a blue banner with the text "Resist to Insist" accompanied by a dart board with an arrow in the middle

by Emily Richardson | 3 Minute Read

a blue dialogue bubble with three question marks in itAs a Scrum Master or Coach, we all know and love our engineers; they put in challenging work and help our products come to life. Sometimes, the road to making those products come to life is met with challenges and resistance. Have you ever been with your team and heard “we have too many meetings” or “what is the point of this daily standup?” and (my personal favorite) “why do we have to plan; we just want to do our work”? Whether you have faced resistance with having daily stand-ups, refinement, retrospectives, and other agile ceremonies, it is fair to assume that, when it comes to Agile, every team coach has faced it to some degree.

Storytime: I once had a team I was coaching who did not want to participate in any ceremonies. I had to fight to get a stand-up once a week. They never planned and showed up to retrospectives but never shared. My first approach was to explain to the team the purpose of each ceremony. We set up time and talked through the purpose and “ideal” cadence of each. The team still pushed back and challenged the “why.” It took time, but after taking a step back and adjusting my approach, that same team, after two quarters, now has:

  • 3 Stand-ups a week
  • Backlog refinement every other week
  • Retrospectives every 4 weeks
  • Planning every 4 weeks

The road to get there was bumpy and there is still progress to be made, but with a few tricks up my sleeve, the team was willing to head in the right direction.

I Took the Agile Terms Out of the Meeting Invites

an illustration of a pencil writing a lineApart from daily stand-ups, I changed the titles for every meeting:

  • Backlog refinement was now “Bi-Weekly Feature Review
  • Retrospectives and Planning were combined and titled “PI#-Sync 1”

I Kept the Agenda Slightly Vague

Instead of using traditional agendas, I left it open for interpretation, allowing the team to feel they could fill in the blanks and talk about the topics they felt were most pressing. I left the “PI#-Sync” or backlog refinement empty till the day before and would update the agenda once we knew the topics of discussion.

I Slowly Ramped Up the Number of Meetings

three different colored bars with the numbers one, two, and threeStand-ups started with one stand-up a week. We then added another one (almost immediately), but by halfway through the PI, the team realized when we had more frequent stand-ups, they were truly doing stand-up, and not updating all the details for every feature. They appreciated the 15-minute check-in and were okay with adding another one.

Backlog refinement and planning were not really meetings to start. When I joined, we reviewed items as one-offs and the complaint was there were too many “one-off meetings,” so we started to meet once every 4 weeks and then increased that over time to every other week. The increase in frequency was natural as the team realized they needed more time to decompose the features.

Retrospectives started once a quarter. For the next quarter, I added one halfway through and at the end. In the following, I added a third putting us at every 4 weeks. In the second retrospective, the team made a comment that they enjoyed the syncs and find them beneficial.

I Checked in After Meetings to see if They Were Helping

a blue dialogue bubble with a question mark and a grey dialogue bubble with linesAfter meetings have happened a few times, I would reach out to individuals privately and ask, “how are you feeling about the way things are going?” The answers that once were “I have too many meetings” are now “I feel like I know what I am working on and why,” “I feel like we can accurately plan and commit.” I never asked directly how the meetings were helping, or if they felt like they had too many. I kept my questions general to get honest feedback, and that is what I heard.

an announcement hornWhen teams have resistance, it is best to SHOW them the benefits, which took time and trust. If they did not trust me, or each other, this would not work. As they noticed small shifts, they began to appreciate the meetings and the work that came out of them. This gave the team a shift from resentment to insisting we continue to grow and utilize the agile ceremonies; they did not even realize what they were doing. I would love to hear other ways you have felt resistance from your teams and how you overcame it. Leave a comment below.