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Agile Product Ownership: The Role Of The Product Owner

Agile Product Ownership: The Role of the Product Owner

You might want to be a product owner to help ensure the product is good. You would need to know how to do this by talking with people working on the product and by testing the product. You should also be able to work with the developers to help them understand what the customer wants.

Some become product owners because they want to move into management. Agile can be an excellent way to learn how to manage people and projects. As a product owner, you would need to prioritize the work that needs to be done and ensure that everyone is working on the most critical tasks. You would also need to be able to communicate with the stakeholders about the progress of the project.

To become a product owner, you should read more about agile and product ownership. There are many resources available online and in books. You can also attend workshops and conferences. Once you understand what is involved, you can decide if it is the right career move for you.

What is agile product ownership?

Agile product ownership is managing a product in an agile environment. The product owner is responsible for the product’s success and must understand what the customer wants, communicate effectively with the software development team, and ensure that the product meets customer expectations.

Many teams desire to improve their agile performance but cannot identify the source of their problems. Lack of attention to the Product Owner’s role is frequently the crucial piece that separates agile failure and agile success. Most Product Owners enter the position without any training. They lack product owner training and lack understanding of product management.

Teams focused on Scrum Master training and sprint execution are prone to waste and rework and develop the wrong things more quickly!

The Product Owner ensures the team produces value by working on the RIGHT product, features, and details. It is crucial for the success of the project.

Positives of good product ownership

  • Continuous Progress: Sprints/iterations are completed on schedule and with the anticipated scope.
  • Flow: Resources are used to their fullest extent in the development lifecycle, prompting decisions and ensuring a constant workflow.
  • Shared Vision: The product development team is aware of the overall situation and uses this knowledge to create the appropriate features.
  • Building the right product: They know how minor features fit into the roadmap. They are aware of their destination and purpose.

Negatives of bad product ownership

  • Going Nowhere: Does your team prioritize speed or velocity over value and creating the correct thing?
  • Never-ending sprints – Do your iterations or sprints go past the intended delivery date by weeks or months?
  • Carry-Over Stories – Do your delivery teams struggle with not being able to complete deliverables in the current sprint/iteration or
    • Does your team finish iterations on schedule but only after choosing to carry over some stories to the following iteration?
    • Do your team members experience low morale due to not feeling like they are making progress?
    • Does your team have a clear vision?
    • Do they all grasp what the product is and what the customer needs?
    • Do they understand how each iteration advances the goal and dependencies?
    • Do they comprehend the connections between each item on the backlog and the overall purpose?
  • Doubting Thomases – Do business executives wonder if Agile provides the promised benefits?
    • Does scope creep still concern them?
    • Is there confusion with the correct methodology?
    • Are there more requests for improvements and defect lists?
    • Has product quality/value increased or decreased from a business and consumer standpoint?

Five Product Owner Maturity Levels

There are five categories of product owners, each with a specific purpose, primary duties, and power.

Using this growth model, you can determine the kind of product owner or product owner you discover in your firm. Remember that a person’s type of product owner is partially determined by their (hierarchical) function within the business.

A Product Owner likely has some additional power already if they previously held a management position. It is not necessary to be or have been a manager to benefit from this; instead, it may assist product owners in advancing through the maturity model more quickly.

A Product Owner’s authority is not just based on their (prior) function. The manner you act significantly influences the leaders. The style of the person also affects it. We have found that power isn’t given out “for free.” Power increases must be gained. Additionally, you gain greater control by assuming more responsibility and demonstrating ownership.

The Scribe

The Scribe Product Owner function is frequently found in businesses just starting with Scrum or in organizations that have not fully adopted the Agile philosophy (and therefore do not apply Scrum properly). In these organizations, the role of the product owner is primarily seen as managing the product backlog, gathering stakeholder requests, and translating those requests into user stories for the development team. This kind of product owner frequently has little to no authority. In these situations, a steering committee or a project management office is typically in responsible for carrying out the mandate (PMO).

The Proxy

Similar to the Scribe Product Owner, the Proxy Product Owner (abbreviated: Proxy) is frequently seen in businesses that are just beginning to implement an Agile method of working and the Scrum Framework.

In comparison to the Scribe, the Proxy has slightly more power. For instance, the Proxy frequently has (limited) discretion over how the Product Backlog is ordered. However, other people, such as a steering committee, project sponsor, or business owner, are still in charge of deciding on the vision, the business goals, the expected outcomes/results, and the scope.

Proxy Product Owners who formerly held the positions of project manager or team lead are familiar with many enterprises. Usually, these roles or jobs are in charge of bringing a project to completion. Therefore, many firms believe that changing these individuals’ positions to “Product Owners” is logical. These Proxy Product Owners do not, however, have final authority. Changes often necessitate a request for approval.

To shift priorities, they need permission. They must also get authorization when they wish to alter the strategy, roadmap, or product backlog.

The Business Representative

The business representative is the following category of the product owner.

