Agile2019 showed a subtle theme of supporting distributed teams this year.  

As you may have heard in some of the podcasts I’ve joined, our book on successful distributed agile teams was inspired by a stroll on the last day of the Agile2017 conference.  On that day, Johanna Rothman and I realized that nothing was said about distributed teams that year.  We knew the pain points and we knew what could help distributed teams be successful through our combined years of experience.  

Two years later, we saw some of those ideas play out in talks and experience reports throughout the Agile2019 conference.  

So here is a summary of talks I attended on successful distributed agile teams.  I’ll not give too much away as great content awaits in the presentations and reports of the authors.

Monday: Seven Principles for Any Effective Agile Team, Collocated or Distributed – Mark Kilby and Johanna Rothman

This mini-workshop took the participants through seven of the eight principles in our book that can actually apply to either type of team.  We walked through each principle briefly and asked a series of questions to get the audience reflecting on their teams and how to make changes to make them a more successful agile team.

You can find the presentation and worksheet:

Tuesday: A Practical Look Into Self-Selecting distributed Teams – Bevan Williams

In this experience report, Bevan Williams talks about the merging of ideas from Dan Pink’s book, Drive, the Hackman team model, and Sandi Mamoli and David Mole’s book, Creating Great Teams: How Self-Selection Lets People Excel.  Like any good experience report, he shared stumbling blocks and successes as they iterated on a successful approach.  Bevan’s findings were similar to what Mamoli and Mole shared as well as what Heidi Helfand shares in her book, Dynamic Reteaming: The Art and Wisdom of Changing Teams for collocated teams.  Specifically, self-selection can work far better for remote teams than management selection to enable high performing teams and the effects go far beyond the reteaming event to build a better culture for your team and organization.  I’ve seen similar cultural growth with distributed agile teams allowed to self-select.

NOTE: If you are not familiar with Experience Reports, they require a shorter presentation (30 minutes) and a 6-8 page paper.  They are a great way to get an initial speaking slot at an Agile Alliance conference.  You can read more and see all past reports at the Experience Reports Initiative page.

Find out more at: 

Tuesday: Facilitating Distributed Teams – Mark Kilby

In this interactive talk, I discussed three key challenges of facilitating in a distributed team environment:

  1. Having sufficient hours of overlap for collaboration (which is more important than time zones)
  2. Understanding the type of distributed teams you have and how to support them
  3. How to actually run an effective meeting and tips on dealing with the realities of being distributed facilitator.

This was another example of where I used Mentimeter to poll the audience during the presentation and they could see their collective results.  Hint: I also will use this tool for some retrospectives.

You can find the presentation:

Thursday: The Sun Never Sets on the Problem Solving Workshop – Steve Adolph and Rochelle Tan

In this experience report, a former colleague of mine, Steve Adolph, tells the story of one large and highly complex distributed retrospective for a Scaled Agile Framework Agile Release Train  (SAFe ART). Steve and his colleagues carefully explained how and when these workshop typically happen in a SAFe implementation and how they can be altered for a world-wide distributed program (ART).  Steve even mentions the importance of having a co-pilot facilitator which I referred to in my Facilitating Distributed Teams presentation.  Many useful lessons can be found in this report and well worth the read.

Find out more at:

Thursday: The Rush of Coaching At a Distance – A Year of Remote Coaching for Accenture Learning – Joe Fecarotta

In Joe’s experience report, he shares how he coached 8 teams spread world-wide.  He shared some of the initial challenges.  Some experiments that worked and did not and what he learned from all of them.  I also agree with his conclusions, especially the part about “strong remote teams make strong agile remote teams”.  Johanna and I talk about this extensively in chapters 2, 5-9 of our book.  I truly enjoyed how Joe crafted his presentation to align with the music of the band, Rush.  Those songs played in my head the rest of the day.

Find out more at:

Thursday: Adapting TBR for Remote Learning – Shane Hastie and Shannon Ewan

In this workshop, Shane and Shannon used Training from the Back of the Room (TBR) techniques to help participants think through how they would use TBR remotely.  It was a brilliant example of modelling.

Learn more at:

Need more help?

While this was a much longer post, hopefully it gives you ideas on how your distributed teams can be more successful.

Need more help?  Watch this website and my social media for upcoming training opportunities for distributed agile team success.