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The problem with pairing

In the last week I have had to learn a bunch of new techniques to do my day job here at Growing Agile. And the reason is because my pairing partner is away at a conference, Retrospective Facilitators Gathering (#RFG2012).

After a crazy start to the year (and our new company) we realized that work is more pleasurable and fun when we work together. We also realized there is less waste involved then. No need for catch up calls or loads of emails to keep the other up to date. No forgetting to mention something. And best of all, someone who will give you constant honest feedback almost immediately. Based on this we decided to see if we could plan, going forward, to only work together – as a pair.

On days we’re not onsite, we meet up and work together all day. Onsite work and meetings we do together. There is so much value in observation, and having space to observe how others interact – which is hard to do whilst facilitating, coaching or training!

Sam and Karen at work

Here are some simple guidelines if you want to try pairing:

  • Be open – Be willing to praise each other. When criticism is necessary, frame it as constructively as possible.
  • Communicate – Listen carefully, don’t interrupt, ask for clarification if you don’t understand, and feel free to disagree.
  • Get to know each other – Discover each person’s likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, work habits, and motivation.
  • Encourage participation – Elicit the opinion of a silent member. Often team members have opinions — they just want to be asked!
  • Compromise – Make decisions by consensus, not unanimous consent; this involves compromise.
  • Stay on schedule – This puts less pressure on the team. Where there is less tension, there is less conflict.
  • Make time – Schedule times to meet and work together. Block out the time in your schedule.
 Karen and I have gotten very comfortable with the above. We can openly disagree about something and converse honestly to understand each others view points. We do this whilst training occasionally. Its interesting to note how the people in the training react to this. Most people are not used to seeing someone openly disagree and talk through the situation without ego’s being involved.

When my pair is not around…

I have gotten so used to working alongside Karen that now when I’m alone I find it difficult to concentrate. I’m fine for a couple of hours but then my mind starts to wonder and then I drift off and do other stuff. And the same problem happens to Karen when I’m away. So being a productive pair is awesome and great, but when one is sick or away – not so much.


We usually use pomodoros to stay focussed for short bursts – so that was my plan. (For those who are keen to try – this is my favorite online timer).

I scribbled down all the things I needed to do – mostly extremely boring admin tasks in priority order, then I intermingled a few fun tasks that I wanted to do. I soon realized that I needed some other way of holding myself accountable for the work and also letting Karen know what I was up to. I would definitely NOT remember all this stuff in 2 weeks time! Everyday I wrote Karen an email with a one liner for each task I did. Quick and easy. At the end of day 1 even I was amazed at all the work I had accomplished. After just 1 day I could not recall half of it.

Most of us go through life leading these super busy lives but not really recalling what we do with all that time. We know we were busy, we know it was important but we cant remember most of it. Write it down. 1 line thats all. Then look at your list and reflect on where all your time goes. Very interesting 🙂

I have ended up being extremely productive in this last week or so, getting through a mountain of admin tasks. I miss my pairing partner though – mostly the feedback and bouncing of ideas. Somehow I feel smarter when my pair is with me – group intellect > individual intellect?