knowhere saying the Orb was there and so he could kill Ronan. He thought of it as an opportunity. But he lost the fight and the Orb as well.

In software development, trying to decide a software architecture, pushing code to master without code review or ignoring known bugs are some selfish acts that someone could perform.

Although it should be avoided, sometimes we still see things like these happening in agile teams. When it happens, we should reinforce that it’s a team. And a team works like a team, there is no space for solo stars. Drax realized he made a mistake doing that. He asked for apologies and the team understood and moved on.

Solving conflicts among members

Drax joined the team, firstly, because of Gamora. He wanted to kill her in order to hurt Ronan. But when he figured out it wouldn’t help, he kept in the team, for some reason. It could be a problem and may put the goal in risk if not managed well. But Star-Lord argued well and made people collaborate with each other.

Solving conflicts in the team comes from listening both sides. Drax explained why he wanted to kill her. She said she was against Ronan as well. Star-Lord helped both to get in a deal, since it probably was a communication issue. On a daily basis, we can face ourselves criticizing someone, not happy with something or two members that do not go along. Having an health environment where everyone is able to tell their issues is half the way. How to conduce the conflict resolution is the second one.

That’s a leader role, but it does not require only the scrum master to perform it. When things goes chaotic, the team must figure out a way to cool down and make things go well again. In an agile team, we can think in chaotic moments to be, for instance, when pressure from the external world come into to the team, for instance. Rushing the development, cutting edges, letting quality goes down, everything could be taken as the “chaotic” moment. Someone must notice it and figure out a way to solve it.

Behaving like a team member

Star-Lord never said “I am the leader”. This role came to him naturally when everyone trusted him enough. That’s the final scene where he was asked where to go to, and so Gamora says: “You lead, Star-Lord”. No roles are set, they must come naturally. When a member is comfortable performing some role, he must naturally say “let me handle this”.

As a leader, he is not supposed to solve all the problems. He needs the team to be part of the solution, so they would be more engaged and committed with the results. You can see it while they plan how to escape from the prison. It was not Star-Lord who came up with a plan. Rocket made it up and everyone was part of its execution, which, by the way, was one of the funniest parts.

Everyone had a task to perform and the plan’s success was depending on their execution. Rocket let everyone perform it without monitoring or over controlling. He just trusted people would do their best to succeed. And they did. Rocket did his part as well. Everyone was part of it.

Backing the team up

When Gamora was in the vacuum, after her ship explosion, Star-Lord put himself in risk in order to save her. Ok, it might have been for love. But, in real life, members of a good agile team will always do small sacrifices for other members. For love? Maybe not. I don’t think there is a word to describe the feeling of being united and friend with the whole team to the point of doing small sacrifices.

Have you ever exchanged your chair because someone else’s was not comfortable or kind of broken? Have you worked on someone’s user story in order to finish it because the owner had personal issues to deal during the sprint? If you had answered yes for any of these questions or you can think of a similar experiences, so you’ve done small sacrifices.

Do you remember the “We are Groot” scene? That was a sacrifice. A very nice scene indeed. Very touchy. Well, you might think you will not save someone’s life at this point. But you can totally save someone’s day. On daily basis, these small acts count a lot. They are an important detail that makes the team united and raises the trust sense.

Also, it is very interesting how those sacrifices are taken by examples and encourage other members to sacrifice themselves too. It is very nice when it happens because you feel safe. You feel safe to fail, to expose your ideas and to perform better.

Communication

The members should always be communicating with each other. It can be through Campfire, Skype, HipChat, IRC or even in person. But the communication must happen, its lack can cause huge problems like when Groot, Rocket and Drax were going to save Gamora and Quill from Yondu.

Rocket tells to Yondu’s ship crew that he would blow the ship away in case they do not set Gamora and Quill free. Actually, they already had an agreement, but it was not informed. The situation went weird. Sometimes, specially in consulting, communication fails and either we feel or the customer feels threatened like Yondu felt. If people take it personally, you will have a situation.

A lot of software projects fail due to the lack of communication. People do not clearly understand what’s going on, expectations are not met and fights among members can happen. It might be a change in the requirements that nobody knew except for the guy developing the feature or it could be a phrase without any context, it does not matter what it is, the lack of communication will lead to low trust sense, lower collaboration and also contributes to a bad work environment.

Having fun together

There is another moment that I need to talk about. While Gamora and Star-Lord were talking with the Collector, the rest of the guys were in the bar drinking and having fun. That’s important for agile teams. The more they spend time outside the work hours, the more they know each other and the sense of trust raises.

The sense of trust is the primary factor that unite people. They become happy to work with each other, they trust in the work and that they will cover them back. They will know each other as better as Rocket knows Groot! Yeah, they know each other pretty well. When Groot says “I am Groot”, Rocket knows exactly what he meant, just like when you see a disapproval look from your team member and knows he is shy enough to not say anything at first, so you gently say “I am not sure about this, does someone have any thoughts?” and then he answers.

The final scene is what best describes the journey of agile teams. They finally reached their purpose. And how it happened? Well, Star-Lord starts this very interesting dancing act for Ronan. In the mean time, Rocket was able to build the weapon again and they could strike Ronan with it. That’s teamwork. Unfortunately, it was not enough to defeat Ronan. Drax and Rocket shoot the hammer and the Infinity Stone broke apart. Star-Lord grabs the Stone and then everyone helps him. Everyone was needed, otherwise Star-Lord would blow up!

When everyone is holding each other and Star-Lord is capable of controlling it, everyone – the whole team – feels part of their victory. Groot in pieces was as important as the others.

The same logic is applied for project teams. When one fail, the team fails, the team learns, and the team improves itself. No guilty, no finger pointing. It is about not making the same mistakes again. So, who wins when the project succeeds? The team. The team that in that moment can feel like they have saved the Galaxy.


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