The Agile Tribe

Dealing With Split Teams and Communication

on September 14, 2011

Author: Jonathan Coleman

Today we implemented a blanket Ban on emails!

We have a situation where our team is split in between two locations.

That’s bad. To compound this, one location has developers, and another has testers.

(you can already see that this story may not be a happy one!)

The team is new at Agile.

There is a lack of trust between the individuals in the two locations of the team. This means that the team is unable to raise a bug without an immediate conflagration.

“That’s not a bug! You’re testing it wrong!”  “There’s no unit testing, we’re developing it wrong”.  “Show me the design documents”.  “BIG-LONG-EMAIL-RANT”

As a result the trust is being MURDERED via longwinded emails.

So in terms of Agile & Collaboration – it’s not great!

In the last two months we’ve been doing everything possible to help with the communication:

  • We’ve travelled frequently.
  • We’ve engaged in shuttle-negotiation.  Back and Forth
  • We’ve setup video comms and instant messaging on the machines.
  • We’ve had independant negotiators.
  • We’ve encouraged use of phone over email
  • Everyone’s guardedly nice when we’re in one space.. but the emails begin once we return to our homes.

We’ve seen that  unfortunately  – the email rocket wars STILL occur.

One day in particular there was much anger, and the emails were getting longer and longer, and the silence was occurring and the tapping of keyboards was getting MORE insistent.

Something I overheard at Agile Australia Conference 2011 was the order of priority of communication:

6)  No Communication:(Nothing.  Assumptions are made)

5) Email:(No inflection, no context, no honest signals in body language)

4) Phone:(Inflection, but no body language)

3) Phone + Video:(Inflection, some body language)

2)  Standing in front of a whiteboard & drawing:(getting to perfect)

1)  Face to face discussion, no distractions:(The whole shebang)

So I got stroppy this morning with the whole stupid situation.

I’m not going to get angry at the individuals but I was MAD at the whole dumb thing that kept us apart and kept us from working properly.

Something one of our guys said rang a bell and I decided to give it a go.

My suck threshold was crossed.

After Standup I stopped the team from leaving, had a short discussion.

We put a blanket ban on emails!  NO more emails between the team for at least a DAY.

The PM backed it up. The Agile Coach backed it up.

No CC everyone & Reply all and put-in-my-two-cents-that’ll-teach-you-you-blockhead-CTRL+ENTER


We agreed after standup:  Rather than email – we will:

  • Pickup the phone.
  • Use instant messenger.
  • Share screens
  • Talk.

The thought was:

If we Remove the WORST form of communication, and get the team to step up a level.

How did it go?  On the day we did it:

A sense of calm descended.  Tempers cooled. People picked up the phone. The noise increased, people began talking again.

Was it harder?

YES!  We found it harder. I personally found it harder. I forced myself to pick up the phone to answer every question.

I deleted the junk mails that came in & not-right now emails. I tried my hardest to NOT send emails to the team…  I cut down my email by 95% and increased phone & video by 120%. It involved thought, effort and willpower to change the habit.

Will it fix all the issues?

No. It will not.

But we’ll keep at it.  And by golly this might just work!

My hope for my team – if you’re reading this blog:

Win the war against the tyranny of distance!

Don’t hide behind your emails! Lean into the hard emotional work of communicating, Really communicating.

Really seeking understanding, really connecting,  really creating and being REAL.




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