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How to Build a High-Performing Agile Team?

how to create a high performing agile team

Adopting an Agile approach to software development requires more than just implementing Agile frameworks and rituals. You need to thoughtfully build a High-Performing Agile team equipped to collaborate and deliver value iteratively. Follow these tips to establish an effective Agile team.

Learn How to Build a High-Performing Agile Team

Select Members with Complementary Strengths

One of the most important steps in forming an effective Agile team is choosing members with complementary skillsets and working styles. Agile emphasizes cross-functional collaboration, so aim to build diversity into your team composition.

On the technical side, look for software developers with expertise in your tech stack as well as quality assurance skills for robust testing. Make sure to cover both frontend and backend capabilities.

Equally important are “soft” skills. Include team members

  • Who can break down complexity, spot assumptions, and assess multiple approaches in a systematic way brings critical thinking skills that are invaluable. These developers and testers can methodically dissect and debug even the thorniest of technical challenges. Their analytical abilities allow them to identify hidden risks and make well-reasoned technology choices. They also aid in accurately estimating levels of effort. Critical thinkers complement more creative team members by evaluating alternative solutions and making objective technology decisions.
  • Development teams need creative, out-of-the-box thinkers who can envision solutions from the customer’s perspective. Skilled UX designers bring this human-centered creativity and passionately advocate for intuitive, seamless user experiences. Strong visual design skills also contribute by making products more appealing and usable. The team benefits immensely from having fresh perspectives that imagine future possibilities and inspire cutting-edge innovations. Creative individuals help determine what truly delights and engages customers, not just what satisfies basic requirements. Their ability to synthesize user insights and design experiences users love adds tremendous value.
  • Having team members with business experience or knowledge is crucial for ensuring alignment with broader company goals and priorities. They provide insights into market dynamics, customer needs, competitor actions, and industry trends. This perspective helps guide technical decisions and prioritization based on business value versus just technological appeal. Business-minded team members actively consider things like time-to-market, positioning, cost reduction, and return on investment. They also communicate effectively with stakeholders across the organization to socialize solutions. Blending business thinking with technical expertise results in products more strategically tailored to company objectives. The team avoids Getting too insular and detached from real-world business constraints. Including business experience is key for development success and positive business impact.
  • Strong communication and collaboration skills are essential for effective coordination across an Agile team. Development requires constant information sharing and alignment on approaches. Skilled communicators actively listen, interpret nuances, and adapt their style to the audience. They bridge gaps between technical and non-technical members. Strong writers create documentation others easily comprehend. Astute collaborators read group dynamics and facilitate productive interactions between different personalities. They identify synergies between members and promote leverage of collective strengths. With poor communication or siloed working, misalignments readily occur. By cultivating open dialogue, transparency, and smooth collaboration, the team tackles challenges unified. Communication and collaboration-oriented members take the lead in disseminating information and forging connections. Their skillset is invaluable for cross-functional Agile teamwork.
  • An effective Agile team needs a balance of introverted and extraverted working styles. Introverts tend to be more focused and think critically in independent work. They rigorously work through complex logic and analyze risks thoroughly. Introverts need quiet work time for deep concentration. In contrast, extraverts thrive on collaboration and group problem-solving. They actively facilitate information sharing and cohesion across the full team. Extraverted team members maintain communication flows and drive consensus building. With only introverts, collaboration can suffer. Too many extraverts risks losing focus on quiet analysis. A mix of outward and inward working styles establishes a well-rounded team capable of both deep thinking and high-bandwidth teamwork. Introverts and extraverts complement each other wonderfully if you establish an environment catering to both needs.
  • An effective team blend includes both flexible generalists and specialized experts. Generalists are adaptable at picking up new skills and thriving in ambiguous situations. They can wear many hats and fill gaps as needed. This versatility makes them great Agile team players willing to take on whatever is necessary to move forward. Specialists complement generalists by providing narrow but deep expertise such as machine learning, security, or a key product domain. Their advanced skills accelerate solutions. However, specialists may be more rigid. Too many specialists risks silos and knowledge bottlenecks. With only generalists, you lack cutting-edge expertise. Blending flexible generalists who handle variability well with niche specialists who push boundaries enriches team capabilities. The combination establishes both breadth and depth of talent.

Diversity of thought and perspective allows the team to attack problems from multiple angles. Taking the time upfront to carefully curate your Agile team will pay dividends.

Promote Trust and Collaboration

Once you have assembled an Agile team, it’s critical to establish high levels of trust and collaboration amongst team members. This allows the team to leverage its diverse strengths and align efforts.

