Establishing Effective Agile Teams

Effective agile teams consist of people working intensively together to deliver value. The journey for agile teams to flourish and become effective can be challenging. This article explores what teams can do to become effective agile teams.

Talking with people I notice that there’s much unclearness on what agile team really are, why collaboration matters, and how to work together effectively in teams. The aim of my article series on agile teams is to increase awareness of agile team working and help you to get better in working together in and with agile teams.

This is the fourth article in the series on agile teams. The first article What are agile teams? explored how agile teams look and what makes them differ from a group or any other format in which people work together. The second article Working together in agile teams dived into what people say when they don’t want to work in a team and how you can start working together effectively. In the third article Why People Want to Work in Agile Teams I explored why you want to work in a team, what’s in it for you?

How effective agile teams look

Over the years I’ve worked in and with many teams. I’ve seen things that make the difference between a group of people, a team, or a real effective agile team.

In the below value statements I share my view on effective agile teams.

Cross-functional: To be effective, an agile team should be cross-functional: Together the team members should have all the competencies and skills necessary to produce a working increment of a product or service, tested and deployed software that can be used.

Collaborative: In an agile team, team members share responsibility for delivery. Team members should be working together to deliver value. In effective agile teams, supporting each other to get stuff done often takes priority over doing your own tasks.

Long-lived: To become effective, agile teams should be stable long-lived teams. Instead of assigning people to work, you prefer the work to be organized and bundled in such a way that it can be allocated to existing high-performing teams.

Trust: For people working together effectively in a team there needs to be trust among the team member. They should respect and support each other.

Psychological safety: Team members should feel safe to speak up and raise anything that worries them, any impediments that should be addressed.

Communication: In an agile team, members should communicate open and honestly with each other. If there’s an issue in the team, it should be raised as soon as possible to enable the team to deal with it and solve it.

Small-sized: For people to work together intensively and share responsibility, the size of a team matter. Although there is no hard rule, the most common team size is 7 +/- 2 people. One of the main reasons for this size is that communication between team members becomes harder when there are more people involved.

Self-organized: Agile teams are self-organized, which means that they plan and track their work. They also own their way of working, their process. Which implies that are also responsible for reflecting on how they do their work and improve. Most agile teams do agile retrospectives to become better in what they do.

Belonging: In strong teams, there is a sense of belonging, team members feel part of the team. Albeit good, this can challenge the relationships between different teams and between a team and their stakeholders (“us” vs “them”). This is something to be aware of.

Learning: Teams should make time to reflect regularly to explore what they have learned, use the things they learn to become even better. They can use their strengths as a lever to improve continuously.

How to establish effective agile teams

A lot can be done to improve agile teams and help them become effective, the question that often arises is what to do first and how to do it?

Implementing a process or a framework doesn’t work, mainly because it violates the mindset described in the manifesto for agile software development. Imposing change on people isn’t just ineffective, it’s also unethical and inhuman.

Teams should be encouraged to travel their own agile journey. Allow them to decide what to work on and how to do that. Support them when they need something.

Becoming an effective agile team

My suggestion to teams who want to improve their effectiveness is:

Read the above statements, pick one or two values that make sense to you and that you relate to, and then take some time to think about how those values could work for your team.

The above statements aren’t meant as a recipe. They are values, good practices in context. I’ve seen them work often, but I also see exceptions where they weren’t effective. And I’ve seen teams that came up with alternative solutions.

Please think about how it might work out in your team(s), try the ones that you feel could be helpful, experiment, and reflect how it works out.

And, please share how this went? I, together with the readers of this blog, love to hear what worked for you, and how you became a more effective team. What agile values helped you to become a better team, and how you accomplished that. Please share by commenting on this article!

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Ben Linders

I help organizations with effective software development and management practices. Active member of several networks on Agile, Lean and Quality, and a frequent speaker and writer.

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