How Can Team Members Help Create an Effective, Self-Organizing Agile Team?
In my last post, I took a stab at answering the question, “How do we change from individuals in workgroups to effective, self-organizing teams?” Through my discovery and reflection on that topic, I turned my focus toward the environment of the agile team. Now we know that environment is a big part, but the individuals do have an impact. And over the years, I’ve found some ideas that really define how we as individuals can create an effective, self-organized agile team.
- Respect. It goes without saying that agile team members need to exhibit respect towards one another. The idea of respect is often woven into an organization’s core values; however, it takes self-discipline to be sure we are treating each other with respect. It is sometimes said that at the end of an argument and/or discussion, it is okay to ‘agree-to-disagree’ as long as we all respect each other afterward. Well, I would say — show respect during the time of the argument and/or discussion. If you do, you’ll often find a faster resolution and you’ll avoid that uncomfortable, “bad-taste-in-mouth” after effect.
- Embrace Diversity. It is often not fully appreciated to have a team made up of members from different backgrounds. But in my experience, this is when the best results appear. Diversity can be demographics-related or experience-related; in all cases it simply comes back to learning. By listening to each other and sharing ideas, we learn from each other – and inevitably, we produce better and enjoy producing. One other byproduct of leveraging cross-functional product teams is, of course, diversity. The diversity of skill sets swarming on delivering a story helps do so faster, with higher value and higher quality.
- Trust. Trust is earned. It is primarily earned by doing what we say were going to do when we said we are going to do it. This is a huge challenge, and we need to understand as individuals working in an agile team that a commitment you make reflects upon the team. Therefore, when we commit to completing work during an iteration and deliver on this commitment, we are establishing trust with the business. During our daily stand-ups, when we are actionable about what we finished and what we plan to finish, we establish trust in the team.
- Focus on Strengths. Much like embracing diversity, we must focus on the strengths of the team members and put each other in a position to succeed. All too often we look to improve our weaknesses by taking on tasks that will force us to learn. Well, there’s a difference between improving our skills and experiences, and improving our weaknesses. A couple years ago, I wrote about how my team used Strengths Finder to better understand where each team member plays best. From this point, we would define and divvy up work to get the iteration delivered based on our strengths. This became a very natural approach and team members had each other’s backs when someone was playing outside their wheelhouse.
- DO. I have often used the phrase – have a “will-do attitude.” One of the best ways to have teams form and self-organize is by simply doing. Do have the hard discussions. Do spend time with each other beyond work — do build teams. Do swarm. Do pair. Do work hard. Do have each other’s back. Do adjust when necessary. Do make a difference. Do encourage each other. Do make decisions. Do what you said your going to do. Do appreciate each other’s opinions. Do lead and do follow. Do take time to reflect. Do step away when necessary.
These ideas and concepts are definitely not mind blowing, nor are they new. But, as I mentioned, these are the basics that I’ve seen work. What are some of the individual behaviors and/or practices you’ve seen or have done that helped your team self-organize?