There are several ways to actively facilitate collaboration:

    • Co-locating Agile team members in close physical proximity enables significantly higher levels of coordination, collaboration, and communication through:

      • Increased opportunities for spontaneous conversations to clarify details, share knowledge, and make decisions. Being able to tap a teammate on the shoulder or have quick huddles prevents delays.
      • Better ability to read body language and interpersonal reactions during discussions. In-person interactions build stronger rapport.
      • Enhanced awareness of what everyone is working on day-to-day. Visibility enables proactive helping and dependencies.
      • Quick coordination of impromptu working sessions to tackle problems as they arise. No scheduling lag.
      • Shared team identity and camaraderie from informal interactions. Teammates become more cohesive.
      • Elimination of coordination headaches caused by time zone differences and scheduling challenges.
      • Richer information sharing through whiteboards, post-its, and viewing shared screens.
      • Subtle peer pressure motivating higher focus when working alongside teammates.

       

      Proximity enables Agile teams to leverage critical real-time collaboration, unlocking higher velocity, cohesion, and performance overall. Though colocation can present logistical challenges, it is a highly impactful Agile enabler.

       

    • Establishing a consistent daily standup meeting rhythm is a simple but powerful Agile practice. Brief 15-minute sync meetings accomplish several benefits:

      • Provides visibility into what each teammate is focused on that day and where they may need help. Surface dependencies early.
      • Regular cadence keeps the team in tight communication flow versus working in silos.
      • Quickly unblock roadblocks through team input on creative solutions.
      • Reinforces key metrics, priorities, and focus for the sprint.
      • Surfaces risks or uncertainties to the team for collective problem solving.
      • Keeps interactions concise yet consistent. Fosters listening skills.
      • Models openness and transparency on work status. Reduces guesstimating.
      • Builds familiarity and cohesion from regular informal interactions.
      • Encourages ownership and commitment through discussing daily progress.

       

      The standup ritual synergizes communication, collaboration, and accountability. A brief daily pulse check pays huge dividends for alignment.

       

    • Foster constant communication. Promote asking questions early and often versus waiting for scheduled meetings.
      • Encourage speaking up early when blocked or uncertain versus remaining silent. Make it safe to ask questions.
      • Promote reaching out to teammates informally via chat, email, or in-person rather than waiting for meetings.
      • Set an expectation that no question is too small or basic. Removing the fear of asking simple questions avoids problems.
      • Implement chat tools like Slack or Teams for real-time collaboration and conversations.
      • Have senior members model asking questions often to demonstrate it’s welcome at all levels.
      • Avoid punishing mistakes so people aren’t afraid to discuss issues early on.
      • In meetings, require all voices/opinions be heard to extract full feedback.
      • Discourage distractions during conversations so active listening occurs.
      • Document and share Q&A discussions after-the-fact for further learning.
      • Provide multiple communication channels catering to different styles and needs.

       

      Frequent, open communication unblocks progress, reduces misalignments, and enables quicker learning. Make it a cultural priority.

       

    • Provide open workspaces and group tables to bring the team together versus isolating members.
      • Makes it easy to spin up an impromptu working session to tackle issues as they pop up. Supports agility.
      • Enables quick questions and information sharing among neighbors without schedule coordination.
      • Visibility into what people are working on seeds further collaboration opportunities.
      • Whiteboards and digital displays allow teams to sketch concepts and ideas during discussions.
      • Group tables build camaraderie through informal interactions during the workday.
      • Easier for teammates to help one another and peer review work when co-located.
      • Prevents too much isolation. People tend to work solo less when directly adjacent to team members.
      • Proximity strengthens team identity, cohesion, and mutual accountability.
      • Facilitates activities like mob programming where the team works closely together.
      • Room configurations can be altered to support different event needs.

       

      The goal is to remove friction from collaboration. Open workspaces allow Agile teams to maximize flexibility, visibility, cohesion, and velocity.

       

  • Conduct iterative product demos and retrospectives. Celebrate team achievements regularly while also continuously improving.
    • Demos create a regular cadence to show working software and get feedback from stakeholders. Validates progress.
    • Seeing their work in action is motivating and a sense of achievement for the team. Celebrate wins.
    • Demos provide opportunities for course correction based on stakeholder reactions.
    • Iterative demos allow incremental refinement based on feedback versus big reveal at the end.
    • Retrospectives facilitate regular self-inspection of what’s working well and what needs improvement.
    • Teams build a habit of picking actionable improvements to build on strengths.
    • Retros encourage speaking up about pain points early before they become more serious.
    • Taking time to celebrate keeps team morale and energy high through the iterative process.
    • Short feedback loops create alignment and allow adaptation to changing needs.

     

    The combination of demos to showcase value and retrospectives for continuous improvement creates a highly effective feedback cycle for maximum team effectiveness.

