Team Building: Have Fun at Work

Podcast Ep. 148: Team Building: Have Fun at Work with Mike Dionne

Team Building: Have Fun at Work
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Episode Description:

This week, Dan Neumann is joined by a guest from outside of the Agile Coaches’ Corner, Mike Dionne, who is a Scrum Master and Coach, to explore some of the valuable work he has done with teams from a coaching standpoint.

In this episode, Mike shares how to make work fun and attractive so people would hate Fridays and love Mondays. Mike dives deep into the crucial importance of participation, collaboration, creating a safe environment that fosters vulnerability, and how to promote self-propelling and self-organizing teams.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Key Takeaways

  • How does Mike make things different, beyond Scrum events?
    • If you make things fun, people will want to go to work on Monday
    • Participation is key: You need to want to be part of the team
    • Start with a ten-to-fifteen-minute exercise that is fun
  • An agile team needs to be a game where everybody can win
    • We all succeed or we all fail; communication and collaboration are at the core of a healthy team
  • A team has to be real
    • Vulnerability is only possible in a safe environment
  • How to enable self-organization in teams?
    • Self-propelling is the core of a self-organizing team
    • Form a team, make it a good team, and bring work to it
    • Avoid just forming a group of individuals for a certain job, they might never become a team

Mentioned in this Episode:

Transcript [This transcript is auto-generated and may not be completely accurate in its depiction of the English language or rules of grammar.]

Intro: [00:03] Welcome to Agile Coaches’ Corner by AgileThought. The podcast for practitioners and leaders seeking advice to refine the way they work and pave the path to better outcomes. Now here’s your host coach and agile expert, Dan Neumann.

Dan Neumann: [00:17]
Welcome to this episode of the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast. I’m your host, Dan Neumann and excited today to be joined by a guest from outside of the AgileThought organization, Mike Dionne, who is a Scrum Master and coach. And we’re going to be exploring Mike, some of the cool stuff you’ve done with teams from a coaching standpoint. So thank you very much for joining.

Mike Dionne: [00:37] You’re welcome. We’re not going to ask any of the team members, are we?

Dan Neumann: [00:41] Oh, I mean, we could, that would be fun. We could do that little like an outtakes at the end. So tell me what you think about Mike.

Mike Dionne: [00:48] Right. And then you’ll end up trashing this.

Dan Neumann: [00:54]
Well, I’m excited. Partly because of some of the excitement I’ve seen you bring into teams and some activities you’ve done around team building specifically, you know, it’s easy to get stuck in Scrum mechanics sometimes. And kinda curious, maybe you can elaborate on just some of the, how you bring things different in beyond just Scrum events.

Mike Dionne: [01:17] Okay. But I want to start with this though, why I bring some of the fun in. So I’ve been running teams for a long time and I learned a long time ago that if you make things fun, if you make work fun that people should want to go to work on Monday, right? If you make things fun, part of the ceremonies are fun. The first five, 10 minutes or whatever, if you make them fun, they want to be there. And so they normally join in more participate more pretty soon. I like to do it, especially from the beginning, for the first few months, they’re a full fledged team member, whether they wanted to be when they started or not. They, they find that kinship, they find that partnership, they achieve some spree decor and you know, they, they start to become a team member, whether they started to be that way or not. So my philosophy is always, I want to hate Fridays and love Mondays. So if I can do that for my team members, by making things fun, when we do that’s important to me. And that’s why I do things.

Dan Neumann: [02:27] Book like about starting with a Y or something like, oh, that’s been done, hasn’t it. So I love that you started with why? Cause I didn’t think to ask you like why, but what you’re describing is work should be something that’s an attraction to people. Agility should be something that’s an attraction to people, not something where it’s like, oh, we’re doing Scrum. So I got some meetings I got to go boring.

Mike Dionne: [02:49] Yeah. How many times have we been in that transition organization, right. Where we’re going to do agile people come they’ve maybe had a class or two. They don’t really want to, then I don’t want to do this agile thing, but I’ve been told to show up, well, I’m going to try to change their perspective on wanting to be in agile and wanting to be part of a team. Because so many times we go to work at a cube and a desk or whatever, an office and that’s our life being part of a team, gives you a purpose to actually do something and say, yeah, we’re all rowing in the same direction. Isn’t this cool.

