These days I have been going back through some of my favorite books, including Patrick Lencioni’s Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team. I am certainly interested in team dynamics, not only as a coach of software teams, but also because I use these principles in my daily life in relating to my wife, my friends and others. In re-reading the section on accountability, I am struck by the idea that the Daily Scrum or Stand-up Meeting is, at least in part, an exercise in holding team members accountable to their work commitments. By asking the questions, “What did you achieve yesterday?” and “What do you commit to achieving today?” we are taking the meeting beyond a mere checkpointing activity into the realm of asking team members to account for their time in front of the rest of the team, and possibly their managers and stakeholders. This strikes me as a remarkably advanced practice!

Lencioni describes embracing accountability as the fourth step in his five-step model towards becoming a team. Before embracing accountability, we should build trust, master conflict and achieve commitment. This presents an interesting dilemma. When a team decides to adopt Scrum or XP or some other agile method, can it really institute the Daily Scrum or Stand-up Meeting right away? or is such a team jumping the gun with regard to its own development as a true team? Should we spend time overcoming the first three dysfunctions before attempting to employ this practice? If so, then why is this practice among the very first things we recommend for teams learning to become agile?

There is one way that I can reconcile these ideas, each of which I believe in separately, and that has to do with the questions we ask at the Stand-up Meeting. When starting out, team members tend to ask each other, “What did you do yesterday?” and “What do you plan to do today?” These questions are much softer than the ones I gave earlier, and perhaps a team has to spend time answering these softer questions before they can benefit from answering the harder ones related to commitments. I can’t be sure that’s the case, but it’s one way to explain the apparent contradiction. I would enjoy hearing about other ideas on the topic, so I just might write about this on a mailing list somewhere. Any recommendations on which one?