     

  • Promote psychological safety on the team so everyone feels comfortable speaking up.
    • Leaders need to actively invite opinions, questions, and feedback from the full team, especially introverts.
    • Make it clear there are no repercussions for asking “dumb” questions or challenging ideas respectfully.
    • When people do speak up, thank them for their courage and input to reinforce the behavior.
    • Discourage dominating personalities from shutting down dissenting views.
    • Don’t rush to decisions to ensure all perspectives are heard.
    • Adopt a learning mindset when mistakes happen rather than blaming or punishing.
    • Model vulnerability and openness yourself as a leader.
    • Keep performance reviews and rewards delinked from day-to-day peer interactions.
    • Promote empathy, diversity, and inclusion as key values. Reduce intimidation.
    • Never publicly criticize those who take risks and speak openly about issues.

     

    Speaking up should feel rewarding. By fostering psychological safety, you enable the full team’s ideas and avoid blind spots. This accelerates innovation.

     

  • Break down silos and discourage turf wars. Build a one team mentality focused on delivering value.
    • Continuously reinforce that it’s one shared mission and avoiding a “that’s not my job” mentality.
    • Celebrate when members go above their roles to unblock progress towards team goals.
    • Discourage language like “my code” versus “our code” or “our product”. Promote collective ownership.
    • Call out and address siloed behaviors when you see them. Highlight the risk.
    • Facilitate collaboration across disciplines like joint design reviews, code walkthroughs, pairing, etc.
    • Rotate team members across areas and projects to cross-pollinate knowledge.
    • Promote T-shaped skills where members have secondary experience in other domains.
    • Have team building activities to strengthen relationships and trust across the group.
    • Recognize those who proactively share knowledge and help others outside their role.
    • Establish collective metrics and rewards versus individual ones.

    Constant emphasis from leadership on “one team” and modeling collaborative values yourself goes a long way.

Strong leadership plays a key role in building trust and reinforcing collaborative behaviors. Servant leaders model vulnerability and constructive feedback. They unlock the team’s potential.

Set Clear Expectations

Managing expectations is vital for Agile team effectiveness and alignment. Take time to educate team members and stakeholders on the Agile process, which differs considerably from traditional waterfall development.

  • Explain how Agile focuses on iterative delivery versus rigid sequential phases. There is an expectation of continuous learning and improvement.
    • Agile is organized into short, repeatable work cycles (sprints) rather than long, linear phases. Each sprint delivers incremental value.
    • Requirements are refined iteratively based on feedback versus fully defined upfront. Agile expects changes to emerge.
    • Early and continuous delivery of working software for stakeholder feedback vs big reveal.
    • Expectation of rapid experimentation and course correction vs rigid plan execution.
    • Focus on producing the highest value features first based on regular re-prioritization.
    • Tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty versus detailed specifications.
    • Planning is adaptive and flexible vs prescriptive. The plan adapts based on learnings.
    • Progress is measured working software delivered versus intermediate documents.
    • Control comes from transparency and inspection vs restrictive processes.
    • Technical excellence and sustainable pace are upheld through retrospectives and continuous improvement.

     

    The key message is Agile values responding to change and rapid feedback over rigid processes and hierarchies. There is an expectation of constant refinement.

     

  • Provide transparency into the product roadmap and release planning. Make sure the team understands the long-term vision.
    • Maintain a high-level roadmap visible to all teams summarizing major initiatives and goals by quarter.
    • Do product roadmap reviews to explain priorities and get feedback on what resonates or is unclear.
    • Provide visibility into hypotheses and desired outcomes behind major roadmap themes.
    • Communicate any key constraints around resources, timelines, or dependencies that influence scope.
    • Involve Agile teams in release planning sessions to gain commitment and shared understanding.
    • Allow teams to challenge and provide input on release timelines based on past velocity.
    • Provide traceability back to strategic goals and customer needs for features.
    • Maintain a visible ranked backlog so teams can visualize priority order.
    • Be transparent about likelihood of changes based on feedback and learnings.
    • Publish release plans outlining major milestones, targets, and success metrics.

     

    Roadmap transparency enables teams to align their work, make informed tradeoffs, and feel connected to the big picture vision.

     

  • Involve the team in sprint planning and workload estimation. By empowering the team to forecast work, you set realistic expectations.
    • Facilitate sprint planning as a working session for the team to size stories collaboratively. Avoid top-down mandating.
    • Help teams estimate in story points versus hours to account for uncertainty and focus on relative sizing.
    • Encourage discussions on complexity, unknowns, and dependencies during estimation.
    • Have developers sign up for stories based on their skills and capacity for the sprint.
    • Leave room for unplanned work and drag by not overcommitting.
    • Use velocity from past sprints to forecast what is achievable. Tune based on team feedback.
    • Empower the team to say “no” if they feel the workload is infeasible due to external dependencies.
    • Revisit sprint capacity regularly as new information surfaces on throughput.
    • Avoid perceived mandates from management by framing estimates as a team exercise.