Dan Neumann: [03:24]
So that’s awesome. So what are some of the ways you do?

Mike Dionne: [03:28] That’s a great question. And I’m gonna try to answer it in a, in a couple of ways. Well in a couple of house, so the, the ceremonies that we have, like I said, the ceremony is of Scrum. And I’m gonna use Scrum as my framework or the four ceremonies. And I throw in refinement because it’s a scheduled event and it’s usually an hour, hour and a half, a couple of times a week or a couple times a sprint, depending on whatever it’s there. It, I consider it kind of a ceremony and it’s scheduled. So why not? I will slip in a five or 10 minute exercise that usually has something to do with what we’re doing. One of the things that I learned, I, I got the pleasure one in an organization while back to build a team from scratch. So what did they know about t-shirt sizing? They didn’t know anything. They really were coming in the, the product owner, the business, they were all going to be there. The team, a few of them had some agile experience and they knew a little bit about t-shirts. I said, but I was also a reminders, always a great place to level set at the beginning of any meeting like that. So I built a PowerPoint using me, my family and my animals, and I, we are called the Dionne domesticated family animal farm. So I wear my shirt. I got an apple on it. I think you’ve seen it. It says Dionne farms. And I, I start with our hamsters, go to ferrets, go to a small dog, go to a big dog. These are all part of the family, go to a donkey, go to a horse and end up in the draft. But the giraffe I say at the end, I said, you know, obviously we don’t have a draft though is also in my PowerPoint, shifted to a cartoon of a card. Those cards are handed out to the team members with the same cartoon. So now they’ve got a hamster through a score, a ferret and a dog. So when we t-shirt size, then I go through the, you know, what it is we’re doing. And I give examples when I t-shirt size, they get to use the cartoon car. I think that’s an extra, extra large giraffe. All right, let’s talk about it. Why do we think that it’s a way to do, it’s a way to bring out some fun in a ceremony. You know what I mean? Get some people laughing, having fun hour and a half goes by. Wow, that was pretty cool. And we’ve prioritized. We’ve sized reasonably, is that bigger than this kind of thing? You know, it’s an estimate. And put our backlog possibly even into a runway of features. So that’s what I do.

Dan Neumann: [06:14] Well, I love that. And as you were describing it, what I realized is because you’re not talking 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, all of a sudden the, the itch to, well, that’s a day that’s hours. That’s like it takes the numbers out, which removes the desire to say, well, this number must need one of those numbers and do the math. That’s super cool.

Mike Dionne: [06:37]
And I, I do want to say, I was talking about t-shirt sizing, but it works for pointing stories too. If I compare a ferret to a large dog, people understand that’s twice as big. If that’s 40 points or 80 points of a feature, that’s maybe 160 or 18 stories. So it kind of puts in perspective. This is twice as big as that.

Dan Neumann: [07:01]
I love it. So an interesting game, have you run into scenarios where you’ve had a stakeholder, a big boss, somebody walking, or maybe even a team? Well, let’s hold the team member thing for later, but have you had a stakeholder or a big boss go no games, not doing games here. Cause I have, and I’m hoping, you’ll tell me how to work around that.

Mike Dionne: [07:24] Okay. You might not like the answer. So my answer to the part two is I do it anyway. I just make sure that everybody I get, I get the team away from I get the team away. So we used to go downstairs in the basement. We go out to the ball field. We go somewhere else and I am going to do, and I always tell the team, we don’t play games. These are exercises because you bring up a great point. Why not start a retro? And I try to do this with an exercise that has a little bit of fun for 10, 15 minutes. You want to build up the team and say, oh, what a great job. We had a great iteration where we made our sprint goal. Let’s do something just to have a little fun for 10 minutes and I’ll break out an exercise. Remember they’re not games, but I will use that exercise that I’ve built. Most of them are, are me and my wife kind of come up with, have a purpose from what the last sprint showed me. Whether it be a communications gap or a problem with our process, I will build an exercise that devotes itself to bringing that out so that when I say, okay, did everybody have fun? Was that kind of cool? What did you notice? Oh, we were not communicating. We didn’t do a good requirements definition at the beginning because I give them a minute. You can ask me any questions, any questions you want to ask, ask them now you got one minute. I put it in a time box. After a minute they’ve asked their questions. I said, I’ll give you one more minute, any more questions? And then they’ll say, oh, we’re good. We’re good. And I’ll kick off the experiment. And sometimes I’ll throw in impediments, like management just came back and said, you cannot talk. You cannot use any words or communication with your mouth. Other than that, everything’s fair game. And they’ll have an exercise and then they’ll say something again like, yeah, we didn’t communicate. Well, that’s a good point. What’d you notice about this sprint? We didn’t communicate well. Yeah, let’s talk about that.

