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Agile Development: Article

Leadership of Powerful Teams

Revealing ideas of NLP and the use of words

The ongoing challenges of creating the magical bond between team members in small and big endeavors can be elusive. What more, in the last few decades it has become increasingly challenging, since we have been moving from emphasis on social skills and communities to technical and managerial skills. As a result the lore concerning the magic of teams has been lost.

When I'm facilitating workshops for business professionals, project managers in software development, seminars for finance and IT professionals, consulting with marketing and supply chain experts, I am surprised to witness their low propensity for soft skills literacy. They know the hard aspects of what needs to be done, however they remain clueless when required to lead the teams that help them accomplish the required objectives.

As most of these teams are cross functional in a matrix organization, it is likely that the leaders and managers of these teams do not have direct hierarchical control over the team members. Requesting deliverables from the team members becomes challenging. Even when the managers do have hierarchical power, the contemporary concepts of empowerment and motivation prevail, making direct commands unpopular to say the least. Yet again requesting fulfillment of the objectives and deliverables becomes tricky. It is quite remarkable that simple concepts for creating positive interactions outside the business world are hardly ever used within business and project teams.

In order to lead through the challenges of both collocated and virtual teams we can use concepts from Neurolinguistic programming (NLP). It is a powerful technique with proven results.

We will explore only a fraction of what NLP is about, specifically several words that are used redundantly in almost each and every team interaction. These words are mostly negative, yet common in team interactions. These create noise in the communication, confuse the message, and carry a baggage of ill-considered meanings.

The first word we will examine is - Try

The first word that is used quite often without understanding the implication is: Try.

For example: ‘we will try running this test next week' or ‘please try to have the results by Wednesday' or even ‘I tried really hard'.

To understand the issue with- try - view this link: .

Try - masks the intent and carries an element of implicit failure within the message. As Yoda said, you either do it or you don't, there is no try. Either you're going to run the tests next week or you're not going to run them next week. When you're saying that: you are going to try to run them next week, most like you're not going to do it. When I'm telling you: please try to have the results by Wednesday, I'm actually saying that it is fine that they'll come in by Thursday or Friday or even next month.

For example Mark's email:

We have indeed defined a way of work, but we also defined a process for completion of tasks, that we should try to stick to.

What is Mark saying? Did we define a process just so we should try to stick to it? Or did we define a process that we must stick to? By using try, Mark undermines his authority as a team leader; he defined a process so that the team members will follow.

The abundant use of the word try in many teams, both co-located and virtual, is a sign of fear that both leaders and team members have of stepping up and asking for commitment and responsibility.

Bottom line - drop the TRY it does not add anything to the communication!

The second word we will examine is - Should

The second word that is used quite often without understanding the implication is: Should.

We have already discussed introjecting and the role that ‘shoulds' have with creating a stipulation on our decisions, behaviors and even thoughts. ‘Should' also has a flavor of admonition, guilt, and manipulation, especially when other people are using it; by blurting out-loud a general statement with the word ‘should'.

For example: "you should always finish what you're eating and never leave anything on the plate". Also: "this should have been completed by now". And yet another: "you should not get up before the manager has left".

For example in the first case study Tina says:

Tina answers: "we should focus on production levels as this is what is driving the transfer to production, trust me I've been here and have seen these projects many times

In this case Tina is using ‘should' to reprimand the team and also to have it her way by defining an imaginary rule and enforcing it upon the team. Actually what Tina is saying: "I want to focus on production levels". Many times people use should instead of ‘I want', this is the case with parents and children. The admonition of: "you should be nice" is actually saying: "I want you to be nice".

Observe the power and direct impact of the second sentence as opposed to using ‘should'.

Tina answers: "I want to focus on production levels as this is what is driving the transfer to production, trust me I've been here and have seen these projects many times

People use the word should to mask their wish or need. Instead of directly stating what they want, they construct a stipulation without naming a person responsible for carrying it out.

In families we often hear such a ‘should' sentence: "the lawn should be cut". This is indirect communication that with time can create resentment. Actually the person would be better off asking directly what he wants: "please can you cut the lawn now", is a much better question. Notice that this question can lead into conflict as the other person might rebel and disagree. By using ‘should' we are avoiding the conflict between our wishes and the other person's wishes. The truth is that the conflict is not avoided; rather as the communication is not direct it is unclear what the person wants the other person to perform. The conflict thus is exacerbated and not mitigated. The extensive use of ‘should' stipulations occurs in families, in couples, and naturally in teams.

Monitor the ‘shoulds' in your teams, they are barriers to effective communication and reduce the potential power of the team.

The third word we will examine is - Why

The third word that is used quite often without understanding the implication is: Why.

Why carries a sense of blame to it. For example: "why did you break the glass?" One can see that the usage of ‘why' is not about receiving an answer but about rebuking for the actual breaking of the glass, since there is not a good answer for this question. A wisecrack answer might be: "because I like to see you get mad..." actually, it is not a bad answer to such a question. Often teenagers will respond in such a way to a ‘WHY' question, to voice their resentment out-loud.

For example in the first case study Ashley says:

Ashley tries to gain control back and asks Tina: "why do you think this is now relevant for our meeting? Let's try to get back on our planned agenda!"

In this case Ashley is blaming Tina by asking her the question. Ashley would have been better off saying: "Tina, I would like to revert to our defined agenda, I think these are relevant issues for another meeting".

The word ‘why' carries guilt and finger-pointing into our team communications. It is better that we leave it out of our messages as it doesn't have any positive impact on what we are saying. Rather, it is clearer to state what we want to achieve or alternatively ask information gathering questions using the word ‘how'.

For example Ashley might ask: "Tina, can you please explain how these figures impact the transfer to operations?"

Notice that while ‘why' structures a closed ended question, ‘how' questions are open-ended and investigate as to the process that led to a certain consequence.

The ‘whys' don't contribute to clear communication instead they add guilt and finger-pointing, drop them!


Notice when and how you use these words, can you omit them? being cognizant of this words and understanding the negative impact they have on communication - increases tenfold your communication impact.

Want to learn more about the secrets and more NLP words? Six Secrets of Powerful Teams A practical guide to the magic of motivating and influencing teams (The Leadership Series) , available on Amazon and in print

More Stories By Michael Nir

Michael Nir - President of Sapir Consulting - (M.Sc. Engineering) has been providing operational, organizational and management consulting and training for over 15 years. He is passionate about Gestalt theory and practice, which complements his engineering background and contributes to his understanding of individual and team dynamics in business. Michael authored 8 Bestsellers in the fields of Influencing, Agile, Teams, Leadership and others. Michael's experience includes significant expertise in the telecoms, hi-tech, software development, R&D environments and petrochemical & infrastructure industries. He develops creative and innovative solutions in project and product management, process improvement, leadership, and team building programs. Michael's professional background is analytical and technical; however, he has a keen interest in human interactions and behaviors. He holds two engineering degrees from the prestigious Technion Institute of Technology: a Bachelor of civil engineering and Masters of Industrial engineering. He has balanced his technical side with the extensive study and practice of Gestalt Therapy and "Instrumental Enrichment," a philosophy of mediated learning. In his consulting and training engagements, Michael combines both the analytical and technical world with his focus on people, delivering unique and meaningful solutions, and addressing whole systems.