Agile Teams – the ultimate solution for all companies?

agile teams, team development by Metakomm, Metakomm.de

If one follows the current literature and discussions, agile working seems to be one of the top magic formulas for companies in today’s rapidly changing world of work. Is it true that agile teams are a must for every company today?

What does agile working mean?

As I am writing this article, I google the term “Agile Teams” and get nearly 50 million hits. Agile teams are currently much discussed.
The term “agile working” comes from software development. Agile as a term means first of all: to be able to adapt flexibly and quickly to changes in the environment and the current situation.
Agile working is particularly suitable for projects and tasks in which a customer-oriented solution is to be developed and whose requirements have not yet been determined in advance. For the changing challenges, situations or customer wishes, teams need the skills, room for manoeuvre and personal responsibility to be able to change and adapt their strategies, structures and processes at short notice. Goals and processes are no longer set long-term, but iteratively, in short cycles variably adapted.

Agility in itself is not a strategy, method or structure, but a way of thinking and acting.

Agility as goal of team development

Many of the team developments that I am currently facilitating are taking place due to the imminent or ongoing digital transformation processes of the client companies. An important stage of the transformation is the development of teams in the direction of agile work. First and foremost, employees should be enabled to think and act agilely.

Not every team automatically welcomes the planned team development. Especially teams that are not active in the software development sector often ask irritatedly to what extent agile work is relevant for them. “We are not developers after all. Scrum doesn’t make sense for us.” The term ‘agile’ is wrongly equated with working methods like Scrum or Kanban. Should insurance administrators work agilely, or teachers, or production employees?

Is agile working the ultimate solution for companies nowadays?

Generally, this is certainly notthe case. Not all tasks require agile working methods and not in every case fixed, standardized working methods are wrong or ineffective. Not everything that has been tried and tested for many years has no value today.

And very important: Team development with the objective of agile working makes little sense if the company does not yet have a culture that makes agile working possible.

Which company culture needs agile working?

In agile companies, values such as commitment, openness, courage and personal responsibility prevail. This requires a broad organizational chart in contrast to conventional pyramid or waterfall organizations. The hierarchies are flat, the organization is characterized by transparency and open discussions. This in turn requires a mature communication and feedback culture. Employees are involved in goal setting and committed accordingly. Errors are revealed in regular retrospectives and new solutions are found. Effectiveness takes precedence over perfectionism

Cooperation within the team is particularly important. The teams are independently responsible for the division of work and the control of processes. They constantly improve and further develop themselves. The managers foster the working ability of the teams, i.e. their role changes from traditional guidance and control to coaching, enabling and empowering

Many companies are already on the way to establishing and expanding agile values and methods. Before introducing agile teamwork, the ground should first be prepared for agile values. If you introduce agile methods prematurely, you may assume that a new environment or new methods will automatically change the way employees think. Unfortunately, this does not work as long as the prevailing corporate culture does not fit in.

Let’s take the example ‘culture of error‘

How can employees, for example, openly talk about mistakes when mistakes are something very bad in the corporate culture and must be avoided at all costs? Maybe there is the experience in the company history that employees had to leave because of mistakes. Therefore employees cover up mistakes as much as possible or blame someone else quickly when a mistake gets discovered in order not to be “targeted” oneself.

Let’s assume that in such a company a team leader comes back motivated from a development intervention on agile working and enthusiastically wants to introduce retrospectives. Unfortunately, they will soon discover that their colleagues tend to be rather quiet in meetings. The benefits of retrospectives are quickly reduced to absurdity when “nothing comes out of such meetings anyway”

Agile principles and methods can only be successfully implemented
in companies that are ready for them.

The necessary values and the mindset are not created overnight, but in a process that usually takes years. This time perspective does not exactly make many people in charge happy.

My recommendation is to work early on the development of an agile mindset in order to prepare the ground for agile cooperation

Steps on the way to agility

To build agile values, skills and behaviors, it is best to work with teams on the following topics:

  • Enhancing willingness to cooperate, promoting genuine cooperation and thus putting self-interest on the back burner
  • Appreciative and supportive attitude towards teamwork
  • Put values, ideas and goals to the test
  • Clear and open communication
  • High level of transparency
  • Feedback techniques
  • Dealing with conflict
  • Self-knowledge, self-reflection and feedback
  • Structure, process and prioritisation competencies

There are very different approaches and possibilities for further development in each area. An example of this is the topic of communication culture:

3 Tips for the further development of the communication culture in the team

1. Expande regular meetings

Teams should exchange information regularly. Often these exchanges take place too rarely and are then often too long.

In accordance with the Daily Standups from the Scrum methodology, it helps the development and establishment of a lively, transparent communication culture to exchange the current status at short intervals, about a quarter of an hour in the morning. In this way, emerging problems can be addressed at an early stage and additional support from the team can be requested. It is helpful for the acceptance of these short meetings to keep them as short as possible and still let everyone talk.                                            

2. Present progress transparently

On a board on the wall, handwritten or projected information about who is currently working on which task or project is displayed transparently for each team member. The tasks that have already been completed and the tasks that are due next are also visualized. This allows everyone to ask questions, contribute ideas or offer support.

3. Introduce short feedback loops 

To expand the feedback culture, it helps to implement regular feedback loops. Often it is not easy for employees to praise and criticize each other in a supportive and appreciative way. Feedback techniques can also be fundamentally introduced in special trainings if required. Feedback skills are indispensable for the development of a culture of error, the implementation of retrospectives and any further development processes. There can be regular feedback on both the task status, (‘What works well? What can be improved?’) and at the same time, however, interpersonal feedback should not be ignored, (‘How does our cooperation work? How am I currently doing in the team? What do I need for myself?‘).

Conclusion

Agile collaboration is certainly a successful path in today’s global market. However, agile working requires a fundamental attitude, values and way of thinking. If these are still lacking in the company, it makes sense as preparation on the way to agile working to lay the foundation with measures that expand and improve communication, feedback culture, etc …

If you would like to learn more about agile teams, you can contact me on

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