Dan Neumann: [09:34]
So a couple of things I think it’d be helpful for listeners maybe to give an example of maybe one of, one of the games. If you’re able to share one, I have a couple that come to mind, but then what you’re stressing is the value of the debrief, right? You didn’t just do the thing and leave people wondering, well, why did Mike ask us a mystery? Why did he have us look at cartoon pictures, then ask us questions about it, you know? And, and, but it’s debriefing to help connect.

Mike Dionne: [10:01] Yeah. You’re leading to a couple of exercises that you were involved with that were kind of cool. I was actually going to talk about another one, which I could ship you some pictures for but I can show and share with you. And you can share with your audience, that ones you’re talking about. So I built a PowerPoint. It has a timer involved in it. It has a 16 or 18 pictures. They were all cartoons from, you know, Betty boop, to whatever current animated cartoon you could have. And I said, at the beginning of these are the rules. You can talk as much as you want. You can gab between each other. You know, you can crack jokes or whatever you want to do. But this is for points and points matter because there’s prizes at the end. And so I’m going to start the PowerPoint. It does not stop. And it will go through the all 16 on a piece of paper, one through 16, write it down and write down who the cartoon character is and be as specific as you can because if you’re not as specific as you can, I might not give you the points. And I run an I R I’m a king, I’m the king. I have no power. I can’t make you do anything. The only power I have only superpower I have is influence. So I’m going to influence you not to get that point. So be as specific as you can, I’m going to start it. Any questions? Nope, no question. I remember you can Gavin talk as much as you want. Boom. We go through the 18 slides or 16 slides or whatever it is. It’s eight seconds. A piece takes a minute, or it takes about two minutes and 37 seconds. I think it is not a word, not a word. Everybody’s just a couple of sneakers. Ooh. Somebody said, somebody said, I know that one at the end of it, we went through and I asked people individually. I said, okay, Bob, what was number one, Wiley coyote. Good. I’m glad you got the E because if you didn’t have the E you wouldn’t get the point. And then I would ask him a question about it. What was Wiley coyote doing? I don’t know, running off a cliff, you could have got an extra point, but no extra point for you. I would go through that with the rest of the team and we would Kelly of the points. And if you got extra point and all that stuff, and I would say at the end, why didn’t everybody get 36 points where you told us this was for points and there’s prizes at the end. And I said, I told you the rules, the rules are, you can talk as much as you want. You can say anything you want. You can joke around chum around whatever you want. So why is it when Fred said, I don’t know that one, somebody didn’t say that’s Betty Boop, you all could have one. We wrote this canoe together. We rely on each other. We have to communicate better. We have to make sure that everybody knows the information each and every time, every single day, before and after Scrum, something gets dropped. Maybe we don’t go into prod tonight.

Dan Neumann: [13:25] And that’s cool makes it challenges some of the assumptions about what it means to be in a game, to get points to, to win. If you will, a lot of games are set up as win, lose. If I win you lose. And what you’re describing is a game where everybody can win. And you didn’t say there was one prize. Everybody can get a prize. And I just, I think it’s really interesting for teams to start thinking, how can everybody on the team win and how can I help the team win as opposed to I won you, lost stinks for you. Yeah.

Mike Dionne: [14:03] And it’s one of the things that is very important, especially if you’re building a team or you’re coming onto a team, a lot of us Scrum Masters are coming onto a team that’s already established. They’ve got their norms. They’re 10 sprints into 20 or whatever it is is we are in this canoe together. We either all succeed or we all fail. It’s no, there’s no one person, one finger, one blame. It isn’t like that. We all want to succeed. So we all have to row together in the same direction. Yeah. That’s very important Dan. Good job.