     

    Collaborative planning builds understanding of the work, buy-in, and shared accountability to deliver.

     

  • Communicate assumptions and constraints around scope, resources, and deadlines. Revisit these actively.
    • Document key assumptions about technical approach, user behaviors, market conditions etc. and risks if invalid.
    • Highlight any known constraints around budget, resource availability, technology limitations early.
    • Note dependencies on other teams/projects that influence scope and schedule.
    • Establish a common understanding of what is minimally viable scope for first release.
    • Avoid vague statements like “we need this done soon.” Quantify timelines and driving factors.
    • Revisit assumptions and constraints frequently as more is learned. Don’t let them become stale.
    • Assess the impact of shifting assumptions, constraints, and dependencies on scope and priorities.
    • Empower the team to speak up about changes to constraints that require re-planning.
    • Track constraints actively in case they can be removed through other means.
    • Have a risk/dependency board visible to all to facilitate re-evaluation.

     

    Keeping assumptions and constraints clearly visible and regularly revisited encourages reality-checking. This helps set realistic plans.

     

  • Establish trust that the team will self-organize and adapt to meet goals, without excessive oversight.
    • Provide transparency into goals and priorities but let the team determine execution details.
    • Avoid micromanaging tasks and prescribing rigid processes. Allow experimentation.
    • When the path is unclear, resist jumping in with the answer. Ask thoughtful questions to guide team thinking.
    • Praise the team’s efforts and ideas before providing your own to reinforce autonomy.
    • Allow failures and course corrections to occur. Highlight learnings vs criticize.
    • Recognize those who take initiative and problem solve independently.
    • Provide time for self-organization activities like retrospectives and process improvements.
    • Delegate ownership of team rituals like standups, demos, etc to cultivate commitment.
    • Accept that team solutions may differ from your preferred approach if they meet the goals.
    • Focus more on outcomes versus low-level activities and status checks.

     

    Trust is built over time by reinforcing team empowerment, providing air cover, and highlighting small wins.

     

  • Promote early delivery of working software for user feedback versus polished products. Manage perfectionist tendencies.
    • Reinforce that done is better than perfect. Prevent scope creep and endless tweaks.
    • Celebrate releasing early prototypes and minimal viable products (MVPs) to users.
    • Prioritize breadth of functionality over depth in early releases to accelerate feedback.
    • Emphasize importance of speed in capturing market share and learning.
    • Analyze where extra polish does and doesn’t impact key user interactions. Cut unnecessary gold plating.
    • Establish measurable thresholds like performance budgets or acceptance criteria.
    • Demonstrate how early user feedback leads to better solutions vs designing in a vacuum.
    • Call out when perfectionism causes diminishing returns. Quantify the tradeoffs.
    • Focus test scenarios on core happy paths first. Enhance edge case coverage over time.
    • Maintain fixed sprint durations to avoid unrestrained polish time.

     

    Continuous delivery of valuable functionality beats delayed perfect products.

     

  • Have regular check-ins on progress and impediments. Course correct early if expectations need realignment.
    • Set a consistent cadence for check-ins (e.g. weekly) so it’s predictable. Keep them timeboxed.
    • Make the format conversational vs interrogational. Start positive by recognizing progress.
    • Gauge morale and energy levels on the team. Are people excited and motivated?
    • Dig into any ambiguities or misalignments on priorities and outcomes.
    • Identify cross-team dependencies that may pose risks. Escalate if needed.
    • Discuss newly emerged constraints, learnings, or discoveries that impact scope.
    • Check if the team has the skills, information, and resources needed to progress.
    • Jointly brainstorm solutions if the team is blocked by dependencies.
    • Align on any corrective actions if expectations need to be re-baselined.
    • Close with appreciation for the team’s transparency and commitment.

     

    Frequent, light check-ins enable early diagnosis of impediments while maintaining trust and morale. This keeps expectations realistic.

     

Continuously reinforcing Agile principles and mindsets creates clarity and alignment. The team knows what success looks like and how to achieve it.

Develop an Agile Mindset

For an Agile team to thrive, members need to adopt key Agile values and principles into their mindsets and day-to-day work. Consider providing formal training on Agile fundamentals to align the team. Reinforce key aspects of an Agile mindset:

  • Focus on delivering maximum customer value above all else. Build what users want and need.
    • Begin every discussion of new features by connecting to real user needs and pain points. Stay grounded in benefiting users.
    • Prioritize features based on direct customer feedback versus internal assumptions. Verify ideas through user research.
    • Evaluate features by potential value delivered vs. effort required. Focus on high-impact.
    • Define value in user terms: saving time, avoiding frustration, accomplishing goals.
    • Break large initiatives into smaller experiments delivering incremental value.

