Is There a Place for Personal Expression on Your Team?

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Is There a Place for Personal Expression on Your Team?

With the current situation around NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem in the public spotlight, a Zone Leader wonders if there is a place for personal expression on your team.

· Agile Zone ·
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Recently, the National Football League (NFL) has found itself in the middle of the spotlight of public opinion, as a subset of players have taken an opportunity to kneel during the playing of our national anthem - which is an agenda item before each game, as the players wait for the opening kick-off. From my research on the topic, the action by those kneeling is not related to their job as a player in the NFL or really anything to do with the game they are paid to play.

Years ago, I remember walking into the office the morning after the President of the United States had given a challenging speech. I won't provide a date around this occurrence because neither the name of the commander-in-chief nor the topic of the speech matters. What I saw, as I walked to my desk the next morning, was one of those computer-printed banners that an employee made, that simply announced "IMPEACH PRESIDENT (insert last name of the president of the United States at the time)!!!"

I remember reading the sign and thinking to myself, "that's odd that someone is bringing their personal opinions on a topic not related to work... and tacking a huge banner on the wall to project their views." Honestly, this is the exact same thought that came to mind when I saw the NFL players taking a knee during their (very-well) paid working hours.

I won't get into the debate around the NFL situation, but I did begin to wonder if there is a place for personal expression on your team.

We Want to Make It Our Own

As participants on a feature team, we all have some degree of creativity:

  • Product Owners find the ability to express the requirements in a creative fashion.

  • Developers have the opportunity to design and architect applications to meet those needs.

  • Quality Assurance staff have the freedom to structure tests to validate both items above.

By allowing creativity, each participant gains an increased level of dedication to the product - since they are using their own thoughts and creativity to help meet the needs of the business. This is no different than being on any other team. The more you contribute or the higher your dedication, the greater appreciation you have when you reflect back at the end of the team's tenure.

How Far Is Too Far?

Of course, things can get out of hand, if not monitored.

Consider a situation where a new team member is introduced into an existing group. If the team member has experience with their expected tasks, but does not have familiarity with the tools or frameworks currently in place, this can often lead to the individual using their creativity to bridge the gap where there is a lack of knowledge.

In other words, by not understanding the current tooling but having experience with other tooling, the individual can become too confident in their creativity to make the current tooling match what the individual is used to seeing or using.

Instead of spending the time to review and comprehend the current toolset, the individual is using creativity to add functionality in a way he/she expects rather than the way the tool or framework is intended.

Finding the Best Compromise

The key is to find the best compromise, where standards are set at a higher level, but offering the opportunity for team members to assert their own creativity.

On a recent project, the team had set standards for use of factory or service classes, but allowed for a great deal of creativity for developers to meet the needs that utilized those core components. One rule of compromise was to have an understanding of the existing library and extend or refactor those classes, when applicable, before introducing new classes.

In every case, the existing unit tests should still pass. If the unit tests failed, the developer would need to revisit the existing implementation to understand how their creativity needs to be adjusted before making updates to the application.

In this example, developers had the opportunity to be creative, while staying in-line with existing standards and practices maintained by the project.


I am not sure I am a fan of the classification of left-brain v right-brain people (interesting article here) where the suggestion is those from one camp possess zero creative skills. By contrast, I believe that team members working within Information Technology have some level of creativity and enjoy designing, building, testing, or deploying applications regardless if their brain is dominant on one side.

When making decisions, there is always a subjective portion that facilitates creativity and design on the part of the individual assigned to that aspect of the task being completed. By allowing the individual to add aspects that are unique or exclusive to their design, some form of personal expression enters into the process. In doing so, the individual experiences a form of dedication to the project since they have contributed something they personally created.

This approach needs to be kept into perspective, avoiding the employment of over-creativity to find a happy medium where the best compromise can be met.

This weekend, at a time of the year when most American's recognize Veteran's day, there have been numerous posts on social media to boycott the NFL games. The reason behind the boycott is to honor those American's who sacrificed their lives to support our country.

While I am not sure if this boycott will have an impact on the viewing of NFL games, it does remind me of similar boycotts for the gasoline industry setting a "gas out" day where no one buys gas in an effort to make a statement to the big oil industry. The multiple attempts at a gas out did not seem to work as expected.

With the NFL, time will tell how the actions of some players will impact the value of the professional football franchise.

Have a really great day!

agile adoption, creativity, protests

Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.

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