Dan Neumann: [14:38] Yeah. That’s great. Well, I mean, good job to you. You’re the, you’re the one you’re calling it out and reinforcing that with teams that you interact with as, as you know, what, you’ve, what you’ve done. Other, other facets that you’ve seen kind of either where you’ve brought in games or exercises or learning opportunities like that. I think there’s a lot to be learned from those examples.

Mike Dionne: [14:59] I’ll tell you about one more and then I don’t know how much time you got, but there’s the real moment where you got to, you got to get real. And I’ve been on a few teams either, mostly that I have had to come on to, but I even knew with that team that I had the blessing of being, you know, the, the beginning with a PO and we’re picking people and that kind of stuff. There’s a time when I have to show my emotions, I have to become vulnerable to the team. They have to know that I’m a real person and then they can choose to also become vulnerable to the team. And with this zoom in this COVID thing, there’s so many restrictions on understand, especially with people that they don’t want to turn their camera on, or they are don’t want to talk a lot or whatever. I mean, it’s not like being in a room. You got somebody who doesn’t talk a lot and they got the camera off. I can’t tell if you’re smiling. Did you take that as a joke? Are you angry? Are you even paying attention?

Dan Neumann: [16:00] And are you even there literally? Are you there?

Mike Dionne: [16:04] Exactly, exactly. So we had a real moment as part of our retro and no pencils, no nobody’s writing anything down. Turn your camera on. I’d appreciate it. Most people did and when they speak, they usually do so. And literally out of nine boxes, one me, everybody spoke except for two people. And the, the get real moment was, I know we just, I know we just went live, but why has the last month and a half besides the tension and the pressure of going live? Why is it felt like being on this team to you is such a stressor is an, is, is a trigger point just being here. It, it, we don’t, we don’t have any patience with each other. We were biting each other’s heads off. We’re creating awkward moments in meetings. Tell me what you’re thinking, tell me what you’re feeling and let me start. And then I started and I became vulnerable and out of nine people, seven of us spoke.

Dan Neumann: [17:19] And I, I think there’s something to be said for modeling the behavior for owning your feelings, right? Hey, I’ve felt X, Y, or Z. And, and then other people hopefully feel comfortable weighing in with their opinions as well. And, and of course that, then I think you’re doing things to help create safety. What happens in the Vegas rules? What happens in the room stays in the room, you know, manager’s not there, or whatever else is needed to create that safety for people to open up. Yeah. That’s really interesting.

Mike Dionne: [17:58]
That’s what makes me love Mondays, you know, all of that, what all of this juices me up to be talking with another agilist, you know talking about agile and the frameworks and what it means to be on a team that’s high performing, not only self-propelling but self-organizing.

Dan Neumann: [18:22] Love that. So I think that’s interesting. Let’s, let’s pull on that self-organizing thing a little bit. Are there secrets that you have to, how to enable self-organization within teams? You know, especially, you know, it’s still fairly common for team members to be used to maybe being given things, right. That’s not unique to any one organization to, to get told what you’re going to do or to have your deep specialty where that’s all I’m going to do, right? Because that’s maybe how some organizations reward their people. And with Scrum teams, we’re talking about crazy things like T-shaped skills and self-management, and everybody lean in together based on whatever the backlog items are.

Mike Dionne: [19:06] I don’t think we have another hour on self-organization, but what, let me share one thing and you don’t hear this a lot. Everybody talks about self-organizing teams and that’s where I started with self-propelling. And I’ll tell you about a story and then we can call it a day. Self organizing, very important, very important. But what is self-propelling and why do people talk about self-propelling either? So when I build a team or when I work with a team, I want to get them to not only self-organize, but self-propel. Who says I gotta run the retro. I’m not, I don’t wanna have to run the retro. You got an idea. So here’s what I did, and here’s what I’ve done. And maybe I shouldn’t share this with the audience, but

Dan Neumann: [19:52] Well, I’ll let you self sensor.