     

    -Measure success by usage metrics and positive user feedback.

     

    • Scope functionality to viable minimums needed to address a need. Avoid over-engineering.
    • Cut features that don’t align with user priorities, even if technically interesting.
    • Foster user-centered design skills like empathy, observation, and ideation.
    • Increase user representation and testing during development.

     

    Delighting and empowering customers should be the ultimate driver of decisions, not technical novelty or internal politics.

     

  • Bias towards action and continuous delivery versus perfectionism. Favor experimentation and iteration.
    • Celebrate progress frequently, even small wins. Forward momentum matters.
    • Analyze where time is spent. Call out over-engineering or polish with minimal value.
    • Challenge teams to hit regular release cadences, like 1x/month. Increase tempo.
    • Empower teams to simplify and scope down requirements when feasible. Faster is better.
    • Allow experiments and testing of ideas, even if some fail. Learn what resonates.
    • Focus on the biggest pain points first. Defer nice-to-haves.
    • Validate direction with minimum viable solutions before full build-out.
    • Foster decisiveness via techniques like timeboxing discussions.
    • Support modular architecture to enable incremental delivery.
    • Automate and streamline processes to increase flow. Remove waste.
    • Inspect and adapt quickly if something isn’t working. Pivot.

     

    Reinforcing “done beats perfect” shifts mindsets to value speed and action. This accelerates innovation.

     

  • Take a fail-fast approach to learn quickly. See failures as learning opportunities, not catastrophes.
    • Teach teams that failure in innovation is expected and leads to key learnings. It’s part of discovery.
    • Openly discuss past failures and their insights without blame or punishment.
    • Celebrate smart failures that were worthwhile experiments even if unsuccessful.
    • Ensure teams spend time reflecting on what was learned from each failure through retrospectives.
    • Focus on root causes versus accusing people when things go wrong.
    • Avoid language that dramatizes failures as disasters or wastes of time.
    • Encourage building prototypes and experiments that challenge assumptions.
    • Reward those who had the courage to try new things that didn’t quite pan out.
    • Budget time for testing ideas that might be discarded. Not everything will work.
    • Cut losses quickly when data shows an idea isn’t viable. Pivot fast.
    • Maintain a backlog of promising concepts to try next if an experiment fails.

     

    With the right culture, teams won’t be discouraged by failures. They’ll leverage the learnings.

     

  • Embrace change and new information. Be flexible and adaptable in dynamic environments.
    • Teach that change is inevitable. Success comes from adapting quickly.
    • Provide examples of past shifts the team responded to well. Celebrate the upside.
    • Reward those who demonstrate flexibility and openness to new directions.
    • Allow time to digest and process changes rather than forcing immediate decisions.
    • When changes occur, focus discussions on new opportunities created.
    • Maintain open, transparent communication around reasoning for changes.
    • Encourage hypothesizing and experimenting with new information vs reacting defensively.
    • Develop plans and roadmaps with explicit assumptions that can be revisited.
    • Build a culture that avoids knee-jerk negativity or resistance when plans shift.
    • Promote modular system architecture to limit ripple effects of changes.
    • Celebrate releases as progress markers rather than rigid attachments.

     

    With the right mindset shift, teams can pivot smoothly because they expect change and learn from it.

     

  • Promote whole-team accountability for success. Foster shared ownership and commitment.
    • Establish collective goals and metrics for the team versus individual ones. Celebrate joint success.
    • Encourage use of inclusive language – “we”, “our”, etc. Reinforce one team mentality.
    • Discourage pointing fingers or blaming when issues arise. Focus on joint learning.
    • Call out and address situations where some team members offload work to others.
    • Allow teams to assign tasks themselves based on skills and capacity. Avoid prescribing.
    • Conduct team retrospectives on accomplishments and improvement areas.
    • Recognize those who step up proactively when help is needed by the team.
    • Model shared ownership by rolling up your sleeves to unblock team progress.
    • Challenge areas where coordination breakdowns occur and improve flows.
    • Reward team collaboration achievements over individual heroics.
    • Keep team composition stable over time to build mutual accountability.

     

    With shared mindset, values, and purpose, the team shoulders wins and losses together.

     

  • Communicate constantly. Over-communication builds transparency and coordination.
    • Have the team document decisions and share knowledge in accessible places like wikis.
    • Model open communication yourself. Think out loud even when uncertain.
    • Establish chat channels on tools like Slack for real-time coordination.
    • Spend more time listening than speaking. Draw out quieter voices.
    • Promote asking early for clarification versus assuming and forging ahead.
    • Challenge assumptions publicly in meetings to uncover disconnects.
    • Discourage using email for substantial discussions. Have conversations instead.
    • Set norms that important discussions require synchronous communication.
    • Define acronyms and terminology when presenting to mixed audiences.
    • Overview roadmaps, project plans, and status visibility frequently.
    • Treating questions and clarifications as constructive, never bothersome.
    • Allot time for digestion of information and allowing feedback cycles.

