How to form and lead a high performing agile team [Guide]

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Any company that uses teams to create successful products knows that high-performing teams are made up of motivated people. In this article, we offer a guide to building a powerful agile team of highly engaged people.

The three principles of motivation

Building an agile team that performs exceptionally has little to do with monetary incentives and high-pressure deadlines. It has more to do with motivating people the right way. In his book “Drive”, Dan Pink detailes three powerful principles for staying motivated in both the workplace and home.

  1. Autonomy: Our need to steer our lives
  2. Mastery: Constantly improving our skills
  3. Purpose: Improving our own and other people’s lives

These three principles form the blueprint of our guide to building a high-performing agile team.

Forming an agile team

For a team to be truly autonomous, it must be appropriately structured. Consider creating a cross-functional team like the popular Spotify squads in which functionality is delivered end-to-end by a team comprising a product owner, developers, UX designers, and testers. To ensure optimal efficiency, the team should include five to seven members.

Establish clear boundaries for the team, outlining details such as how decision-making is shared. Members‘ inclusion when setting boundaries empowers them and ensures maximum buy-in.

Use Slack and other open communication tools for knowledge sharing and establishing transparent communication. Emails should be used minimally because the information shared through this channel is inaccessible to other members.

Success is built on failure

Once the team is given a clear brief, it should be given space to manage daily workload, make technical decisions, and change tactics when necessary.

Give the team room to fail.

Most successful startup stories involve multiple pivots. Giving a team space to quickly learn from mistakes accelerates improvements.

Cultivate a team culture that encourages continuous learning and rewards craftsmanship through continuous delivery. Long release cycles allow for numerous bug fixes and features. As a result, identifying the root of a problem and deploying a fix when a product inevitably breaks becomes increasingly difficult.

In contrast, shorter release cycles lead to frequent deployment. Breakages are easier to fix because the functionalities are still fresh in the team’s mind. Shifting to continuous delivery ensures that the team continually improves in packaging, testing, and releasing changes, thus mastering the process.

Promote mastery by scheduling time for learning and improvement through techniques such as

  • Hackathons
  • Tech popcorn
  • Brown bag talks
  • Code kata
  • Communities of practice

Among your team’s most powerful tools for focusing on self-improvement and mastery is the retrospective meeting. In addition to providing an opportunity for critical reflection over previous tactics, this meeting helps the team to identify areas of improvement

Understanding the purpose of agile teams

Having created an autonomous structure and adopted tactics that promote mastery, the final virtue to impart is a powerful sense of purpose. The first step is ensuring all team members completely buy into the product vision.

The team needs to have a firm grasp of the end game. Understanding what they’re working towards ensures that team members can see the connection between every decision taken and the direction of the product engineering.

Product backlog

Every agile team member must be familiar with product backlog because it shapes the purpose of the team. They also need to understand the trade-offs associated with deciding which features go next. It should be clear to every team member which features take the highest priority.

The open window test

Imagine the team’s whole product backlog is written on cards that are stuck on the wall in order of priority only for a gust of wind to blow them all off the wall. If team members were to pick up the cards and put them back on the wall, would the cards be in the correct order?

Information radiators

Displays, whiteboards, and physical walls can strengthen your team’s key metrics. It’s advisable to report data that provides the team with feedback on their success. Depending on the industry, the data can be bounce rates, site uptime, sales information, total customer count and so on. Keeping these metrics visible to team members serves as a reminder of the product’s purpose and the team’s progress.

Celebrate customer feedback

A crucial aspect of shipping products is the customer feedback loop. This feature is fully functional only after it is tested and validated with customers. It is also important to celebrate both the achievements and feedback. Share customer feedback with your team regularly as it feeds the sense of purpose.

Great agile teams are often highly effective. They build on their success, respond to feedback, and learn from their mistakes. Using these guidelines will help shape your agile team’s processes and gear them towards success. Part of running a successful team is ensuring the team members are communicating in an open, engaging way avoiding misunderstandings. Visit Wortland and secure communication training for your team of professionals.