Agile Marketing and the Five Dysfunctions of a Team – Avoidance of Accountability

In my last post, I discussed how the framework from “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable” by Patrick Lencioni can illustrate how and why adopting Agile Marketing and the scrum process leads to success.  And I drilled-down on the third dysfunction: lack of commitment.

Picking up from that point, let’s look at the fourth dysfunction: avoidance of accountability.  This stems directly from the lack of accountability.  The connection is pretty obvious – it’s hard to hold people accountable to stuff they didn’t commit to in the first place.  It’s really that simple.  What happens if someone tries to hold someone accountable?  You get the all-too-familiar response:

“Well I never agreed to that.”

And it’s true – they didn’t.  With the team’s fear of conflict, nobody was pressed hard to be specific about what they were expected to do.  Instead, the team moved forward with vague and ambiguous plans about what they should do.  And you see obvious symptoms in the team’s behavior such as:

  • Mediocrity is the accepted goal/norm
  • Team members resent other members who claim anything above mediocrity, e.g. “well he just has low standards”
  • Only the team leader is expected to hold people accountable

The first two behaviors aren’t hard to understand.  After all, when there’s no conflict, no commitment, and no accountability, why shoot for anything beyond what’s good enough to avoid getting fired?  And letting other people look good only makes you look worse, so you can’t let that happen.  That last behavior is the real kicker for me though – in high-performing teams, team members regularly hold each other accountable.  Of course, those high-performing teams trust each other, embrace constructive conflict, and truly commit to their work so it’s a lot easier to see how they would be comfortable holding each other accountable.  But not so easy in a dysfunctional team – that’s why it’s always left to the leader since it’s their “job” to do so.  And it’s rarely done with any consistency or passion.

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

  • Agile Marketers value delivering a remarkable customer experience

It’s not actually a part of the formal Agile Marketing Manifesto, but I always teach it as the unwritten underlying principles behind what we do as marketers – we’re not aiming for quick and dirty here, we’re trying to truly delight customers.  So right off the bat, mediocrity is not part of the Agile Marketing mindset.  There is such a thing as “good enough”, but it still has to be “good” and that’s definitely not the same as “mediocre”.

  • Scrum daily stand-ups engrain personal accountability

Scrum really pushes accountability at the personal-level through the daily stand-up meetings.  I always emphasize in class that it’s less important as a “status” meeting and more important as a daily dose of peer-pressure to make sure you do what you say you’re going to do.  And indeed, holding daily stand-ups isn’t just a best-practice, it’s recognized as one of the most important factors in ensuring success in transitioning to scrum.  And given this discussion about accountability, hopefully it’s clear why.

  • Scrum only lets the team get credit for work that’s “done”

At the end of each sprint, the Marketing Ower, Scrum Master and the Team invite the business stakeholders to a review meeting where the Team shows off the work they completed.  And this is where scrum pushes accountability at the team-level.  Remember, the Marketing Owner and the Team publicly committed to the sprint plan and shared it with the stakeholders.  Now they have to show they delivered the goods.  And they only show the backlog-level work: nobody shows the individual-level tasks that were completed.

  • Scrum requires constructive feedback within the team after every sprint

After the sprint review, the scrum process requires the Team to hold a retrospective meeting where the team privately discusses what went well, what needs improvement, and what changes they’re going to make for the next sprint.  And in that private discussion, team members can definitely hold each other accountable for specific actions or deliverables that need improvement.  And because this happens at the end of each sprint, this is another behavior that helps teams quickly adopt a culture of accountability.

Once again, I could probably go on and on about this dysfunction and how Agile Marketing philosophy and scrum do a great job of beating it to death.  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 four of five dysfunctions – next time I’ll discuss the last one “Inattention to Results”.

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