Agile Marketing and the Five Dysfunctions of a Team – Absence of Trust

When I teach Agile Marketing, at the end of class I sometimes get this reaction from people:

“I get it, it totally makes sense, and I want to do it, but I just don’t see our culture changing that much.”

It’s an understandable reaction, but also one that makes me sad.  Because by that point, they get why their current practices are broken and unsustainable from an operational point of view, and that reaction shows the frustration and futility people feel from a mindset point of view.

People feel more motivated and emboldened to initiate change when they are more confident that it will be successful.  Towards that end, I would like to encourage anyone with doubts about trying to make the change to read “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable” by Patrick Lencioni.  Written in 2002, as of this blog post in 2014, it’s still the #1 book in multiple business categories on Amazon.  It’s a quick and easy read, and it uses a fictional story of an all-too-real executive team as an example to explain why many teams fail to perform and how to correct their dysfunctions.

I’m not going to regurgitate all the details of his book (I highly encourage you to read it if you haven’t), instead I’m going to use the framework from Five Dysfunctions to explain how and why Agile Marketing with the Scrum process will make your marketing team more effective.  By the end, you’ll see it’s not just Agile evangelists saying this stuff works, you’ll see that we’re applying the same insights and solutions that experts in other fields (executive management in this case) have successfully used for years.  I’m not even the first Agile person to connect the dots between Agile, Scrum, and this book – trainers and coaches for Agile software have talked about it for years.  I’m (maybe) the first to connect the dots with Agile Marketing which isn’t much of a stretch.

To recap the five dysfunctions of a team, they are:

  1. Absence of Trust
  2. Fear of Conflict
  3. Lack of Commitment
  4. Avoidance of Accountability
  5. Inattention to Results

And, as the book explains, each of those dysfunctions builds off the previous ones – the book shows a pyramid with “Absence of Trust” at the base.  I seriously want to avoid repeating what’s explained in that book (for copyright reasons and also because it would do you a disservice – really go read that book!), so let me just summarize the first dysfunction thusly:

When there is an absence of trust in a team, people pretend to be invulnerable around each other.  Specific symptoms include behaviors such as:

  • Hiding failure
  • Avoiding asking for or accepting constructive feedback
  • Never offering to help other teammates

Why?  Because when people don’t trust each other, they will not be comfortable admitting where they have weaknesses and occasions when they need help.  This has some obvious drawbacks for the team – it’s hard to improve when team members never admit anything needs improvement.

So how does the Agile Marketing philosophy and the scrum process address this dysfunction?

  • Agile Marketers value many small experiments over a few large bets

That’s straight out of the Agile Marketing Manifesto.  And I want to emphasize the word “experiment”.  By definition, experiments don’t succeed or fail – whatever the outcome, you’re learning something valuable.  So right out of the gate, we don’t paint everything in terms of success and failure – team members can try things, especially new things, and use the vocabulary of experiments to feel more comfortable discussing results.

  • Agile Marketers value customer focused collaboration over silos and hierarchy

That’s also straight out of the Agile Marketing Manifesto.  And the emphasis this time is on the word “collaboration”.  In the Agile mindset, team members don’t pigeonhole themselves based on job titles.  They actively look for ways to work together to get things done, even if that means learning and trying new skills to help the team.  You can’t collaborate that way without being open about your strengths and weaknesses and being willing to pitch-in even when something isn’t your strong suit.

  • Scrum best-practices include “swarming” to get work done

Scrum teams tend to get things done faster when they “swarm”, e.g. have as many team members as possible focus on the same backlog item until it’s done.  This just amplifies the previous point.  In order to truly “swarm”, people are routinely taking on tasks they aren’t necessarily experts at.  And team members have to be collaborating closely if they’re all working on the same backlog item versus having team members running in parallel on different backlog items.

  • Scrum best-practices include cross-pollination of skills

This is another best-practice that just amplifies the point about customer focused collaboration.  High-performing scrum teams don’t rely on incremental headcount to increase their capacity for certain types of tasks – graphic design, copy editing, SEO, web design, etc.  Instead, building off the previous point, if a team member is trying to swarm to get work done faster but they realize they don’t have the necessary skills, they take it upon themselves to learn new skills that the team needs.  It can be through formal training arranged by the Scrum Master or informally by shadowing other team members.    And obviously, the first step in getting training is admitting that you can’t do something and need the training.

I could probably go on and on about this dysfunction because Agile Marketing philosophy and scrum do a great job of beating it to death.  But hopefully you get the idea.  And if you recognize this dysfunction, you see how adopting Agile Marketing and the scrum process will lead to success.  Of course, we’ve only addressed the first of five dysfunctions – next time I’ll discuss “Fear of Conflict”.

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