Teammates not communicating – PolyU student question

One of the questions asked by PolyU students is:


In Scrum we have these gatherings called retrospective meetings. During these meetings team looks back at the sprint (past 2-4 weeks) and talks about possible improvements. Less experienced teams tend to look at problems at superficial level. For example: “We forgot to update product documentation”. Typical conclusion and action is: “We should not forget it next time, because it is important!”.

More experienced teams will take more time to examine the problem thoroughly and not be satisfied with statement: next time we try to do better. After so many of these meetings, it can be observed that many of the problems have a real cause in lack of communication. It can even be said that communication problem is bigger than all technical problems combined.

Still, this huge problem that seemingly everyone has, is caused by other things. These things need to be discovered, discussed openly in respectful manner before permanent solution is found. Restrospective meetings I’ve just mentioned can help in creating awareness in your team. Very often, teammates are not even aware of insufficient communication and bad effects.

I never start discussion with statement “we don’t communicate enough”. The problem is too generic in order to expect any practical result. Instead, address unwanted effects and trace them back to communication. This traceability is done by asking multiple “why” questions. E.g. “Why didn’t we update documentation?”, “Although we knew it needs to be done, why nobody said it?”, and so on.

Why people don’t communicate more? There are many reasons. It can simply be a personality of someone who only speaks when she is surrounded with people she knows for many years. Or it could be the situation in the company, where people distrust each other so much they are not willing to help because of competitiveness. “If he knows what I know, that he might get promoted instead of me. Why should I tell him anything?”

The biggest obstacle here is that people are often not comfortable with talking about these subjects. It can become a bit personal. I try not to be too careful about asking difficult questions as long as I’m respectful towards every team member and they know my intentions are to help.

Another measure is introduction of certain rules where people are encouraged or even obliged to share information with others. Agile and Scrum have many of these built in the framework by means of different meetings where everyone is involved. It is impossible to do Scrum successfully if teammates don’t communicate a lot. The problem of bad communication becomes painfully visible and discussion cannot be avoided.

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