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Agile 2018 - Reflections on teamwork, coaching and facilitation sessions

Hello, my name is Aumarie Benipayo and I'm a GTM Program Manager at Atlassian. I recently had the opportunity to attend Agile Alliance’s 2018 conference in San Diego last week and before the event becomes a fleeting memory, I’d like to share some of the learnings and insights from my time there! My main purpose for attending was professional development and specifically focusing on tracks about team health, coaching, facilitation, and leadership.


Be a multiplier.

The conference kicked off with Dominic Price giving the opening keynote. Needless to say, it was very inspiring and I’m not just giving lip service here. Many of the attendees I interacted with afterwards found something that was meaningful and resonated with them. One woman I met was an agile coach from the Federal Reserve Bank. She raved about the keynote and thought it was “brave” for the Alliance (this sounds SO outta Star Wars, lol) to bring in someone who didn’t just preach to the choir about frameworks. She thought the keynote was engaging, humorous, and more importantly, focused on teams. I wish I had a video camera!

For me, the message that resonated most was around being a multiplier. What we learn isn’t meaningful if we don’t put it into action. We all have the opportunity to teach and share something we’ve learned with others. Let’s all consider where we can make an impact beyond ourselves.

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Team Health ≠ Team Happiness

A lot of times we talk about healthy teams needing to be happy teams. But what I learned from Andy Cleff’s session on "Team Health and Well-being" is that happy can often be complacent. Optimize instead for resilient teams. Resiliency in teams is what gets you through the tough moments and hard conversations. Andy offered some tools and ideas for developing resiliency - take a look at the list and see what small experiments you can apply to your teams.

For the Playbook team, one of the areas we want to practice more is to seek out opportunities to help each other. We’ve integrated demos into our weekly syncs so that teammates have an opportunity to share their work and get feedback.

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Three levels of active listening

Personally, when I’m engaged in a conversation my default “listening” intention is usually somewhere between trying to help and trying to solve. We did an exercise where one person talked and one person listened. The listener was not allowed to speak at all during the exercise. This was so challenging. I kept finding myself wanting to interject. To clarify. To offer advice. To offer an opinion. And that isn’t always useful. In fact, just sitting in silence and listening allowed the person to fully express the issue and feel heard. <---- This is such a key moment that we forget when we’re hearing people out. We can be too busy trying to think of what to say or how to respond that we unintentionally stop listening.

Sometimes you need to practice listening differently to really help. During Caroline Sauve’s talk on "Foundations of Coaching and Facilitation" we learned about different levels of active listening (advisory, curious, and insightful) and how to take conversations deeper and arrive at more meaningful and actionable insights. Check out this list of questions you can incorporate into your conversation toolbox.

Three listening styles

  • Advisory > You’re listening to respond.
  • Curious > You’re listening to understand.
  • Insightful > You’re listening to drive insight.

There was also this great visual she called a “conversation arc” to help structure conversations.

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Psychological Safety ≠ Comfort

When your team has psychological safety, they are more resilient. Alex Harms' talk on "Cultivating Psychological Safety" shared three attributes that need to be in place for psychological safety to be realized:


  • what it is: being real
  • what makes it hard: being okay with who you are


  • what it is: understanding another’s POV
  • what makes it hard: listening for understanding


  • what it is: unconditional positive regard
  • what makes it hard: well, you know, you can’t like everyone

What she suggests is that part of practicing psychological safety is really the journey from Judgement ------> Curiosity. It’s really hard to know what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes. Let’s practice more curiosity and empathy in our interactions.


Having data is not enough. You have to tell the story that leads to the right action.

Troy Magennis' keynote on Agile Data was another highlight. Please, please, please watch this video. You will be inspired by how he takes something boring (raw data/#s) and turns it into something beautiful (the story you tell with data). 


Parting Shots 
Regrettably, there were way to many sessions than humanly possible to attend but hopefully some of these ideas have sparked some inspiration. Feel free to ping me if you’d like to start a conversation around these topics! In the meantime, I'll end this with one of my favorite slides from the conference - if you're a program or project manager, I'm sure you'll relate! 😂

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