     

    With constant communication, transparency emerges, coordination improves, and waste decreases.

     

  • Value collaboration over individual roles. Leverage cross-functional strengths.
    • Encourage cross-training and exposure to other disciplines to build T-shaped skills.
    • Rotate team members across different pairs and mob programming groups. Vary perspectives.
    • Foster informal mentorships and peer learning opportunities across roles.
    • Reward those who proactively lend their skills to unblock teammates.
    • Schedule brainstorms and design reviews that bring all disciplines together.
    • Discourage turfism and silos. Call out “that’s not my job” mentalities.
    • Prevent divisions like front-end vs. back-end or devs vs. ops. Reinforce one team.
    • Establish collective ownership of code, products, and features vs personal fiefdoms.
    • Structure spaces, meetings, and activities to spark creative collisions.
    • Celebrate outcomes achieved by fluid, cross-functional teaming.
    • Hire for collaborative behaviors in addition to specialist skills.

     

    Reinforcing shared purpose and goals binds teams together. Leverage diverse skills.

     

  • Optimize for flow of work. Reduce waste through continuous improvement.
    • Train teams to recognize the seven forms of waste defined in Lean as non-value add.
    • Schedule regular process review sessions focused on impediments and inefficiencies.
    • Empower teams to redesign workflows without waiting for top-down mandates.
    • Challenge teams to quantify how much time is spent on different activities to identify waste.
    • Encourage ideas for automating manual tasks through scripting, tools, etc.
    • Prioritize backlog items that improve internal processes versus just external features.
    • Visualize workflows via swimlane diagrams. Look for hand-off points and bottlenecks.
    • Limit work in progress. Focus on finishing activities before starting new ones.
    • Structure spaces and boards to maximize visibility into work status.
    • Reward continuous incremental process improvements over big bang changes.

     

    With a focus on work flow, teams become adept at eliminating non-value add activities over time.

     

  • Maintain sustainable pace and work-life balance. Marathon over sprint mentality.
    • Encourage taking ample breaks during work to recharge mentally and avoid burnout.
    • Coach teams on capacity planning and workload balancing across sprints. Avoid overcommitting.
    • Track velocity trends over time and adjust plans when teams are overburdened.
    • Establish sustainable work hours expectations. Discourage weekends and frequent overtime.
    • Allow flexible schedules when possible so team members can adjust around personal needs.
    • Incorporate refresh periods of a few days between sprints to unwind.
    • Institute a mandatory cut-off time in the evenings with no expectations to work later.
    • Challenge the notion that more hours worked equals more progress. Output matters.
    • Make sure team events and social activities are voluntary versus compulsory fun.
    • Promote taking ample vacation time per year to decompress fully. Lead by example.
    • Check in on morale and energy levels. Hold focused renew-and-refresh sessions when needed.

     

    With the marathon in mind, teams can avoid burnout and cultivate high performance over the long-term.

Instilling these principles at both individual and team levels is foundational. Reinforce them through leadership coaching and modeling desired behaviors.

Choose an Enabling Leader

Agile teams thrive under a facilitative servant leader who empowers and supports the team versus commanding and controlling it. As you assign leadership roles, look for these qualities:

  • Coaching mindset – Develops individual team members and unlocks their strengths
    • Schedule regular 1:1s focused on their goals, growth areas, and career aspirations. Listen deeply.
    • Provide feedback that balances praise for strengths with challenge areas for growth.
    • Use questioning techniques to guide team members to solve problems themselves vs giving the answer.
    • Offer to mentor team members informally through job shadowing, pairing, troubleshooting together.
    • Recognize areas of untapped potential and provide stretch opportunities.
    • Discuss paths for advancement and needed skill development. Connect them to training resources.
    • Maintain a growth mindset. Believe people can get better with effort and practice.
    • Care about team members as people. Learn their passions outside of work.
    • Analyze their strengths and weaknesses to tailor your leadership style for each individual.
    • Inspire self-confidence in their abilities to take on new challenges.
    • Set the example yourself as a continuous learner. Admit when you don’t know something.

     

    Focusing on unlocking potential creates engaged, empowered teammates.

