Revitalize Team Agility and Leadership With Facilitation Rotation


Erik Luetkehans

on •

Apr 16, 2024

I often observe communication bottlenecks, uneven leadership development, and rigid adherence to outdated processes when onboarding onto new teams, hindering not only the growth of individual team members but also the overall agility and scalability of the organization. The scenario is all too common in the fast-paced world of software development. But what if there was a strategy to not only streamline this process but also empower every team member, enhance engagement, and foster a culture of continuous improvement and leadership development? This is where the concept of facilitation rotation comes into play—a methodology I've employed to transform teams across numerous organizations with remarkable success.

Facilitation rotation is a strategic approach to team development and management that ensures every team member is not just a participant but a potential leader ready to steer the group's daily operations. This method brings a plethora of benefits, including accelerated onboarding, a robust leadership pipeline, rapid iteration through process changes, and enhanced meeting engagement. It's a system designed to prepare teams for growth, adaptability, and resilience, by having each member take turns conducting and preparing all team ceremonies. The following is a step-by-step guide on how to implement it within your team.

How do you implement it?
  1. Action: Make a list of all the team members where everyone can access it, like a pinned Slack comment or team charter doc. Put yourself at the top, then put people in order of how comfortable you think they would be in running facilitation. An example list would look like:

    • You

    • Project Manager

    • Team lead or Senior dev

    • Dev 1

    • Dev 2

    • etc.

    Rationale: The goal of which would be to give whoever is most fearful or most recalcitrant the longest time to observe the process run successfully. You always put yourself at the top of the list so you can provide a model of success for each ceremony before others have to do it. Being first also ensures it doesn’t look like you are just trying to foist extra work on other people.

  2. Action: Run all the ceremonies yourself for a sprint. Take a couple of minutes to explain why you chose the format of the ceremony you did, what benefits it has, and what you think is important about it.

    Rationale: This establishes a benchmark for quality and execution. By actively showing the value of each ceremony and your investment in the process, you're likely to increase buy-in and reduce resistance from the team. This hands-on demonstration sets a precedent, ensuring that team members understand the importance and effectiveness of each ceremony before taking it on themselves.

  3. Action: At the end of the sprint, preferably in retro, inform the team who is next on the list and that person will be facilitating the next sprint, and tell them you will set up a prep meeting with them for each ceremony type. Set up the prep meetings on the next facilitator's calendar immediately.

    Rationale: We make sure the whole team knows who the next facilitator is, so expectations are set for the next sprint. We use a list, so that we can ensure that everyone participates, and we don’t have to wait for people to “volunteer” to be next, and end up with an awkwardly silent room. Letting the next facilitator know you are going to do prep sessions with them will significantly reduce stress for them. You want to make sure calendar invites are on their calendar to make sure they do indeed have availability. It also serves as a gentle reminder for when they come back from the weekend and have inevitably forgotten they are conducting facilitation for the sprint.

  4. Action: Set up a 30 min meeting with that person before the first instance of that meeting type. Ask them what they think is important to do in those kinds of meetings, then share what you think is important. Help them set up whatever artifacts are important on their machine. For example, before a retro, make sure they understand to save the last 10 min for action items, that all action items are assigned to people, and have them screen share and watch them set up a new retro board in Miro. During this process, make sure they understand that they will be setting up the meetings and teaching the next person. Encourage them to try things that they think will work well.

    Rationale: Asking for their opinions before giving your own is vital. It gives very opinionated people a way to show off their understanding and allows you to find out where you have common ground. Sharing the things you agree on first allows you to build trust earlier and will often result in them being more receptive instead of defensive when you talk about places where your opinions differ.

    A more likely scenario, especially with more junior employees, is that you will ask about what makes a ceremony good or bad, and they will realize they had not ever even thought about it before. I have found people in this situation become very eager and excited to learn. Instilling just the thought of being able to make boring meetings better by your own agency often makes people much more engaged in said meetings.

    We want to let people try things they think will work well, and not just do the things we tell them to. It gives exposure to new methods to the entire team, inspiration, and agency to the person trying the change, and generally gets the team used to continual improvement of their processes.

    Sometimes you will have someone who stubbornly wants to do a ceremony in a way you know will not go well. Let them do it. The last thing you want to do is stifle agency and passion. It will only last for a sprint, and seeing everyone else’s ceremonies go well while theirs goes… less well will be far more persuasive than arguing theory.

    It is important that you don’t just teach everyone yourself. Validating that the new person is able to teach the ceremony ensures they fully understand it and why it is important, but more importantly being able to teach it is the mechanism that makes facilitation rotation self-perpetuating, allowing rapid team growth and onboarding benefits. Some people might feel nervous about this. In these cases I will offer to sit in on the prep meetings they conduct with them, so they have the psychological safety of falling back to me for questions or course corrections.

  5. Action: The current facilitator announces the next person on the list who is the running facilitation for the next sprint, and the teaching meetings are set up and occurring. Repeat this each sprint until you have gone through the list.

    Rationale: Without accountability or reminding the facilitation rotation will peter out after the first person you teach. It is just human nature to return to tradition. You are going to have to be the person checking in on each rotation, messaging people, and checking calendars to make sure the pre-ceremony teachings are being set up and conducted. You will be the one stepping in when someone is out sick or doesn’t have “bandwidth” to do the training for a day.

  6. Continue rotating through the list ad infinitum sans teaching meetings

After completing one cycle of the list, every team member will be able to do and teach the basic skills to run a software development team and develop strong opinions about how to run a team. This is great for your leadership pipeline because now all your team members will have many of the foundational skills of a team lead at a very low-effort investment from you. Any new team members that are added will automatically get onboarded to team processes by virtue of being added to the rotation. It also makes the horizontal scaling of teams easier. You can just divide your original team to form the core of new teams, and the same peer-to-peer teaching process takes place, giving you eventually-consistent agile teams.

The facilitation rotation method offers a transformative approach to team dynamics, leadership development, and operational efficiency. By distributing the responsibility of leading and facilitating team ceremonies, each member becomes an integral part of the team's growth, equipped with the skills necessary to lead and innovate. This not only enhances the team's ability to adapt and scale but also fosters a culture of continuous improvement and shared leadership. The success of implementing facilitation rotation lies in its ability to create an environment where every team member is empowered to contribute, learn, and take on leadership roles, making the team more cohesive, agile, and ready to tackle the challenges of the ever-evolving world of software development.

Need help implementing facilitation rotation within your teams?