Mastering Swarm Facilitation

   Agile Software Development
Mastering Swarm Facilitation

Successful swarm facilitation is about building relations and trust with team members. Similar to an agile scrum team, a swarm is a lean kanban team focused on delivering software. Being a good swarm facilitator is more about enabling a team to realize its greatest potential and less about your personal status or title. Facilitators need to focus on “we” and not “me.” No more “I need an update.” This is the transition from traditional command and control management to the power of flexible, adaptable teams.

Connecting mission and teams becomes paramount. Reaching high levels of effectiveness and synergy requires team members to form strong relationships and trust. Bonding forms trust, trust forms respect, respect enables teams the ability to work and collaborate openly.

Dale Carnegie’s classic, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is a great blueprint for helping swarm facilitators learn to norm and quickly form teams. The book was authored in 1936 but is eternally relevant. Listed by Library of Congress as the seventh most influential book in American history, generations have benefited from it in the past as well as future generations. While all the topics of the book can be implemented, we will touch on the topics most important for a swarm facilitator to employ.
The book is broken up into 4 areas:

  1. Techniques in handling people
  2. Ways to make people like you
  3. Win people to your way of thinking
  4. Be a leader: How to change people without giving offense or arousing resentment.

I will save the last section for a future post and focus on the first three topics.

Techniques in Handling People

“Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.”

This applies to team members, peers, or management. In a facilitator role, you are the glue that brings the team together; negativity divides a team and sets a bad tone. Teams need to feel empowered and blaming others implies that they don’t have control. It is more useful to talk about the things you can do than the things you cannot. Also, remember, everyone is watching and if you set a precedent of negativity, others will follow.

“Give honest and sincere appreciation.”

It is human nature to want to receive positive affirmation and thanks. People can sense genuine feedback verses over-the-top patronizing compliments. You cannot accelerate building bonds by overloading positive feedback not appropriate for the accomplishments.

“Arouse in the other person an eager want.”

Create that sense of purpose that best matches the skills that the team member brings to the table. Ask questions that invoke them to want to participate in creating solutions. A team member’s passion is infectious and can move them from forming to norming to performing.

Ways to Make People Like You

“Become genuinely interested in other people.”

Put aside time at the beginning of the daily standup meetings to have a soft entry into the meeting. Ask them about their weekend or personal hobbies. Connect on a personal level. Jumping directly into business disconnects you from the team. Doing this can make them feel as if their only value is to be a robot and deliver tasks.


Body language provides affirmation to the team members. In video conference, the window to each team member is limited to one’s face. Therefore, a smile is important as it is an open positive interaction. The inverse of a blank face can imply displeasure without intent. A smile also welcomes more contribution from a team member.

“Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.”

Using the 80/20 rule, as a facilitator you should be listening 80% of the time and talking only 20%. If you want team members to be active, engage them. Make sure each person gets the opportunity to speak on each DSU.

“Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.”

It is important to tie each team member’s role to the company, customer, and product goals. Job satisfaction can be directly linked to a team member’s ability to see how their contribution makes a difference.

“Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

In a globally distributed team, it is very common to have members with names that are not familiar. Ask the member to say their name and make note to call them by it. Most people will do the opposite and avoid difficult names. In some cases, team members may want to give them a nickname or call them by their initials. Making the effort to call them by their given name will go a long way.

Win People to Your Way of Thinking

“The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.”

Never let things get to the point of confrontation. Set the example of frequent and transparent dialog. Address concerns quickly. Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate…

“Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say, ‘You’re wrong.’”

The fastest way to build a wall between yourself and a team member is by placing blame. Furthermore, a strong team will bond and support their teammate, placing you on the outside. Now, you have not only lost the team member, but you lost the whole team.

“If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.”

Showing vulnerability is a way to breakdown hierarchy and build peer bonds. Facilitators are human and therefore make mistakes too. Strong teams value honesty and respect ownership.

“Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.”

Avoid telling team members what you believe they should be doing. Instead, ask them questions that bring out the answers. Members owning tasks and solutions creates an active relationship with the team. When you tell someone, they will do as asked and nothing more including offering better solutions.

“Appeal to the nobler motives.”

The power of a team is greatest when they have a higher purpose. You want team members bonding together to work toward the common goal. A clear mission inspires.

“Throw down a challenge.”

Mastery as a motivator. Try to appeal to the team’s desire to excel. Many software development teams have groups of individuals that embrace videos games as second nature and thrive in the team gaming environment. A challenge to the team sparks that gamer nature to swarm and step it up!


Facilitating swarms in an agile environment is a change for many. Servant leadership and the art of serving the team first is a big a change from what most have done as project managers. The most successful facilitators connect with the team and build their trust and respect. Using the steps outlined by Dale Carnegie, a swarm facilitator can learn the skills needed to create the strong relationships needed to thrive in this role.

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