A representative from the business side of the organization who is knowledgeable about the business context, market, customers, and users is often the business representative.

This individual is often one of the organization’s “seniors” or “experts” who has links to clients or users. As a result, this person is usually familiar with consumers’ and users’ needs and preferences. Process owners and system owners are some examples of possible product owners.

Product Owners don’t always come from “the business,” but this is often the case.

It’s also possible that an IT employee with the maturity level “of a business representative” is serving in the capacity of a product owner. These individuals may have learned a lot about the (technical) product and hence make good Product Owners. Information managers, architects, and security specialists are a few of the IT personnel in this position. Remember that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were also outstanding product owners and that these men were “IT people” to support the idea of having IT product owners.

Therefore, the Business Representative is in charge rather than the Proxy.

The business representative is often in charge of a system, a portion of the product, or a group of processes (es). This Product Owner may choose which tasks will be handled by the Development Team within this system or method. As a result, the Business Representative is in charge of the Product Backlog and has the power to handle its management alone.

It is only valid if the proposed improvements can be implemented within the spending limits set by management or a steering committee. The Business Representative does not have a separate budget that can be used however they like.

They frequently have to deal with a steering committee or management and need permission to make budget modifications. The Business Representative frequently has a list of tasks to do, projects to complete, or objectives to meet that have been established by someone else.

The Sponsor

In the beginning, business managers, IT managers, and clients (in a business-to-business scenario) frequently fill out the Product Owner type “Sponsor” Sponsor Product Owners often have more incredible options for scaling up and down the Development Team because they have their funding. It is the main distinction between the “Business Representative” and the “Sponsor” The Sponsor has a separate budget from the Business Representative. The authorities for both categories of product owners are comparable, save from fiscal accountability.

It does not imply that you should increase or decrease your workforce each sprint!

But it’s possible that; Product Owner would like to grow to a second or third team because of how well the product is doing. These “Sponsors” can therefore accelerate and delay projects much more due to their flexibility and power, which impacts the product’s return on investment and total cost of ownership. Along with controlling the funding, Sponsor Product Owners also have a more influential voice in “what” must be done.

They may specify the tasks to be completed or the business objectives to be met.

The Entrepreneur

The term “Entrepreneur” refers to the final category of product owners. This position is sometimes known as the “mini-CEO.”

Ultimately, we want enterprises to have this level of product ownership. The product owner, an entrepreneur, assumes complete accountability for and control over the product. This product owner has the most significant potential to influence clients, consumers, and the company.

An individual with a clear understanding of the market, clients, and product is considered an entrepreneur and product owner—someone with a strong work ethic, a sense of direction, and verbal and written communication abilities.

Entrepreneur product owners ultimately take charge of the product and are accountable for its profit and loss. They are in charge of maintenance, operations, decision-making, marketing, law, and sales, in addition to product development. Because of this, we often refer to this level as “mini-CEO.”

An individual product owner runs their own “mini-company” (which could be a mini-company within a large enterprise).

Growing responsibilities of a Product Owner and Authorities

But how can a Product Owner assume extra obligations?

That is relatively straightforward. You raise your obligations by gradually taking greater ownership and accountability for the product’s success. Develop the product vision, articulating the value of the product, for instance, and actively encourage your cross-functional team, stakeholders, and management to adopt it. Work cooperatively with your development process and critical stakeholders.

  1. Create Product Strategy and Product Features
  2. Create a product roadmap and schedule releases.
  3. Display the value you and your team bring to consumers and customers. Measure the value. It is possible by
  4. Create and Refine the Backlog
  5. Backlog – Funnel View
  6. Elicit and Prioritize Requirements
  7. Prepare, Analyze and Prioritize User Stories
  8. User Story and user experience Workshops
  9. User story writing and slicing
  10. User story prioritization
  11. Define Acceptance Criteria
  12. Prioritize ruthlessly

Establish transparency on these issues to demonstrate your accountability for the final output. Also, have a thorough understanding of the costs. Do it yourself instead of waiting for someone else to do it for you. Therefore, show initiative. By doing this, you’ll give yourself the greater latitude to make decisions and gain more power. We have encountered successful product owners that assume key roles and accountability. These Product Owners frequently began their careers as Proxies or Scribes. Many of them have grown to be entrepreneurs or sponsors.

What is the role of the Scrum product owner in Agile teams?

The Agile Product Owner has different activities and roles during the agile ceremonies, scrum teams, and development stages. The following gives an overview of what a Product Owner does during the agile ceremonies:

  • Backlog Refinement: The Product Owner is responsible for providing information to the Development Team about the product backlog items that need to be refined. The product’s short, mid, and long-term views are refined in these sessions. Practical product backlog management sessions create shared understanding among team members. POs use refinement sessions to generate dialog about technical options for the features and stories.
  • Sprint Planning: The Product Owner is responsible for providing information about the product backlog items that need to be sprinted.
  • Daily Scrum/Standups: The Product Owner is not required to attend the daily scrum/standup meetings, but they may choose to do so. If the Product Owner is working as a developer, then they should attend and participate in the discussion as a scrum team.
  • Sprint Review: The Product Owner is responsible for attending the sprint review and presenting the product increment to the stakeholders. The Product Owner must also be available during the sprint review to answer stakeholders’ questions about the product backlog items.
  • Sprint Retrospective: The Product Owner is responsible for attending the sprint retrospective and providing feedback to the Development Team about their performance. The Product Owner also needs to be available to answer any questions the Development Team may have about their performance.


