Building Rapport

During my Agile journey I have worked with many passionate, Agile people. People who know everything there is to know about Agile, so much so that if you were to break into their home in the middle of the night, shake them awake and ask them to recite the 12 principles behind the Agile Manifesto they would be able to recite it exactly in both order and wording.

However, one element that continues to challenge many of them in their Agile journey is the people around them. No matter how hard they try there are still people within their team that they just can’t seem to get through too.

Of course you’re never going to be able to convince everyone, no matter how hard you try but many Agile people feel that they could have convinced more people. They feel that there is something missing in their Agile transformation toolkit. Something that is stopping them from delivering a truly effective way for us to deliver better business value, quicker and easier.

There is a missing ingredient that I am going to share with you today, an ingredient that will make a difference to your Agile transformation.

The secret missing ingredient in many Agile teams is rapport. Building a rapport between you and your team is the most important thing you can do, particularly when you’re new. If you want to be able to truly influence your team from their heart as a trusted advisor then building a rapport has got to be your single most immediate focus.

Think about it this way. You open your front door to find a complete stranger standing on your doorstep. This stranger happens to look exactly like the kid that used to bully you back in highschool. This person is standing at your door, and they ask you if they can spend the night in your house? Now of course your answer is going to be no, see you later, bye. What if they were to say to you that they will give you $100 in return for letting them stay for the night? What if they go the other way and threaten to tell your boss that if you don’t let them stay then tomorrow you’re going to be fired? Would that make a difference?

Let’s turn this around, what if the person that stood on your doorstep asking to stay looked like Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt? They’re still a stranger and they ask you the same thing, they want to stay for the night; are you more likely to say yes? Why is that? Nothing has really changed about the situation other than the fact that they are instantly more likeable. In this situation there is no need for threats or incentives, yet we’re still more likely to grant them their wish.

We’re all hard wired this way, in that we’re much more likely to believe, follow and listen to people that we like. If you want to lead your team from their heart without the need to co-opt higher powers, or God forbid, their managers, then you need to build a rapport with your team.

There are three easy ways to get started towards building a good rapport with your team.


Now you might be thinking that’s just common sense right? Well not exactly. Laura Witworth in her book ‘Practical Coaching’ says that there are three steps or levels to build a good rapport with your team.

At level one your team member comes to you and tells you that they don’t like the daily stand-up, they think it’s a complete waste of time and they really don’t want to go. They’ve got nothing else to update or share. What would you say to them?

Well at level one you’re probably wondering if you need to get the managers involved? Maybe you should tell somebody about this and get him to cooperate? Maybe you should put it in their performance review? Do you see where we’re going with this, at level one it’s all about you. It’s all self focused.

At level two when a developer or a team members says the above you might start to think that maybe he’s confused about the purpose, or maybe he just doesn’t understand what the goals are or what it’s for. Maybe you can explain it to him better. One you reach level two it’s instantly more about them, about caring and helping.

At level three we have to get to the point that we’re not only hearing what is said, but also hearing what is not said. So in this situation what’s not being said? Well, maybe they’re under pressure to do a production piece of work and therefore time really is of the essence; they really don’t have those 15 minutes. Perhaps they’re under some other pressure that they’re not talking about, something that’s not being said. Can you see it in their body language? Something what they’re not mentioning? So listening at level three will really help build a great deal of rapport and help you become more effective as a coach.


We have this thing called the Social Agreement, also known as the Social Contract. I don’t like to use the word contract because it sounds so legalistic. Social Agreement is something that you agree within your team on how you choose to behave and interact. Making socialisation part of your social agreement makes so much sense, but I’ve seen so many Social Contracts or Social Agreements without that and they’re really missing out.

In my own team we have a Social Agreement that for every iteration we will go for lunch or we’ll go for a drinks. Of course not everybody likes to drink and not everybody has the time to go for lunch. However, if you have one of each then you’re going to be able to connect with almost every member of your team, and it never ceases to amaze me how much more information you can get from your team and how much rapport you can get from a simple drink.

Buy your team a drink, go for lunch, go somewhere nice and try new food together. Share experiences together, it doesn’t matter what those experiences are but just having that shared experience will build your teams rapport between themselves and with you like nothing else will. Sharing experiences is just the best and most effective way to build a rapport.

Say Hello

Take the time to communicate with your team members. Simple things like saying hello, asking them about their day, whether they’ve seen any good movies etc. I had a recent experience where a iteration manager and I were having coffee and she told me about a recent exercise that she had conducted with her team by just having them thank each other for their experiences working together.

One team member thanked another for just saying hello to her everyday. He was the only person that took the time, no matter what else was going on, to just say hello. It really made a difference to them that this other team member took the time to say hello when no one else did. It’s our role as an iteration manager or an Agile leader to be doing these basic things. If we don’t say hello and greet the people on our team then how are we ever going to be able to fully lead them. How are we ever going to be able to influence them?

Now these three things that we’ve covered today are nowhere near an exhaustive list of building rapport but it does get you well on your way to becoming an effective Agile leader. I would encourage you to explore and read more about building rapport. There are so many techniques that you can use such as mirroring and neurolingustic programming; there is also a large amount of sales material out there for you to read on how to build a rapport.

I want to thank you for reading and encourage you to post any comments/questions that you might have below. I will do my best to answer each one personally.

I wish you every success on your Agile journey.