Incorporating team values, especially in Agile teams is critical to creating a work culture that is collaborative in the first place. It forms the bigger roof that brings together all team members and fosters unity.
In an Agile teamwork environment-
People realize that thinking, planning, decisions, and actions are most effective when done in a cooperative manner.
People strongly support the notion- “none of us is as good as all of us."
Everyone in the team takes care of each other’s needs
Members plan better things to make the team superior
Individuals keep the needs of others ahead of theirs.
Culture of team can be transformed completely
Each team member can help in making team better
Organizations spend on sending teams to Team building events and expect greater results from the team by sponsoring to the team building events which is not true.
I would like to share few simple techniques from my experience which does help teams become a high-performing teams (which is a goal of a Scrum Master or an Agile Coach).
Technique 1 – Serving each other in the team
In one of the Agile teams I coached, there was an individual who always used to ask this question “How can I help you?” very frequently. The question kind of became viral in the team and as a result, there was a massive change in the behaviour of the team.
Industry-wide research has revealed that when team members are supportive and motivated enough to help their peers, such teams are automatically high-performing. It has also been observed that the members stay in such teams for longer periods.
The act of serving others is further strengthened by persistent cooperation among team members and eventually transforms to a productivity cult. It is the role of the management to build positive relationship amongst the team members and serving each other in the team helps in building positive relationships. The role of an Agile servant leader is worth mentioning in this context.
This serving cult leads to an effective collaboration of roles, which benefits Agile teams in the long run.
How to build the culture of serving each other in a Team?
When teammates serve one another, the level of caring and trust in teams increases dramatically. As an Agile lead, there are two important questions you need to ask to gauge this potential in your team.
What are you currently doing to serve others in your team?
Who in your team can you serve at this moment?
STEP 1 – DISCUSS
If we all started actively serving each other, what kind of difference would it make in our team?
What does or would service look like in our team?
How does service affect others?
STEP 2 – ACT
Start getting your team to serve each other. Challenge them to do one nice thing today for a teammate. Give them a few minutes to reflect on what they might do after giving them the challenge.
STEP 3 – PLAN
Have your team create a service plan.
In the table below, create a “Service Plan.” List each of your teammates that you can serve now. Next to each name, write an act of service they would appreciate. Include the date on which you will complete the service.
STEP 4 – FOLLOW UP
In your meetings to follow, set a few minutes aside to talk about what the service looked like that week in your team.
Note: Without follow up you won’t keep the momentum you have gained through the service effect. So, it is important that you ensure this becomes a regular part of your meetings.
STEP 5 – ENJOY and WATCH
Enjoy watching the service effect take place. It is an amazing thing!
Technique 2 – Appreciating, Encouraging and Complimenting Each Other in the Team
Here is one interesting story that has been doing the rounds on Facebook for quite some time.
Too many times a perfectly good day is ruined by someone else’s negativity . You wake up in a great mood because you get to spend me entire day a a job that you absolutely love and then
BOOM you walk into the office and you get an uneasy feeling. You may start feeling drained, unproductive, and unhappy in that job you love so much
- Nicole Tinkham
How to Create a Positive Environment in the Team?
Take the time to get to know your teammates personally
Work through problems together
Recognise when personal problems are impacting the work culture and talk them through
Be generous when rewarding merit but don’t give it out for everything
Take time to explain any changes you implement to avoid anxiety
Appreciate each other’s contribution to the work
Remain positive (You always have a choice, develop the mindset required to remain positive)
Don’t become the problem
Following activity can be used in building the Positive Environment within the team (either Co-located or Distributed (by making little modifications))
Give everyone in the team an index card and a piece of masking tape.
Instruct the team to tape the card to each other’s backs.
Once everyone has a card taped to their back, instruct them to think about something they really like or admire about each person, and write it on the index card taped to that person’s back. What you write needs to be something that is genuine and thoughtful.
When everyone is done, have each team member find their own space and read what is written on their card.
Bring the team back together when done.
When you have the team back together, ask the following questions:
How did it feel to read positive things from your teammates?
Going forward, what can we do to be more positive and encouraging to each other?
Note: For Distributed Teams, use Email instead of Index Card for the same activity
In the preceding sections we have already seen the significance of “How teammates treated one another” has great impact on team becoming a high-performing team.
Following are few more techniques, which can help the team in transforming to a high-performing team -
Technique 3 – Giving and Receiving Feedback in a Team
The wrong reasons to give feedback :
The right reason to give feedback:
Defend / excuse your own behaviour
To demoralize / condemn
You're in a bad mood
To appease a third party.
To make yourself seem superior / powerful.
Commitment / concern for another.
Sense of responsibility.
To guide / mentor.
To support / enhance.
While giving the feedback –
Reflect on the purpose of feedback being given
Focus on the behaviour, not the person
Lead with questions
How to give Feedback?
One well known strategy for feedback is the “criticism sandwich,” popularized by Mary Kay Ash.
For preparing to receive the feedback –
Ask for feedback often
Ask for time to reflect on what you’ve heard, one element at a time
Cultivate a growth mindset
Take credit for your mistakes and grow
Feedback is truly a gift. You can’t become a great teammate without it. Your teammates have the combination for unlocking personal performance barriers you aren’t even aware of. All you have to do is ask, listen, acknowledge, act, follow up, and repeat.
Following activity can be used in creating the culture of giving and receiving Feedback within the team-
Create an action plan for getting honest feedback from the members of your team in the next month. The action plan should include your approach to scheduling your one-on-one meetings and follow-up on the feedback you receive.
Technique 4 – Establishing Psychological Safety
Helping the team succeed is the most meaningful work I’ve ever done. You need a psychological safety for getting people to open up and discuss anything that is critical for a team to be transformed to a high-performing team. Conversational turn-taking and empathy are the behaviours that create psychological safety.
In some of the best teams, the team members are sensitive and empathetic about their teammates. This fosters an environment of psychological safety. It allows for moderate risk-taking, speaking one’s mind fearlessly and most important- “sticking out your neck without fear of having it cut off”. These are nothing but the types of behaviour that result in major market breakthroughs.
How can you increase psychological safety for your own team?
When team members think that their expertise is valued, good things happen
Make everyone feel included and important
Allow people to ask a lot of questions and think about new ways of working
Everyone on the team isn’t scared to speak their mind or do things like take time off if they need it.
Make sure the team is working towards a common goal
Share your experiences (mostly the project mistakes you committed in the past) and help people understand that it is safe to talk about mistakes and learn from them
Support your team in a manner so that they can rely on you for their problems
An activity called “Johari Window” can be used to increase psychological safety on your own team.
A high-performing team takes time and effort to build. The most difficult part is to maintain the productivity level in such teams. It comes through team engagement and collaboration. Establishing psychological safety is the key to success in every high-performing team, not just the Agile teams discussed in this article. It is essential on the part of the team members as well as the leads and project managers to instill positivity and encourage reflective thoughts, which are the productivity fuels that help a team grow endlessly.
Sandeep is an Agile mentor with more than 12 years of experience as a Developer, Test Engineer, Automation Engineer, Scrum Master and an Agile Coach. He is presently working as an Agile Coach at Knowledgehut Solutions Pvt Ltd. Up until this point, he has prepared 800+ programming experts and trained more than 450+ programming experts in Agile journey at different organizations.