Product Owner is not merely a name that the developers of Scrum dreamed up. The word “owner” appears in the title of this position. Therefore, the role is about “owning” the product and accepting the obligations that go along with that. Therefore, the product owner works must demonstrate to your stakeholder of ‘ownership.’ It is not just about the product vision, Product Backlog, and financial aspects. It’s about your attitude, your mindset, and behaviors. So it may help to reflect regularly. Look yourself in the eye. Have you taken all reasonable steps to enhance the product? Are any setbacks the fault of others, or might you have acted otherwise? Take ownership!

FAQ about Product Owners


What are some of the most critical Product Owner responsibilities?

  • Being responsible for the success or failure of the product
  • Creating and maintaining a product backlog
  • Prioritizing the product backlog items
  • Working with the Development Team to ensure that the product backlog items are well understood
  • Good working knowledge of scrum guide if working in scrum teams
  • Communicating with stakeholders about the project status
  • Making sure that the product increments are of high quality.

What skills can support Product Owner needs?

Some of the skills that are needed by Product Owners include:-

  • Strong communication skills
  • organizational skills
  • problem-solving skills
  • negotiation skills
  • Design thinking skills
  • Value thinking and analytical skills
  • Facilitation skills
  • System thinking skills

What are Product ownership techniques?

  • Vision canvas or Collaborative Product Vision
  • Personas
  • Story mapping
  • Story slicing or story splitting
  • Prioritization Techniques
  • Value estimating techniques

How can I become a successful Product Owner?

There is no one formula for becoming a successful Product Owner. However, there are some things that you can do to increase your chances of success. These include:

  • Increase your understanding of agile principles and practices
  • Attend agile workshops and conferences
  • Read books and articles about agile and product ownership
  • Get involved in agile online communities on LinkedIn.
  • Find a mentor who can help you understand agile and product ownership
  • Get certified in agile and product ownership

How do I know if I am doing an excellent job as a Product Owner?

One way to know if you are doing an excellent job as a Product Owner is to ask your Development Team. They will be able to give you feedback about your performance. Another way to know if you are doing a good job is to look at the results of your work. If the product is successful, then it is likely that you are doing a good job. Finally, you can also ask for feedback from your stakeholders. They will be able to tell you if they are satisfied with the product or not.

What are some of the challenges that Product Owners face?

Some of the challenges that Product Owners face include:- Making sure that the product backlog is up-to-date and accurate- Prioritizing the product backlog items- Working with stakeholders who have different opinions about what should be included in the product- Getting buy-in from the Development Team.

There are many more questions that you can explore and use. If you would like to practice your coaching skills with someone, you can contact Leadership Tribe and we are happy to get on call with you and discuss the best way to join our high performing Agile, Kanban or Scrum training sessions.

Enterprise Agile Coaching vs Agile Team Coaching

It is widely recognized that Agile Coaches and Enterprise Agile Coaches play a vital role in accelerating and advancing an organization’s agile transformation journey.

In our Agile Coaching training, participants’ most asked question is, “what are the differences between an Agile Coach and an Enterprise Agile Coach?” In this article, we will explore the two roles, how they function in an organization, their similarities and differences, why both are crucial to fostering an organization’s agility, and the courses that can help an Agile Coach pursue the role of interest.

What is an Agile Coach?

An Agile Coach generally focuses on adopting agile principles and working across multiple teams. They are also known as Team Level Agile Coaches or Scrum Master, or Agile Team Facilitators; they can work and support a group of 8 to 10 team members, and some even support up to 9 to 15 teams. These numbers do depend on the type of work and or the organization.

Agile Coaches‘ educational background is that they have a common foundation in coaching. The best ones also hold a certification in ACC from the ICF (International Coach Federation), and some do not come from software development or project management backgrounds. They are familiar with at least one of the agile frameworks like Scrum, Kanban, Lean, SAFe, LeSS, Nexus, or DA. But more importantly, they are aware of and can coach on the underlying agile framework you start with; the key is that you have a solid understanding of the underlying agile principles. This will give you the agility to be flexible and adapt as needed when working with your team(s).

This role intends to drive the teams towards desired outcomes by improving team performance. They do this by wearing multiple hats, and good ones are frameworks agnostic.

  • Agile Coach as Agile-Lean practitioner
  • Agile Coach as a Teacher
  • Agile Coach as a Mentor
  • Agile Coach as Facilitator
  • Agile Coach as Professional Coaching

As well as having deep knowledge in one or more (technical, business and change management) masteries. Which are crucial for the role you are playing in nurturing an agile mindset.