     

  • Servant leadership – Focuses on clearing roadblocks and enabling the team over personal status
    • Don’t simply dictate solutions. Ask how you can help the team be more productive.
    • When new requirements arrive, first question their validity rather than just passing them to the team. Push back if they threaten sustainable pace.
    • Shield the team from unnecessary organization politics, noise, and distractions.
    • View your role as supporting and facilitating the team versus commanding.
    • Get hands-on with the actual work periodically so you understand it deeply. Don’t only manage from afar.
    • Fight for resources, budget, and headcount the team needs to operate optimally. Be their advocate.
    • Take time to listen to team challenges and frustrations. Don’t quickly judge.
    • Before meetings, think about how to make them valuable uses of team time. Be respectful of their time.
    • Publicly appreciate the team’s efforts and achievements before taking any credit yourself.
    • When priorities change, explain context for why and how it serves customers and the company mission.

     

    Servant leaders enable teams by constantly listening, removing roadblocks, and connecting work to purpose. They lead by example.

     

  • Vulnerability – Comfortable with uncertainty, asks for help, and admits mistakes
    • Admit when you don’t have all the answers. Avoid pretending to be an expert when you aren’t.
    • Be open about your mistakes and what you learned from them. Show you’re human.
    • When receiving critical feedback, listen openly without being defensive.
    • Share your own developmental areas and how you are working to improve.
    • When making difficult decisions, explain your reasoning transparently.
    • Be willing to ask others for help and input when tackling challenging problems. Don’t go it alone.
    • Show emotions authentically when appropriate. Don’t hide feelings.
    • Adopt a growth mindset. Take feedback as an opportunity to improve.
    • Let your guard down occasionally. Share personal stories or challenges at the right times.
    • Admit uncertainty about the future. Avoid pretending full confidence.
    • Ask more questions than make statements. Stay curious.

     

    Showing vulnerability builds trust and connection. It signals no one has all the answers.

     

  • Humility – Values team autonomy and input. Avoids ego and top-down decision making
    • Solicit ideas and input from the team early before driving your own solution. Don’t assume you know best.
    • When receiving feedback or challenges, thank the person sincerely even if you disagree. Stay open.
    • Attribute team successes to “we” rather than taking personal credit with “I”. Share praise.
    • Admit when someone on the team has more expertise in an area than you. Learn from them.
    • Before meetings, reflect on your own biases and mental models to hear others fully.
    • If you make a mistake or fail, own up to it transparently. Avoid blaming others.
    • When communicating changes, explain the why before the what. Provide context.
    • Delegate authority and accountability. Don’t micromanage execution.
    • Seek first to understand deeply before driving consensus.
    • Uplift others through sincere praise, development opportunities, and removing roadblocks.

     

    With humility, leaders elevate the team and set the stage for continuous improvement.

     

  • Emotional intelligence – Skilled at reading team dynamics and motivations
    • Reading facial expressions and body language during interactions and tuning your style accordingly.
    • Picking up on interpersonal tensions or power dynamics within the team. Addressing issues proactively before they escalate.
    • Understanding each individual’s personality, work style, and motivations. Tailoring your interactions for their needs.
    • Noticing changes in team morale, energy levels, or performance. Digging into root causes like stress, unclear priorities, etc.
    • Acknowledging people’s feelings appropriately during emotionally charged situations. Then focusing on resolving the underlying issues.
    • Checking in 1:1 about how people are feeling about their work and role. Providing support.
    • Reassuring anxious team members by providing context and restoring calm.
    • Resolving conflicts diplomatically through empathy, active listening, and finding common ground.
    • Celebrating milestones and achievements that the team is passionate about.
    • Advocating for resources and environment needed for peak team performance and satisfaction.

     

    Emotionally intelligent leaders foster a positive, caring culture where people feel valued, motivated, and connected to purpose.

     

  • Communication – Explains context and priorities clearly. Actively listens.
    • Summarize key takeaways after lengthy discussions to ensure shared understanding.
    • Share the why behind decisions transparently. Provide context.
    • Actively listen without interruption. Refrain from jumping to solutions.
    • Tailor communication style and vocabulary appropriately for different audiences.
    • Welcome clarifying questions and feedback. Don’t get defensive.
    • Write clearly and concisely in emails, documents, and presentations.
    • Verify decisions through agreed upon next steps and owners.
    • Keep body language open and engaged during discussions. Make eye contact.
    • Repeat back statements to confirm accurate interpretation. Avoid assumptions.
    • Ask thoughtful questions that demonstrate understanding before responding.
    • Provide avenues for staff to provide confidential, anonymous input if needed.
    • Set expectations that important issues will be addressed synchronously.

     

    Effective leaders actively listen, provide context, clarify, and adapt their style for transparency and shared understanding.