Mike Dionne: [19:55] Sure. So there was a, there was a really important meeting and we were doing a PoC demo and then we were going to break down requirements and normally, you know, the Scrum kind of introduces everything, gets things going, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, kind of is the MC of the thing. And, you know, whatever, I didn’t show, I just didn’t show, you know, one minute late, two minutes late. Now this team had been I’ve been with this team for five sprints. We had our norms, we were, we were kind of cooking on gas. They understood and were working self-organization, but would they self-propel would they say, can we reschedule this? Mike’s not here. That’s not my hope. And what they did was exactly my hope. One of them stood up and started becoming the MC and explaining things. The dev lead took over and started getting the demo ready. And then the PO jumped in and explain why we need to learn about requirements all of a sudden, and that’s self propelling.

Dan Neumann: [21:03] That’s awesome. That’s super awesome. And it’s a misinterpretation of the Scrum guide to think the Scrum Master has to lead all the stuff. It doesn’t say that, like, I don’t know, maybe there’s a prize. If somebody could go find the thing that says the Scrum Master has to facilitate, no, it says, you know, as needed or as desired, you’re responsible for the Scrum framework working, but not for being the mouthpiece in front of the room all the time.

Mike Dionne: [21:28] And I used to think that I did. I used to be that guy, for sure.

Dan Neumann: [21:33] Yeah I’ve been that guy.

Mike Dionne: [21:35] Especially when you start out your first few years, you know, you think I gotta be in everything. I got to do everything. I got to prepare for everything. These days there’s some times I’m walking from meeting to meeting. I hope I hope the team’s ready. I hope the next team that I’m going to is ready. Because there’s only one of me.

Dan Neumann: [21:52] Yeah. What you’re describing also reinforces the value of preparing as a Scrum Master for the events. It’s not, I mean, God help you. If it’s meeting to meeting, to meeting, to meeting and no time to think and prepare, and what’s an effective framework for the retrospective, what would be a fun way to engage people in sizing? What’s a good team-building activity. How do we get people invested in the outcome? Right? That’s you don’t do that in a meeting while a bunch of other stuff is happening.

Mike Dionne: [22:23] Yeah. You can’t. And you know, in Fort and I, I think every organization I’ve been in it, I once was in an organization, had me Scrumming four teams. What do you get? And you get 25%. I am going to be as good as I can be. And that’s as good as I can be.

Dan Neumann: [22:45] Yeah. Yeah. You become an admin assistant at that point. And you’ve got a lot of admin assistants, but it’s, it’s a different activity.

Mike Dionne: [22:52] It is. It is. And even when I’m scrubbing to teams, I still feel like I’m shorting both of them, you know?

Dan Neumann: [23:00]
Yeah. There’s a lot of conventional wisdom and thoughts around, well, you know, as a Scrum Master, maybe you could do one, but a really good Scrum Master could do three or four. No, no, no. That’s wrong. Like, it’s not an efficiency thing where, you know, if, if this guy can haul 10 pounds of flour around a really good guy could haul 40 pounds of flour around it’s, it’s not the same.

Mike Dionne: [23:24] It’s what are you willing to invest in? Okay. So if I can build, if you let me come in and either start, start a team, build a team or come in and work with a team after 10 sprints and build them into self-organizing. Self-Propelling focused, understanding agile and build a pivot on a dime’s notice. I’ve taken a team that you can use over and over and over again. And if they spread out, they’re going to take that to those teams. If you’ve got a Scrum who can’t put that time in who can’t prepare those retros, who can’t do the extra work over here or the one-on-one. So the team building and the relationship building, if you’ve got them so busy, you can’t do that. You’re never going to get that team to the level that you really want that team to be at. You can get that team there and then you can give them anything and they can do virtually anything. Isn’t it. Isn’t that what we want. Here’s your, here’s your next thing, right? It’s big. We got it. It’s ours.

Dan Neumann: [24:27] Yeah. And that is totally different form. The team. Get a good team, bring work to the team, which is antithetical to the way a lot of organizations go, well, we have a new project. Well, let’s take this person from here and that one from there, and you shake up the organization and you get a team that might never, you get a group of individuals that may never be a team, as opposed to we’ve got a team. They’re awesome. What’s the next awesome thing we can feed them in the backlog.

