The Power of Haka
According to Wikipedia, the Haka “is a traditional ancestral war cry, dance or challenge… performed by a group, with vigorous movements and stamping of the feet with rhythmically shouted accompaniment.” When I attended Dean Leffingwell’s s SAFe Certification course earlier this year, he used a video of the New Zealand All Blacks performing a haka to illustrate “The Power of Ba”. “Ba” being the place teams are in when they become high performing, self organising and energized. If you watch the video I’m sure you will agree that the spine chilling performance is the perfect illustration of what it feels like to be part of a team that has truly reached “ba”, a place where “we, the work and the knowledge are one”.
Recently, there was a reshuffle of people in our scrum teams, predicated on the need to more evenly balance skills and knowledge across the EDW Agile Release Train. This change was unsettling for the teams and I started to think about helping them find their “ba” again. This lead me to contemplate how I might convince to the teams to invent and perform their own haka.
I started my campaign for a “Haka Challenge” by talking to my leadership team, who responded with “Excellent idea!”, “You can’t make me do the haka on my birthday!” and “Do we have to?”. Not deterred by the mixed reaction I took the idea to the Scrum Masters who didn’t exactly bounce off the walls with excitement, but were willing and thought it could be fun. With the Scrum Masters on board I pitched the idea for a “Haka Challenge” to the entire EDW Release Train, giving all the teams an iteration to prepare a haka for a “Hak-Off”.
Some teams were immediately inspired, others very reluctant but over the course of the fortnight they all got in to it. The laughter from haka planning sessions could be heard through meeting room walls and there was a quiet buzz on the floor as teams went about practicing hakas while also trying to keep the content a secret. One team’s self appointed creative director even tried to convince his team to dress up as the village people and haka to the tune of YMCA!
When the day of the Haka Challenge arrived there was an air of anticipation as the teams gathered (in a rare show of punctuality) for our iteration kick off event (aka Unity Day). There was face paint, skirts made of post it note covered butchers paper and a large contingent proudly sporting their “EDW Release Train” T-shirts.
Pipeline Services, a team of PMs and System Analysts, were first up. Lead by the broomstick carrying “Wicked Witch of the North Tower”, two pig-tailed cheerleaders and four spear carrying warriors opened with the cheer “Pipeline Services are HOT TO GO! H-O-T-T-O-G-O!”. A chant which is still buzzing around my head days later.
Next up was the Green Hornet team, dressed in green rugby shirts and accompanied by one of their business stakeholders. The team’s technical lead, lead the war cry in Maori while pacing between team members. Thankful he read out the translation at the end of the performance!
Team Astrotrain’s quietly spoken scrum master was the next to take the stage, After getting his team in formation, he raised both hands in the air and lead a war cry about “spanking” Epics. (At EDW “spanked” means “done done”). Team Maglev’s haka was inspired by the EDW architecture. They were followed by Team Jacobite, who took the time to learn an actual Haka!
While Team Kaizen amused the troops with their disco moves and use of real cucumbers! The mornings’ antics were concluded by a most unusual haka from the System team, which included wearing honey badger masks while reenacting “More Cowbell”.
The flow on effect was like magic. I had started out wanting to help the teams with “ba” and ended up creating “ba” across the entire train, as highlighted to me in an e-mail I received from one of my scrum masters the next morning:
Since doing the Haka exercise – and aside from the fact that I lost my voice …
Everyone across teams have been congratulatory of the other teams and their members. It has instilled a massive cross pollination of communication and engagement going on!!!
The quieter team members from various teams across the department are having animated corridor conversations
The level of talking and noise being generated in the different team areas has been much, much higher, even late into the night!
Further, people are far less tense and defensive in the general discussions across the department. People are open and honest, after having embarrassed themselves.
Basically, the teams are showing greater interest, engagement and ‘hunger’ for what they do, and what they are about …
How do you quantify all of this? You don’t, but what I do know is that the teams are more galvanised, and have a much stronger sense of their own context … and being part of the greater whole; being EDW!!!
I think the “Haka Challenge” is going to be the highlight of my time with the EDW Agile Release Train for quite some time to come.