6 Must-Haves for Maximizing Virtual Dojo Engagement

6 Must-Haves for Maximizing Virtual Dojo Engagement

Mar 26, 2021

This article assumes you have a basic knowledge of the immersive learning Dojo concept. If you don’t, I recommend reviewing the Target Dojo website to get the most out of this article. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a good Dojo book, I recommend Creating Your Dojo.

Immersive Learning Dojos are an Agile staple that consistently yield longstanding success in terms of skill building and habit development. Before COVID-19, a major contributing factor to Dojo success was collocation. Think hyper-collocation―an open space concept filled with whiteboard walls, oversized monitors, pairing stations, and busy collaboration.

But then the pandemic hit, and the worldwide lockdown suddenly became the Dojos’ biggest roadblock. How could we maintain the effectiveness of Dojo engagements when we couldn’t collaborate freely in-person? How on Earth would we keep people engaged when they were simultaneously managing their home lives?

As a Dojo coach that survived the switch to remote, I am here to share the 6 most important things that helped me improve Dojo engagement, overcome Zoom fatigue, and enable people to grow in this new paradigm. I hope these tips will help you as much as they helped me!

Special Note: I have purposely avoided common topics of remote working such as “cameras on” or “Mural/Miro” to provide a fresh perspective. I would hope that after a year of being forced to be remote, those standards are inferred.


1. Host Quick Daily Retros

All we need is more meetings, right? Well…yes. When it comes to staying connected while marching towards time bound goals, I’d say connecting at both the beginning and end of the day during a Dojo helps in many ways, including:

  • It helps Dojo coaches inspect and adapt their coaching daily which results in a better Dojo experience.
  • The team has a regular pulse on Dojo progress, which increases motivation. These miniature celebrations cause dopamine bursts that help us bond faster and deeper.
  • The team has a pulse on their learning journey, which provides affirmation or opportunities for course correction.
6 Must-Haves for Maximizing Virtual Dojo Engagement

2. Don’t Schedule Meetings

Allow me to directly contradict myself.

Go with the flow and stay out of calendars as much as possible. When people see that their calendars are crammed, they tend to think of Dojos as busy and not productive. After all, that’s time spent away from potentially valuable work!

You would be surprised how eager people are to jump on a last-minute Zoom or Slack call to collaborate. Stick to casual, impromptu discussions instead. These discussions not only offer flexibility, but also allow for ideas, challenges, and signals to organically present themselves.


3. Engage the Technical Folks

Technical people like developers or engineers tend to be more comfortable with remote work. Still, there are many ways to further engage them in the Dojo, for example:

  • Try real-time paired programming using VS Live Share or even a simple screen share. This optimizes code reviews and offers a stage for collaboration.
  • Choose a story every day to mob on. Celebrate the streak by tracking mobbing days or hours. For example, “the ACE Team clocked 10 days of mobbing this month!”
  • One word: Hackathon! Throw a challenge out there and watch as the team develops mind-blowing solutions. This doesn’t have to be too involved. Just carve out a day, form a couple teams, then meet at the end to pitch ideas. Vote on the best idea. Bonus points for working towards implementing the idea in the Dojo. I have yet to host a Hackathon where developers didn’t get excited. The spirit of innovation tends to always linger long past the Hackathon and serves as an invigorator for teams.


4. Teach Backs

In a teach back, you explain a concept or instructions to a team member, and then the team member is responsible for teaching the concept back to the rest of the team. During the teach back, you are responsible for clearing up any misunderstandings.

People tend to be more invested in a session when they know that the group depends on them to succeed. As such, teach backs reinforce learnings, help people feel recognized as a contributor, and give the team a break from hearing your voice. All of this drives engagement in the remote setting. Additionally, any misunderstandings that occur during the teach back can be used as data for improvement.


5. Pomodoro Technique

Inspired by the tomato-shaped kitchen timer, the Pomodoro Technique entails taking short breaks every 25 minutes. You could easily change the length to 30 or 45 minute intervals but try not to exceed 60 minute intervals.

Pomodoro helps overcome Zoom fatigue, but more importantly, it keeps you sharper. Studies show that people tend to operate more efficiently when they return from breaks.

Pomodoro also gives the team an opportunity to bond over a unique team norm. I’ve shown this technique to multiple teams during the pandemic, and many of those teams have enthusiastically kept it. This is because it goes deeper than stopping work. Pomodoro reminds us to check on each other and prioritizes well-being.


6. Get up and move

Get up and move

While we’re on the topic of well-being…get up and out of your home office often! Do it right after you finish this article. It’s important to reset your brain, especially if you’re engaged in a Dojo program (or any sort of learning session for that matter).

Sometimes people have a hard time moving on their own, so why not make movement a group activity? Walking standups or midday Zoom stretches are great ways to engage the team while getting the blood pumping. The best part is that these activities are accessible to most anyone.

Final Thoughts

There you have it―6 actions to improve engagement in your Virtual Dojo. Even though today’s Dojos differ vastly from the collocated Dojos we remember, we can still offer effective coaching. In some ways, Virtual Dojos can be even more beneficial, because Dojo engagements are now accessible to distributed teams. Everyone is on the same playing field as there isn’t a mismatch of collocated and remote participation.

At the very least, I hope this article gives you a sense of optimism and affirmation. I’ll be the first to say that the transition to Virtual Dojos has been reminiscent of climbing an icy hill with bald tires. However, I’ll also say that with frequent feedback from the team, creative facilitating, an open mind, and the humility to know things will get sloppy at times, you can have an effective Dojo experience from the other side of the screen.

Are you an experienced Agile and SAFe coach looking for your next remote coaching assignment? See if you’re a fit with ICON!


Written by Jess Brock