Controling the flow of daily meetings with a team mascot

When introducing Agile/Scrum practices to a new team it’s common for the team to have very chaotic or drawn out meetings. Often the daily scrum will degenerate into a long conversation over topics that are of little interest to the team.

Long daily meetings are insidious for Agile teams. If the the team spends more than 15 minutes in a daily meeting they are more likely to stop having them. It’s important therefore to keep the meetings short and to the point.

The Talking Stick

“The Talking Stick is passed from person to person as they speak and only the person holding the stick is allowed to talk during that time period.” – First Nations Traditions [1]

Indigenous peoples have been running well organized tribal meetings for many thousands of years. One of the methods that they developed involves a token often called a Talking Stick. Traditional Talking Sticks are decorated with carvings, feathers or other items of significance. The use of the Talking Stick is very simply; only the person holding the Talking Stick is allowed to speak. When he or she is done it’s passed to the next person.

Whenever I start a scrum team I use this simple idea to help the team focus on what is important. In addition to the three Scrum questions each team member must address [What did you do yesterday? What are you going to do today? Do you have any impediments?] I also introduce the concept of a talking stick (or team mascot). This provides the team with two benefits; it allows each team member the opportunity to complete what they have to say without being interrupted, and it forces other team members to listen to what’s being said.

Introducing Oinkster
This is Oinkster:

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He’s currently the mascot of two different teams. The fact that he’s a pig is significant. In Scrum only pigs are allowed to talk during the daily meeting.

Another team that I’m coaching selected a rugby ball as their mascot. This nicely includes both Scrum (which was named after a rugby scrum) and the notion of a pig [rugby balls are called Pig Skins in the US]. This is their mascot:

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And finally, here’s a snapshot of some different mascots all together. What a happpy family! =)

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Summary
So if you’re coaching a team that’s struggling to remain focused, you may want to consider a practice that’s been used by many generations of indigenous peoples. I wish you the best of luck.

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References
[1] Talking Stick tradition in Native American culture.

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Comments
6 Responses to “Controling the flow of daily meetings with a team mascot”
  1. Our teams use a ball. Maybe the first commenter is right, and the value of this sort of thing varies by culture. For Americans, the “mascot” or “talking stick” idea keeps the meeting on track and ensures exactly one person has the floor at any given time. It doesn’t feel ironic at all. People of other cultures may have their own methods to control meetings. The fact that the same method has been used by many cultures for thousands of years suggests there is more to it than mere American silliness. In any case, the tendency for immature agile teams to start talking about detailed issues during the daily scrum is real enough, and any viable technique for managing those meetings is worth considering.

  2. Quand quelqu’un transcende les “three questions” le Scrum peut dépasser les 15 minutes encore que employons un talking stick, mais naturellement la réunion se déplace bien quand les participants parlent l’un après l’autre. Le scrum n’est pas le moment pour explication approfondi.

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