Improving team dynamics on Agile teams

Irrespective of the industry, the defining factor for the success of any venture would be teamwork. Admittedly individual contribution is accredited, but unless one engages as team player, the pace and turnover will be painfully slow. As they say; “Esprit de corps”, which means, “together we achieve more”.

Agile principles promote continuous face-to-face interaction between team members to foster teamwork and build trust within the team. Since Agile primarily encourages open communication and emphasizes effective exchange of thoughts within the team, it is important for everyone on the team to speak their minds without any inhibitions.

It would be unwise to expect that people will be always amicable, fair and free from prejudice though that’s the expectation preset. We are after all humans and not some species from Mars! Any team will have their own share of in fighting, ego-conflicts, side switching, peer pressure, browbeating and what not. Again to reiterate, these are traits and attributes attached to every person – mankind in general. Every individual is distinctly different in his thinking. So try putting a bunch of persons in a group and form a team and make them perform! That’s a challenge!

In an Agile team, communication levels the play area and everyone is treated as a team member. Hierarchy probably hibernates as everyone is treated equal and every opinion is heard. Unlike traditional waterfall methodology with defined roles and responsibilities, any team member can propose the architecture. The effort estimation is a collective effort by the team and internal debates makes it more exciting.

There are a lot many ways to improve the team dynamics on Agile Teams but I strongly recommend the findings from the “Grounded Theory” research, which put forth the following factors that boost the morale of the team.

One team mindset

Team members need to interact frequently with the entire team during meetings, pair programming, or discussions throughout the project. All team members participate in `daily stand-up meetings’ using technology-mediated communication. Agile teams prefer video conferencing to telephone conferencing during daily meetings to increase interaction among the team members.

Personal touch

Distributed team members often have difficulties getting to know each other, or even just to `put a face to the name’. Teams are encouraged to keep photographs of all the members on a card wall to get a `team presence’ that helps the members to recognize one another.

Open communication

Participants encourage open communication in distributed teams. Team members keep direct and honest communications within the project team. This improves team interaction and encourages the team to be involved in decision making for the project.

Team collocation

Agile principles prefer collocated teams to allow frequent interaction between the team members. While a distributed development team is not collocated, many projects choose to collocate all the team members at the beginning of a project

Team ambassadors

Rather than collocating the whole team, individual team members can travel to the other team locations, to interact closely with the team members there. These team members, referred to as `team ambassadors’, travel solely to foster interpersonal relationships within the team.

The coach

The role of an Agile coach, though self-descriptive, is to help a team or individual adopt and improve Agile practices. A coach helps team members react and improve the activities involved in software development and often withdraw from the team when the time is right and let the team continue their journey.

There are many ways, studies, strategies in promoting team interaction in distributed Agile teams and they too reap the desired results. The “Grounded Theory” is a great strategy in leveraging team dynamics. Many Agile teams that proactively adopted these strategies improved their work efficiency in distributed Agile projects.

Acknowledgments.

The author wishes to acknowledge the inputs and greatly appreciates the thought process and content curation by Siva Dorairaj, James Noble and Petra Malik which forms the bulk material of this blog. The key objective was to showcase Grounded Theory as another kind of approach in improving team dynamics.

Goutham Gunalan is a Project Manager at Compassites Software. He is interested in areas like people skills, content curation and business analysis. Apart from work, he is interested in books, travel, writing and mentoring. Prior to Compassites, he worked at Cranes Software. Goutham loves writing and is passionate about penning narratives such as the one above.

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