Why People Want to Work in Agile Teams

Agile talks a lot about self-organized teams, where developers and testers work together to deliver software. In this third article in the series on agile teams, I’ll explore why you want to work in a team, what’s in it for you?

Talking with people I notice that there’s much unclearness on what agile team 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.

In the first article What are agile teams? I 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.

Why work in agile teams

When people are introduced to agile, for instance when an organization is going through an agile transformation, they may ask themselves “what’s in it for me?” Which is a very valid question to ask. For years they have been doing their work in a certain way, and now somebody is telling them that they will become part of a team and have to do their work differently.

Let me make clear that I’m against imposing anything on people. If you want people to change their way of working (which is already questionable) you can invite them to try it. My approach is to help people reflect on how things are going (for instance by playing the Agile Self-assessment Game), and have them decide what they would like to do differently.

Ok, back to the question of “what’s in it for me”. Some of the benefits that I see for individual team members are:

  • You can learn from your teammates just by talking to them, in retrospectives, by pairing, working as a mob
  • It’s easier to get help from or give help to teammates
  • Team members can mentor and coach each other
  • Together in a team, you can get more done and get credits for it
  • Most people find it satisfactory to work in teams

What’s better than learning from peers, from people who face similar problems that you have and have found ways to deal with them. In teams, people learn from each other when they work together daily.

Agile retrospectives are a great way for teams to reflect and learn. When people feel safe in a team it easier for them to speak up. Don’t use them only to talk about problems, remember to also share good things and encourage people to try something new.

Pairing and working as a mob are some of the techniques that teams can use to deal with complex problems. They are intense ways of working together, so use them wisely as they may drain your energy.

If you get stuck, then you can ask a team member for help. As you know and trust each other in a team, it will be easier to do this.

Similar to that it’s easier for people to offer help to a teammate than to somebody outside the team.

Once asking for and getting help becomes a habit, you can take it further by coaching and mentoring each other in teams. People feel rewarded when they can help others to develop themselves, teaching them to go fishing instead of giving them food.

People basically want to do a good job and create something that’s valuable. In teams, people can do more than working individually, and they can do things better. Accomplishing more makes people feel good.

When working in a team you often get more credits than working individually. Although it might initially be challenging, in the long run it’s easier for managers to give credit to a team than to an individual. The results that an agile team delivers are visible (sprint review!). Crediting the team also encourages collaboration, where crediting individuals may create heroes who work mostly in isolation.

In teams, teammates can also give credits to each other. They can show their appreciation and be grateful for what their colleagues have done. A way to practice this

Humans are social beings, they like to do things together. Teams provide a safe environment for this.

A good team has camaraderie, a sense of belonging which makes work more enjoyable.

Summing up, there are many reasons why people would like to work in teams. Again, don’t impose team working on people, invite them and give them space to experience it!

There is an I in team

Earlier I interviewed William Perry about his book iTeam – Putting the “I” Back into Team, where I asked him which challenge from his book he considers most difficult for teams?

William E. Perry: The biggest challenge that teams often have is to understand the required outcome. This is essential for any team to stay focused. If they don’t understand what they will have to deliver, to whom, and why, it will be very difficult to organize the work, and find effective ways to work together. So whenever you find a team that is struggling, your first attention should be to check if the expected outcome is clear, and if it is not, then do whatever is necessary to make it clear!

You can read the full interview in Teams, what’s in it for me? An interview with William Perry

This article is the third one in a series of articles based on my presentation Teams, what’s in it for me? that I gave at the first GrowIT conference. I will give an updated version of this presentation at Agile Portugal 2019.

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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