OK, first off – I admit the title of this post is click bait. SAFe bashing seems to be a favourite hobby for some at the moment, but this is not an article about SAFe (at least not directly). In fact suspend whatever feelings you have about any agile framework for a couple of minutes.
Treat this simply as some observations about a large group of colleagues (87 to be specific) coming together from Budapest, London, Singapore , Shenzhen and New York for a couple of days to share ideas, high level short term plans and the same physical space.
On face value this may sound flipping expensive and a waste of precious development time. But it creates something intangible. An energy and intrinsic value that is difficult to measure. It provides a space to create:
A sense of cohesion – that you could never achieve if these teams did their high level plans in 5 different locations. When asking the question “What is the biggest benefit you experienced” the most common answer I get “Feeling part of something bigger”
A common purpose – one of the key human motivating factors is purpose and whether or not every team in the room are working from a common backlog, they’re all working for the same (or a closely related) cause. There’s no better time to align people than when they’re all collectively sitting or standing in front of you
An initial connection – to put faces to names and voices at the end of the phone, to observe the different size and make up of each team
A deeper connection – being able to look someone in the eye, read their body language, see how their breathing changes in certain circumstances, to taste the same food, to experience the same weather, builds a stronger relationship in 2 days than you can ever get in weeks or even months of talking to someone on the phone
Tribes beyond your immediate team – with large group facilitation techniques, individuals can quickly find connections and common ground with people they may never have spoken to before (more of this in a future post 🙂 )
Reinforce / Build culture – lots of discreet things can contribute to the culture of the event but also the longer term vibe of how you work and interact (dress code / agenda / timings / common language / consistent messaging)
Psychological safety – forming an alliance for the event, openly encouraging and recognising leadership, presence, honesty and vulnerability allows for acknowledgement of good behaviours, and open conversations about what can be improved. This is hugely powerful when not done behind the scenes, and helps everyone understand the boundaries within which they’re working.
The final point I’d like to add is that these events provide the opportunity, but the list above doesn’t happen by magic. Whomever is organising and running the event has to make a deliberate effort to foster these points. To step back from following a process and focus on the individuals. To create activities, facilitate events and arrange the physical space to encourage and support them.
It sounds romantic I know, but with the right intention these large scale planning events can actually become quite special, maybe even something your colleagues look forward to and enjoy…