How to foster agile teamwork that thrives under changing environments
Multi-functional teams, virtual project teams, squads, tribes, scrum, just a few of the ways to make teamwork more agile. It is the answer to fast-changing environments, including employees’ needs, markets, and customer behavior.
The Agile Manifesto, originally used for software development is nowadays also of important value to other teams that desire an agile way of working. The first rule of this Manifesto is: “Individuals and Interactions over Procedures and Tools”. Which means putting less value to the last and more value to the first elements.
Based on this rule, especially agile teamwork comes down to a specific set of values and human skills of high relevance to facilitate constructive interaction.
First, good listening skills are of great importance to get to a constructive exchange of ideas. Teams thrive when diverse ideas and perspectives are debated on their merits and members find ways to fully explore different points of view.
To facilitate this teams might establish a ground rule like "articulate what you like about an idea before expressing what you don't like." This will lead to much more robust debates and people with differing perspectives feeling more valued.
Another important value is transparency and trust to enable team members to share their concerns. Nodding politely through meetings to avoid conflict doesn’t work, it leads to artificial harmony and results in important issues not getting raised and less than optimal decisions being made. The fear of conflict can even manifest itself as unproductive politics after the meeting, such as team decisions not being supported outside the meeting room.
To encourage transparency, give everyone the value that they demand, take time to share what concerns every single team member might have and play devil's advocate when there are no opposing views being expressed.
An agile team can not do without constructive feedback. It is one of the hardest things for team members to do but it is precisely what high performing teams demand. Highly accountable teams are so committed to their collective goals and approach that they are willing to remind each other when they are not living up to those commitments.
Start with giving the example: invite colleagues for a coffee or a chat and provide feedback with a spirit of goodwill and support. Stimulate constructive peer-to-peer feedback within your team. Once you’ve started doing this, people will appreciate it; everyone has the desire to grow and improve the value of their contributions to the team.
Stop making assumptions about other people’s motives, needs, and behavior and start asking more questions. We too often interpret other team member’s behavior without asking. The problem is, that our assumptions can often be wrong.
Before interpreting or attributing negative motives to another's behavior, ask yourself, "Why might a reasonable person do this?", and allow yourself to believe in the good intentions of every team member. This will help you to enter the situation with a positive mindset and ask questions with open curiosity.
No one claimed teamwork to be easy, but working in agile teams with the need to respond to a fast-changing environment can be even more challenging.
There’s an important phrase that might inspire you: if it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t make you better.