November 30, 2015

Adopting Sprint Themes to Foster Agile Team Building

Post by: Stacy Velie

Stacy Velie is an Enterprise Project Manager at Core BTS and is certified as a Scrum Master by Scrum.Org and Scrum Alliance. She has 20+ years of experience managing projects of all sizes across many different industries and technologies.

[Updated 4/27/21]

Each organization has their own implementation of an Agile methodology, generally adjusted to consider operational requirements and constraints inherent in their environment. Each delivery team that follows the organization’s implementation of Agile will form its own team culture specific to itself. As varied as personalities are, team culture varies from team-to-team.

Adopting a sprint theme is useful for adding some spice to your team culture and to foster team building. Some of the most successful teams I have had the pleasure of delivering with have valued a team culture that allowed us to be committed to our delivery goal and our team health. It is possible to create a team environment that supports a serious commitment to the delivery goal while developing a camaraderie that results in a few laughs along the way.

What to Consider When Implementing a Theme

Most importantly, a sprint theme is not the sprint goal – but the theme may relate to it. However, the intent of the theme is to be a tool that provides a common interest amongst personalities on the team, and it often introduces a “fun factor”. If you are ready to adopt the use of sprint themes, consider applying the tips below.

  1. Sprint themes are effective in teams in various states of team development. The team’s adoption of a sprint theme may change as the team matures. 
  2. When selecting a sprint theme, look for current events or team interests to tie the theme to. One way to this is by looking up monthly or daily celebrations and use that to drive your sprint themes. 
  3. When implementing the theme, vary how the theme represents itself. This helps the theme from becoming routine. For example, perhaps one sprint theme is an exercise of using a new vocabulary word throughout the day, and the next sprint is participating in an action. 
  4. Keep the theme a surprise and reveal it during Sprint Planning. If you don’t want to do all the theme idea creation, then come up with a rotation in which you select a member of the team to pick the theme.
  5. Consider the duration you will use the theme. For example, if you apply a theme for a three-week sprint, ensure the theme you select will be engaging and have enough content to share for those three weeks. 
  6. Keep it fun and light-hearted! Implementing a sprint theme should not create tension for the team. The theme should be something that drives the team together.
  7. Lastly, keep your ears open to listen for interests from your project team members. What a special opportunity it is to pick a sprint theme that correlates to an interest of one of your team members! (It’s especially effective when it corresponds with the team member’s birthday or other special occasion.) Not only does it promote the team learning more about each other, but it also provides tangible evidence that you are listening and care about them.

Getting Started

To get started, for one two-week sprint I used a theme of tongue-twisters. The delivery team was distributed so phone and video calls were the daily norm. Each day, I would provide the team a tongue twister of varying difficulty and challenged them to practice it. We also added the hook of whoever was last to the daily Scrum call, s/he had to read the tongue-twister for the team. It was a fun challenge for the team, and they had timely attendance at the daily Scrum call. The team took this theme further, and some members of the team started using tongue twisters in other exchanges throughout the sprint. 

This idea of themes can be used for any team, not just those bound by a sprint. Instead of boxing the theme into a sprint, box the theme into another unit of time that best suits the team. Be careful the unit of time is not too small that it creates a distraction. 

Now it’s your turn to put these tips into action and develop your own ideas for a sprint theme.


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