Whatever is needed, including agile practices to help the team improve performance and collaboration, deliver better quality and value, improve customer experience and enhance the satisfaction of the employees. Depending on the context and team maturity levels, the expectation of the role may vary with a different emphasis to best support the teams.

What is an Enterprise Agile Coach?

Enterprise Agile Coaches (EAC), Scrum Alliance Certified Enterprise Coaches (CEC) work with all organization members to help them understand how they fit into the larger picture and how their role affects the rest of the organization.

These Agilists (EACs, CECs) can support leaders in implementing agility through organizational changes to the enterprise’s purpose, norms, structure, processes, and style. It involves a few things and is not limited to the following.

  • Working with executives to develop the vision and strategy to improve business agility
  • Coaching leaders to thrive on the transformation journey
  • Acting as a change catalyst to drive change in people’s behaviors and mindsets,
  • Facilitating value-driven workshops and orchestrating assessments to define and measure success.

They also help to identify systemic impediments and design solutions that address those issues and mental models. The work’s scale and depth differ per the organization’s needs by guiding systems intervention and sustainable organizational change.

There are numerous benefits to using enterprise coaching, including helping organizations and individuals overcome the challenges associated with working with these relationship systems to build an agile organization.

The Difference between Agile Team Coaching vs. Enterprise Coaching

Similarities an Agile Coach and an EACs, CECs

First and foremost, both roles focus on coaching and enablement. They also work with people at different levels within an organization to bring about organizational change. Furthermore, both positions are involved agile ways of working or transformation, depending on the organization’s needs, and good ones are agile framework agnostic.

As you can probably tell by now, the Agile Coach and EAC should be a jack of all trades and be familiar with methodologies but not limited to Scrum, Kanban, Lean, Six Sigma, TDD, and DevOps. To succeed in their role, they must demonstrate good self and social awareness, agile leadership, active listening, and communication skills, empathize, stay present, and build connections and relationships.

They need to have a set of competencies such as teaching, mentoring, facilitating, coaching, conflict resolution, stakeholder management, and team development. They don’t have to be experts in all areas but rather broadly informed with some specialty to act as catalysts in guiding sustainable change. They need to work with different teams and be willing to learn and adapt as they progress constantly.

Leadership Coaching

Key Differences of Agile Team Coaching vs. EACs, CECs

On the other hand, Enterprise Agile Coaching is an advanced form of Agile Coaching. Enterprise Agile Coaches emerged as Agile implementations have expanded beyond the team level to include all levels of organizational challenges. The Enterprise Agile Coaches work at an enterprise scale, build on team coaching and facilitation, and draw upon the discipline of management consulting, leadership, and organization development.

In addition, Enterprise Agile Coaches require extensive knowledge and experience working with senior leaders in designing and implementing organizational strategy. They need strong business acumen and system thinking to help guide the agile organizational transformation.

Despite the similarities, there are some critical differences between the two roles. These include:

The scope of work

An Agile Coach generally focuses on agile adoption and works with teams across the organization. In contrast, an Enterprise Agile Coach focuses on transformation and works with leaders to implement agility through organizational changes.

The level of work

Agile coaching generally improves team performance at the project level, whereas an EAC works with leaders at the organizational level.

The focus of the work

An Agile Team Coach focuses on helping teams to improve their performance and collaboration, deliver better, faster, cheaper, and have ecstatic employees and clients. In contrast, an Enterprise Agile Coach focuses on the system level where there are

  • helping leaders to develop the vision and strategy to improve business agility
  • start initiatives with coaching/training leaders to thrive in the transformation journey to improve operational efficiency
  • act as a change catalyst to drive change in people’s behaviors and mindset

Why are both important?

Organizational agility is not possible without team agility. Agile Team Coaches and Enterprise Agile Coaches are essential in achieving organizational agility. In other words, you cannot have one without the other.


In conclusion, Agile Team Coaching and Enterprise Agile Coaching are two different but essential roles in achieving organizational agility. They both require different skill sets, knowledge, and experience. While Agile Team Coaches focus on helping teams to improve their performance and collaboration, Enterprise Coaches focus on helping leaders to develop the vision and strategy to enhance business agility. Both roles are crucial in fostering an organization’s agility and should be pursued to succeed.

The correct way of addressing agile transformation is by having both Agile Team Coaches and Enterprise Coaches working together hand-in-hand. It allows for a comprehensive approach that leads to better results.

Resources for your agile coaching journey

Which Coaching Certification Should I Pursue?

Depending on your skill set, interest, and targeted career development path in your agile journey, you can choose between ICAgile certified Agile Coaching (ICP-ACC) at the team level and Coaching Agile Transitions (ICP-CAT) at the enterprise level.