     

  • Collaboration – Brings out synergies between different roles and personalities
    • Facilitating introductions and ice breakers for new team members to build connections.
    • Recognizing silos or conflicts between roles. Proactively addressing issues through open dialog.
    • Running workshops that bring different disciplines together for creative problem solving.
    • Building relationships across the organization to enable smoother cross-team coordination.
    • Acting as a mediator during conflicts to uncover common interests and compromise.
    • Celebrating group achievements that involved synergies between different team members.
    • Promoting activities like pair programming, peer reviews, and shadowing across roles.
    • Structuring spaces, workflows, and rituals to spark serendipitous collisions and sharing.
    • Rotating team members across different projects and groups to cross-pollinate.
    • Seeking diversity of thought and perspective when building teams.
    • Making time for team building activities outside of regular work.

     

    Effective collaborators identify synergies between different working styles and perspectives. They unite people around shared goals.

     

  • Respected technically – Can pitch in hands-on and has relevant experience
    • Roll up their sleeves to pitch in on solving complex technical problems alongside the team when useful.
    • Schedule time occasionally for hands-on work in the code, tools, or other environment to maintain familiarity.
    • Learn enough about the technology to have intelligent conversations, ask good questions and grasp tradeoffs.
    • Attend technical training and conferences to stay current on skills, industry trends, and innovations.
    • Read books, blogs, and papers on relevant technical topics to build knowledge. Stay curious.

     

    -When discussing technical options, they can articulate pros/cons based on contextual factors like past experiences.

     

    • Facilitate architecture reviews, design sessions, and technical forums to stay involved.
    • Take pride in their abilities and track record for shipping successful technical products and features in past roles.
    • Obtain relevant certifications and continuously build expertise in at least one area, like coding, data science, etc.
    • Dedicate focused time for hands-on experimentation and informal mentoring. Make it a priority amidst management demands.

     

    Leaders with technical chops inspire confidence that they genuinely understand the work. They avoid being abstract.

     

  • Change oriented – Comfortable with ambiguity and contradictions
    • Openly acknowledging when old processes, tools, or strategies are no longer working effectively. Challenging the status quo.
    • Treating setbacks or changes in plans as opportunities for learning and improvement rather than failure.
    • Actively seeking ways to experiment, test new ideas, and expand the solution space. Encouraging innovative thinking.
    • Recognizing contradictions and uncertainty are inherent in complex problems. Avoiding simplistic thinking.
    • Inviting dissenting perspectives and critically re-examining assumptions and constraints. Remaining flexible.
    • Making time and space for reflection and re-evaluation of direction. Not locking into rigid plans.
    • Updating workflows, rituals, and communication strategies regularly in search of improvements. Continuously adapting.
    • Celebrating team members who take thoughtful risks and try new approaches. Rewarding those efforts even if unsuccessful.
    • Adopting new collaboration tools and techniques enthusiastically to enable change and acceleration.
    • Maintaining calm and steadfast focus during times of rapid change or turmoil. Providing reassuring guidance.

     

    Change-oriented leaders stay open, flexible and future-focused. They turn uncertainty into opportunity.

     

  • Growth focused – Helps the team continuously improve and hit stretch goals
    • Setting “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” that feel aspirational and energize people’s imaginations.
    • Structuring regular retrospectives and soliciting ideas to improve processes, tools, and team dynamics.
    • Identifying skills team members need to develop and providing training opportunities.
    • Celebrating wins but immediately refocusing on the next challenge. Keep momentum going.
    • Coaching people through imposter syndrome and resistance when tackling stretches.
    • Scanning industry innovations and bringing in fresh ideas for consideration.
    • Running post-mortems on failures to extract learnings rather than assigning blame.
    • Encouraging taking smart risks and experimenting with new methods. Learning from mistakes.
    • Looking beyond immediate business needs to develop people for the roles they aspire to. Taking a long view.
    • Asking probing questions that challenge assumptions and status quo. Pushing people’s thinking.
    • Making space for reflection, rejuvenation and renewal to avoid burnout.

     

    Growth-oriented leaders inspire continuous improvement, talent development, and future readiness. They nurture potential.

     

The leader should defend the team’s autonomy while providing cover from bureaucracy and distractions. They foster psychological safety, accountability, and relentless improvement. With strong leadership, an Agile team can reach new heights.

Final Words

Forming a high-performing Agile team takes forethought and continuous cultivation. Start by thoughtfully assembling complementary skills, work styles, and perspectives. Foster open communication, trust, camaraderie, and a growth mindset through leadership coaching and modeling desired behaviors.

Keep the team focused on delivering maximum customer value early and often. Provide air cover, resources, and support to unlock their potential. Maintain sustainable pace and work-life balance.

Continuously inspect and adapt processes and team dynamics through retrospectives. Celebrate small wins but remain hungry for improvement.

With the right ingredients of people, environment, and culture, Agile teams can achieve remarkable velocity, innovation, and customer satisfaction. But it requires investment in the “humanware” above just processes and tools. Teams are the engine that power organizational success.

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