In agile teams, people give each other feedback all the time. Sometimes it is feedback about things that can be done better and often it is about expressing gratitude or pointing out something that was done well.
In fact I would say that good feedback is one of the things that drives agile teams forward. Without it, teams can get burnt out, burning through an endless backlog without seeing the progress they have been making.
Sometimes though, agile teams can also start suffering from group think, talkfests and unhealthy conversations. This is where a technique called the broken record technique comes might come in handy.
I say “might come in handy” because it might also not come in handy, because the broken record technique can be annoying and is used more to press a point home than to demonstrate that you are listening.
The ideal time to use this technique is when either:
- You have given feedback or contributed a point to a conversation and you feel unheard; or
- You are a coach and you see someone in the team trying to contribute to a conversation but being ignored.
The technique basically involves repeating your message calmly but persistently when someone tries to argue with you or reject your idea without listening. It is good because it makes a point without adding energy to a conversation that is starting to escalate.
It is also good because it requires very little energy on your part, beyond the discipline of not engaging in any escalating conflict. In fact this is key to using it successfully. You must remain calm and keep repeating the message with a flat voice. Do not raise your voice, do not alter you tone to make it interesting, just keep it flat, direct and generally boring.
Let me give you a classic example from a time long, long ago:
|My mum||James, you punched your brother and now you are going to lose your pocket money|
|A younger James||He punched me first and he should get into trouble|
|Mum||I will speak to him separately – nevertheless you punched him and now you will lose your pocket money|
|James||Come on, I hardly touched the little wimp|
|Mum||Nonetheless – you punched him and now you will lose your pocket money|
|James||Fine – but it is not fair|
|Mum||Nonetheless – you are going to lose your pocket money|
But would you really use this approach when talking to educated, sensible adults. Let me give you two more examples and see what you think.
|Coach||You deployed your story with known bugs in it, but we agreed in our definition of done that all bugs get fixed first. A customer has complained.|
|Other person||They were pretty minor bugs|
|Coach||We agreed in our definition of done that there would be no known bugs |
|Other person||It wasn’t really worth spending 2 hours fixing something so minor|
|Coach||We agreed in our definition of done that there would be no known bugs|
|Other person||Maybe we should change our definition|
|Coach||Maybe, you can raise that in the retro. In this sprint we agreed that there would be no known bugs|
That doesn’t seem too hostile to me, but you might disagree. The next one is a bit more extreme and is thankfully not a real conversation that I was in.
|Coach||When you call me “little dearie” in front of the team it makes me feel as though you are belittling me. It makes me feel really tense|
|Other person||Really, that’s just how I talk. I use that term a lot around here and nobody else minds|
|Coach||They probably don’t, but it makes me feel really tense |
|Other person||Wow – you are kind of sensitive. Do you often get upset easily|
|Coach||Not usually, no, nonetheless when you …|
While I do prefer listening and mutual respect, I have used this approach a number of times and it has worked well for me. It can come across as a little confronting, which is actually the point I guess.
What do you think – is this a helpful approach or is it counterproductive?