ICP-ACC Agile Coaching

To be a great Agile Coach, one needs to be a fantastic facilitator (Agile Team Facilitator), which adds value to the role of Agile Coaching. ICP-ACC course introduces team development concepts around starting and growing agile teams through the agile development process while paying particular attention to team dynamics and the surrounding organizational system. A vital part of this course focuses on developing high-performance teams using coaching skills practiced in the workshop, which helps to create a safe environment and facilitate meaningful collaboration and healthy conflict resolution.

ICP-CAT Coaching Agile Transformations

To be an excellent Agile Enterprise coach, one needs to understand what entails in an Enterprise (events, patterns, structures, mental models); check out ICP-ENT. Having the overview along with the tools helps an individual to coach better at the Enterprise level.

The ICP-CAT course focuses on working with senior and executive leadership in Enterprise Agile Coaching and explores the critical elements of an agile transformation. It links the core enterprise coaching competencies to empower agile coaches to act as agents of change in organizations. You gain the ability to develop highly effective enterprise coaching competencies and large group facilitation skills to support organizational agility changes.

Course Schedules

Contact us for more info, and get more information about agile team coaching and enterprise agile coaching via the course schedule with Leadership Tribe

What Makes a Good Team Leader?

What is a team leader — and what makes a great team leader?

Before asking these questions let’s take a look at the leadership skills employed by successful leaders who focus, motivate, and mentor team members working toward a targeted outcome:

  • Qualities of a good team leader include emotional intelligence, effective communication and team management skills, a good understanding of team dynamics and team building, and fluency in the business language of the company culture. A great team leader will turn a group of people with talent and strong skill sets into a successful team.
  • Responsible for team management and time management, the best leaders have an eye always on the team’s common goal. Their engaged style of leadership focuses on maintaining a positive working environment: It encourages constant communication and feedback that enable the team leader to manage performance effectively and solve problems quickly and decisively.

Now that many workplaces include remote development teams, especially in the healthcare and tech industries, effective project management favours evolving leadership techniques and tools that rely upon online communication. Remote or onsite, leadership skills hold it all together, often called upon to coordinate communication and teamwork on a multi-time zone schedule.

Respect starts at the top

Respect starts with the actions and example of a strong leader. Employee engagement — both with management and other team members —relies upon communication skill, a vital management skill rooted in active listening. Knowing the team and the quality of the strengths they bring to the table clarifies vision, focuses team commitment, and helps the team leader shape their management message with objectivity and integrity.

Great leaders:

Act objectively

A successful team leader is objective, able to understand various points of an argument or discussion, and open to goal-oriented solutions. Objective leaders weigh external factors in order to reach fair decisions that are clear to the team. Open leadership lets team members know that the decisions made are fair and just, and not based upon unclear preferences or presumptions.

Act with integrity

Leaders with integrity are clear about right and wrong, for a start. They communicate openly and directly, keep promises, and are consistent in their expectations and decisions. In return for this good leadership, team members will invest their own work with respect, confidence, and loyalty.

Make the hard decisions

When confronted with a difficult decision — often with limited information — an effective team leader first determines the common goal, the big picture. Effective problem-solving is the team leader’s expertise and responsibility. They weigh the possible consequences of their decision, consider any useful alternatives, evaluate opportunities that may be in play, then decide with the confidence that earns the respect of their team.

Lead by example

Great leaders demonstrate how to succeed, then establish that success as a benchmark for their team. The example of their own expertise earns respect and builds the team’s confidence. Great leaders inspire.

The best leaders are transparent about expectations and objectives, and they demonstrate how to achieve them. Their teams know what the team leader is doing, and how they’re doing it. These realtime learning opportunities often inspire team members to new levels of excellence.

Motivate and empower

Great leaders understand the key to successful teamwork: People give their best when they have a sense of ownership over their work and know that their work is meaningful. To guide this process successful leaders set clear goals and deadlines, then give their teams the autonomy and authority to decide how the work gets done. The best leaders set expectations high and encourage creativity and innovation, and include their teams in the decision-making process.

Embrace failure

Failure is an inevitable part of every success, and a great leader doesn’t shy away from it – they use failure as an opportunity for growth. As Robert Kiyasaki observed: “Winners are not afraid of losing. But losers are. Failure is part of the process of success. People who avoid failure also avoid success.” Point taken.

Leadership by example is a quality of the best leaders. They encourage team members to acknowledge and learn from failure, to acknowledge performance setbacks, and to share their solutions and improvements with the full team.

Whether they result from team leadership miscalculation or a disruption within a team, points of failure can also be points of clarification: Is the team’s skill set adequate to the tasks required? Might it be helpful to re-delegate tasks? To refine a job description? At pivot points like this an able team leader encourages and leads the team to challenge the status quo, to improve performance, and to innovate.

Leadership development and the big picture

Leadership skills are learned most effectively — let’s say only — when combined with experience. Being part of a development team, honing new skills and putting what you already know and have learned into your best work, makes the progress to a common goal vital to leadership development.

