I finished my most recent coaching engagement three weeks ago. This team watched another one go through a transformation for the eight months prior.

When I arrived the team’s boss asked me not to tell the team I was their coach. The boss kept the team in the dark, in part, to keep this team from working themselves up over what was about to happen.

The week the boss introduced me to the team I was also asked to help talk someone out of quitting their job. This person was on the previous team, and if they quit there was no way for the company to continue. This is not an exaggeration. If this person quit, the company would have to find a way to recover 25 years of knowledge in this person’s head.

We talked.

He told me how he didn’t appreciate us coming in and changing everything without even asking if they needed change at all. He told me how the changes we made weren’t helpful, and were slowing things down. He told me in particular how he hated pair-programming and the idea that anyone on a team can do any work was moronic.

I agreed with him that the idea that anyone can do any work is moronic. I told him the question isn’t whether you can do the work, but how the team can do the work. The point of this isn’t to make everyone fungible. The point of this is to deliver something incredible, and it is fine to have unique skills.

He liked that answer.

I then gave him permission to not pair-program 100% of every day. If he hates it, then he can tell the team he’s won’t take part, and I will be there to support him. If he thinks it is useful at all, then talk with the team what would be useful and what it looks like to him.

He thought I was crazy for going against the previous trainers. I told him I thought it was crazy that after eight months they left him miserable.

My team knew about the experiences of the first team. They all reported to the same manager. They ate lunch together and sat in cubicles next to one another. They thought they were going to get the same treatment as the first team. I reminded them that they aren’t that team, and are worthy of their own consideration.

They were on board after that conversation, and I planned a three-day kickoff meeting for them. It was unique to everyone on that team. It was purpose built to help them experience and frame up what being an incredible team means for them.

I found out there were issues with safety before this meeting. I went to the people I found to be causes of the issues and asked that they not attend. It wasn’t a shock that these people were the various bosses. I sent a follow up email to them re-instating that they not attend.

They attended anyway.

I pulled them aside and found out that they all thought I didn’t mean them. I told them that I meant exactly what I said, and that they are not invited, and that we will talk later.

By the last day the team felt comfortable bringing them back in. They pushed back on their boss’ opinions. The team was standing tall for the first time, and making choices. The bosses backed down, smiled, and said that this was what they were hoping to see. They wanted to see an autonomous team.

Everyone left that room feeling like they had formed as a team. They told honest stories that began with fear and reservations, and ended with excitement about the changes ahead. I told this team when I joined I had one mission as their coach: Do no harm. When I left, I left to hugs, tears, and them saying that I accomplished my mission.