Mike Dionne: [24:53] Exactly. So when I was running four teams and they were getting 25% of me and then, and then the next adventure comes, the next budget comes and the next work comes and they kind of split the teams up. What did they take to their next team? God, I hated that last seven months. Oh man. It was so much work. They had me on two different teams. So I Scrum was on four. I never saw the QA you know, they’re, they’re not happy folks. They’re not loving Mondays.

Dan Neumann: [25:26] One more little topic we’d like to pull on towards the end. No, this is a softball. It’s about people’s continuous learning journeys and, and behind you on your bookshelf, I see Esther Derby and Diana Larson’s book, agile retrospectives and Kenny Rubin’s essential Scrum. And there’s probably a pile on the floor. So I’m kind of curious what, what are you interested in learning about or something you learned about recently? That’s kind of been exciting or what’s on your continuous learning journey?

Mike Dionne: [26:01] That’s a good question. So, and I can’t remember the author. I don’t remember things like that, but I’m reading a book called mentor and the CEO or the CEO. Anyway, it’s obviously the CEO becomes this young kids mentor, not young kid late high school-ish, about to go to college, but get in trouble. He’s a kid destined for trouble and the CEO becomes his mentor. That’s very cool. I’m into relationship building and team building. So I like that kind of stuff I got at my Master’s degree in team dynamics. So that’s my bread and butter and passion is working with teams.

Dan Neumann: [26:42] I just learned that.

Mike Dionne: [26:43] I’m sorry. Hey, my name is Mike. I got my Master’s in team dynamics.

Dan Neumann: [26:50] I’m glad you didn’t lead with that because I probably wouldn’t have liked you. Anybody who starts with my degree is I’m like, are you that, are you really that full yourself?

Mike Dionne: [26:59] But I also like to continue to keep in the agile world. I mean, I I’m going back through story mapping. I mean, with a friend of mine, who’s, who’s an expert at story mapping and I’m not. Yeah. You look

Dan Neumann: [27:17] Who was that guy? You’ve got patent coming to the yeah. And I love to, I love the continuous learning part in using all these good tools that people have contributed to the community. And sometimes they’re in books in exchange for money, right. It’s still a contribution to the community like agile retrospectives. I’ve got that. I’m excited to hear. There’s another version of it just kind of being birthed in the next some time, right? It’s, it’s a draft, but I love the contributions. These are really smart people.

Mike Dionne: [27:45] It should be part of an organization’s framework to promote and help with continuous learning, whatever the passion is. But I’d say what your field is, whether it be accounting or marketing or Scrumming, what school can I send you to? What do you need to do? What can I, how can I help you become the best you? And that’s how I try to approach it with my team members. You know, how can I help you become the best you, what can I get you? What can I help? Where can I send you? What, you know, all that kind of stuff. And it’s a shame that more organizations don’t put enough emphasis on it. I’m, I’m not know if you’re a big safe guy, but that’s one of, one of the pillars is continuous education. What are you doing? What’s your plan? What’s your plan. And we, as an organization are going to support.

Dan Neumann: [28:36] I love that you know, two things, one, you know, the leading by serving or servant leadership, which, you know, the servant terms falling out of favor a little bit. So some people are saying leading by serving help, people become better, help them get access to the resources they need to become the best you and then the other adage, what is it? What if we train them and they leave?

Mike Dionne: [28:57] Well, what if we don’t and they stay so they love Mondays, right?

Dan Neumann: [29:05] Yeah. Weird.

Mike Dionne: [29:07] They’ll never leave.

Dan Neumann: [29:09] On that note. It’s unfortunate that it is Friday afternoon when we’re recording this. So we’re going to, we’re going to click stop here in just a moment, but I want to do appreciate your getting on here and sharing and look forward to maybe doing it again sometime. Thanks for all the good work you do.

Mike Dionne: [29:24] Thanks Dan for being you.

Dan Neumann: [29:27] Yeah. You can help me be the best of me. So, and you did by participating. So thank you.

Outro: [29:34] This has been the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast brought to you by AgileThought. The views, opinions and information expressed in this are solely those of the hosts and the guests, and do not necessarily represent those of AgileThought. Get the show notes and other helpful tips for this episode and other episodes at

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