When the job description is Team Leader, it’s time to draw upon the active listening skills, project management expertise, and team member retention awareness learned from experience and training. The great team leader respects and encourages every individual team member’s career ambitions and knows how to channel them with initiative clarity and achievable team goals.

When looking at leadership, there are many ways to approach it. If you would like to practice your leadership and coaching skills with someone, you can contact Leadership Tribe and we are happy to get on call with you and discuss the best way to join our high performing Agile Training & Coaching Practice sessions.

Top 50 Team Building Icebreaker Questions

An ‘icebreaker’ can be a very useful and powerful tool on many occasions. For instance, to help members to bond in a newly formed team, to understand your team members better, to acquaint participants from different backgrounds in training, etc.

I can still recollect how surprised I was when I heard some of my colleagues addressing the icebreaker ‘tell us about one fact that we don’t know about you. After years of working with the people in the same team, it is amazing to get to know the real people and how smart, talented, and unique everyone is.

Now after transforming from a project management consultant to an Agile Trainer, icebreakers helped me to build rapport with all kinds of participants, instigate a safe and fun learning environment, and encourage engagement and teamwork within days of training.

I have summarised some of my top list of icebreaker questions, guidelines, and tips for using icebreakers, which I use while facilitating my training programs. And I hope they can provide some help to you. I have hand-picked icebreaker questions and categorize them into 5 groups vaguely. The reason why I said ‘vaguely’ is that most of the questions can fit in multiple categories, depending on the context, objective, the way they are used, and of course your perspectives.

So from “would you rather’s” to “if you could do anything,” hopes, fears, favorite foods and favorite things to everything in between, here we have the top 50 list of fun icebreaker questions!

Our first set is about getting to Know Your Team for the First Time: Good icebreakers here include –

  1. Tell us about your name and how did you get your name?
  2. If you are going to use an adjective to describe yourself, which word you are going to choose? (e.g. Mighty Ming)
  3. Tell us one fun fact about yourself.
  4. Name one thing that you are unbeatable at.
  5. If you were famous, what would you be famous for?
  6. What would the title of your autobiography be?
  7. What sport would you compete in if you were in the Olympics?
  8. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
  9.  If you could live anywhere in the world for a year, where would it be?
  10.  What are your hopes, fears, and expectations (e.g. for this training program)?

These questions are introductory, relevant, and simple. They are great to get participants to know each other, having fun, creating connections, building confidence speaking in front of the group, and lay the foundation to bring individuals together to work in teams. Even in the days of remote teams and virtual meetings on Zoom, these work well as virtual icebreakers too!

Ming’s Top Tip: Don’t underestimate the introductory icebreaker. It sets the tone for the event. Let the fun begin!

Get to Know Your Team Better: Questions 11-20 look more at the rest of your life, bucket lists and other team building questions to help you know your team and all new employees better.

  1. If you could keep/change one part of your work/life routine, what would it be?
  2. What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
  3. If you could do anything in the world as your career, what would you be? (You could also talk about a favorite place to visit for instance as an alternate too)
  4. If you were left on a deserted island or post-zombie apocalypse with either your worst enemy or no one, what would you choose and why?
  5. Which decade do you love the most (e.g. 60s, 70s, 80s, etc.), and what is the reason for your choice? Could be a pop culture reference such as a TV show or fashion trend, music, favorite movie, etc.
  6. What would you do with your time if you have won a million dollar / pound lottery jackpot?
  7. If you had to eat the same meal every day for the next year, what would you pick?
  8. What do you do to stay active / relieve stress?
  9. What’s something new you’ve learned about yourself in the last three months?
  10. Name one thing that you have completed recently that you are proud of. (Variation: Have you been pleasantly surprised by anything recently?)

These questions aim to ‘dig deeper and understand a bit more about your team members. They can be work-related or else, depending on your objectives. Bear in mind that it might take a bit more effort for some people to open up, so assure them of the safe environment, confirm that there is no right or wrong answer, and encourage participation and employee engagement.

Ming’s Top Tip: There are a lot of variations on the questions you can choose from. Be aware of your team’s context and readiness, and help people to build trust and establish rapport. Also, try to avoid culturally or politically sensitive topics in discussions as those can create distrust and awkward silences. Remember, the objective with a great icebreaker is to break the ‘ice’, not the ‘iceberg’. Keep things light, hence the use of funny icebreaker questions and gentler topics like pop culture, trivia and travel.

Understand / Evaluate the Current State with these additional icebreaker questions for work –

  1. What give you the unbounded happiness at work / in life? (Variation: When was the last time you felt unbounded optimism?)
  2. How would you describe your work/lifestyle in 3 words?
  3. Who has made a positive difference in your work/life recently? (Variation: What’s a time when someone did something you appreciated at work or in another context, but you didn’t let them know? What held you back?)
  4. What are some strategies that you’ve found to be helpful in your recent work? (Variation: Name one useful productivity hack you have learned recently.)
  5.  If you had to give a lecture on one thing you are great at, what would it be? (Variation: If you could write a book that was guaranteed to be a best-seller, what would you write?)
  6. What would you change if you have a magic wand and can change absolutely anything in your current work/life? (Variation: If you could eliminate one thing from your daily routine, what would it be and why?)
  7. If you had to describe how you’re feeling right now as a weather pattern, what’s your forecast? (Variation: What emoji represents you today and why?)
  8. Are you aware of any aspects of your personality that hold you back? How do you adapt?
  9. Name one thing you’ve been procrastinating on and can’t finish. What are your next steps?
  10. What’s one of the biggest risks you’ve taken in your career/life? How do you feel about having taken it?

These icebreakers help to initiate an open discussion on ‘where we are. They are very useful for revealing insights and creating awareness for team members, but often require a certain level of team establishment and knowledge of the people and work.

Ming’s Top Tip: Evaluation is important for team members to understand where we are all standing and realign to our (common) goal. For the things we do well, encourage people to celebrate success and think about how we can create impactful results. For the things we don’t do so well, encourage people to think about what we can improve and the action plan.

Agile training

Understand Team Member’s Desires with these icebreaker games and questions:

  1. What would your absolute dream job/life be like?
  2. If you could instantly become an expert in something, what would it be? (Variation: If you could learn one new professional/personal skill, what would it be?)
  3. If you could have one superpower today, what would it be, and for what purpose?
  4. Name one small thing that would improve your day today/job satisfaction?
  5. What’s something that puts you in a state of flow? (Variation: What are you doing when you feel most alive?)
  6. A genie appears and grants you a wish for someone else in the world. Who and what do you make a wish for?
  7. If you could rid the world of one last thing, what would it be? (Variation: What’s one thing that you could stop doing to give yourself more focus?)
  8. What’s something you would change if you run the world?
  9. If you had a magic button on your desk to bring you whatever you wanted, what would it summon?
  10. If you have the power of teleportation right now, where would you go and why?

These questions are very useful to initiate a discussion on ‘where we want to be’. They are fun and help you to tap into people’s desires, what motivates them, and what they want to do or change. They are simple to use yet powerful to instigate thinking and action at both individual and team levels.

Ming’s Top Tip: Everyone has inner desires that need to be fulfilled. Some of them are less obvious than others. These are the reason we work hard. If you are trying to build an effective and high-performing team, start by understanding their vision and motivation.

Funniest team questions that look at a fun way to explore your teams creativity:

  1. If aliens landed on earth and offered to take you with them, would you go?
  2. What would be the most surprising scientific discovery imaginable?
  3. What is your favorite magical or mythological animal? Alternate version could be about a cartoon character or movie star.
  4. What is one thing we would never guess about you?
  5. What current fact about your life would most impress your five-year-old self?
  6. According to you, what looks ‘easy peasy lemon squeezy’ but is actually ‘difficult difficult lemon difficult’?
  7. What’s your guilty pleasure right now? Maybe ice cream, talk shows or karaoke?
  8. What is one thing you do that gives you child-like joy?
  9. What would you do if you came home and found a penguin in your freezer?
  10. If you could choose any two to four famous people to have dinner with, who would they be?

These questions often take people by surprise and bring a smile to their faces. In my facilitation, I use laughter as the catalyst for team energy. When you observe the energy of the room is a bit low, it’s time to have some fun! Talk about favorite ways to go about ones day.

Ming’s Top Tip: Let your imagination go wild! There are a lot of questions you can use. The key here is to have fun! As Maya Angelou rightly said, ‘people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel’. Plan and anchor them with happy emotions. Also, listen to people’s answers and be ready to be surprised by their creativity!

In summary, I have hand-picked some of the useful team meeting icebreaker questions which I use personally in training and facilitation and even virtual team building activities in recent years. You can use these for work, or simply build relationships with people around you. One thing I’d like to advise is, don’t wait for the best occasion to use these icebreakers, start applying them to facilitate the introduction, discussion, and team building in your events. See how that serves your purpose and adapt accordingly. If you are interested to learn more about how to design and facilitate events and learn more facilitation tools and techniques, join us in our flagship Agile Team Facilitation (ICP-ATF) virtual course!

I hope you find them useful. I’d love to hear from you if you have any suggestions, success stories, or anything else you’d like to see in my blog.

Looking for some team-building activities in the virtual setting? Download the Virtual Team Building Exercise to learn simple and effective exercises you can conduct with your team straight away!

Creating High Performance Team Leadership: Casestudy

Developing Managers to build a High-Performing Team & Culture

As part of an organisational effort to drive employee engagement and create a performance-oriented culture, a global consulting company sought to create and roll-out a tailored development program for all managers in Global Marketing Services across the globe.

They needed a strategic partner who could design, develop and implement the customised solution and related services to approximately 97 managers across 7 business verticals in just six months.

Leadership Tribe took on the assignment with a customer-centric approach and commitment to deliver value.

Leadership Tribe Values:

  • Customer Centric
  • Open Communication and Honesty
  • Learn and Progress
  • Teamwork and finding complementary skills
  • Commitment
  • Trust and Mutual Respect

The Challenge

In the highly competitive Information Technology industry, it takes more than just a great CEO to drive company success. Our client understood the importance of developing a robust leadership culture to drive the organisation’s performance. And Leadership Tribe helped it to design the leadership development programs to deliver its aspiration and improve the leadership skills of its managers.

The team goals were to look at improving the management skill sets of more than 80% of the managers participating in the development programs in areas of leading and coaching. It clearly defined what it means to be a good manager and five key competencies were considered essential to having a successful team:

  • Decision making – setting direction and strategy
  • Team leader – leading and coaching people
  • Focusing on what matters
  • Personal leadership
  • Executing and making things happen

In 2018, our client was committed to identify the potential development areas for its managers in the Global Marketing Services division and help them to improve toward the specified benchmarks. The challenge was that it needed to evaluate and provide personalised feedback to its managers around their development and core behaviours and that any development instruments or coaching frameworks had to link to the division’s way of working and common goal.

Furthermore, the development of instruments and coaching services would have to be applied in multiple locations. Any business partner engaged to help with its manager development program would have to provide coaches in different sites. And as a high-priority organisational initiative, executives wanted to ensure that the partner they turned to had the bandwidth to deliver measurable, high-quality results on time.

Their Human Resource & Development has strong competence for internal resource development capabilities, and they have also used a variety of external providers for various training and development programs. They turned to Leadership Tribe to design and implement the Manager Development program for its proven track record of service excellence and value-added.

“It is always critical to ensure the best quality in our implementation of initiatives, and a global player that has the capability, expertise and commitment to deliver value for us is a must.”
– Strategic Leader, Global Marketing Services

In May 2018, Leadership Tribe signed an agreement to implement a customised development initiative, delivering a 360-degree developmental instrument and a creative coaching program to all the management staff in the Global Marketing Services division.

Signing the agreement was just the beginning of a dynamic journey of collaboration in an ambitious timeframe. They would develop and roll out the program in waves across the country and all the development instruments and subsequent coaching sessions would be completed.

The Solution

The Management Development program was rolled out to 85 General Managers and 12 Senior Executives worldwide.

A webinar included the Senior Executives was held to kick off the program for all participants in May 2018. It was then rolled out across 7 business areas in the following months. Leadership Tribe onboarded new team members and deployed its coaches to various locations to ensure complete coverage and local focus.

There were two tiers in the training program, one for General Managers and the other one for Senior Executives. Both groups have been assessed for their particular development needs and mapped to the desired competency benchmark, to generate specific coaching solution for each management tier.

The General Managers attended three hours of coaching fortnightly, consisting of a two-hour face-to-face session with a Leadership Tribe coach followed by a one-hour virtual alignment meeting with their boss and the coach. Their development plans were captured in an individualised development map. Similarly, the Senior Executives received two hours of coaching weekly, an one-hour coaching session followed by another one-hour meeting with their boss to link coaching with their development plan, review progress and course correct for the next session.

The clear focus on the company’s management development initiative encouraged the change of behaviour of its managers – individual development plans were tied to managers’ performance reviews and check in sessions were set up between coachees and their bosses to engage the senior members of the team and get their buy-in.

The results were valuable in advising surfacing areas for further development:

  • Communication skills
  • Building collaborative relationships
  • Leading teams and Taking Actions

Outcomes and lessons learnt

Over the course of the development program, coaches delivered coaching services to 97 managers. The participants who have been coached, as well as organisation senior executives who oversaw the program, confirmed that it delivered significant value for the company and improved its overall performance.

The client and Leadership Tribe faced two critical challenges as they implemented the program:

  1. They had to design a development assessment and coaching solution that would map closely to the desired key management competencies while constructing the development program leveraging on the latest research and know-how. Leadership Tribe’s experience in conducting research and applying that to corporate leadership team development was an important contributor to its ability to create an effective team program for this global consultancy enterprise.
  2. Problem solving and logistics had to be diligently managed thanks to the timeline and the number of people involved. Leadership Tribe’s project manager monitored every detail of the program closely, from distributing materials to recruiting new coaches. Leadership Tribe and the client held weekly calls to ensure the program stayed on track and on target.

“Leadership Tribe worked closely with our key stakeholders to understand our needs and implemented the management development program successfully within our specifications in a limited time-frame. The initiative was a great success and we are looking forward to sustaining the impact.” – Human Resource & Development Manager

Improve Your Team Today: Contact Leadership Tribe

Characteristics of high performing teams can vary quite a bit. There is no one silver bullet to uplift leadership and team culture and they are several ways to train and coach management.

To find out more about how we can add value to your teams and organisation by driving constant improvement, empowering employees, providing better and faster customer services at a lower cost, contact us to arrange a session where we can help to carve out strategy and bespoke programs in an practical and measurable way that suits your team dynamics and team needs.

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