The first value of the Agile manifesto is “Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools.” With the primary focus being on the team and the emphasis on concepts like cross-functional team, self-organized team, team performance, team metrics, team commitment, team (whatever); you may have asked the question, as I did, “Where is the ‘i’ (individual!) in Agile?”
In my experience with successful Agile teams and successful Agile adoptions, the promise of an empowered, self-organizing, self-managing, semi-autonomous Agile team does not just happen by bringing together a group of individuals and calling them a team; it is only when each individual on the team makes a conscious and deliberate choice to take personal responsibility to shape its success by bringing their whole selves to the team—and making it safe for others to bring their whole selves as well—does the individual’s output create true teamwork. The collective contribution of the individuals becomes far greater than the mere sum of its parts. Christopher Avery convincingly makes the case in his book, Teamwork is an Individual Skill—the individual has a critical role to play in bringing the promise of an Agile team to life and in creating the amazing results and successful outcomes that come with it.
Agile has something to offer the individual as well. I have long believed that Agile uniquely offers us the golden opportunity to engage those intrinsic motivators showcased in Dan Pink’s bestseller Drive: Autonomy – with the freedom to self-organize and self-manage within the Agile team, the individual can feel in control vs. feeling controlled, Mastery – with the opportunities to engage in collaborative problem solving, cross-functional skills, and continuous improvement; the individual has the opportunity to reach her/his full potential vs. feeling like they are stagnating, and Purpose – with the focus on value-added work and solving for the needs of the customer, work can feel much more purposeful instead of feeling like just working for a paycheck.
I clearly see the “i” at the center of Agile—where each individual on the team holds the key to their own success and the success of their team and organization. Through mindful choices and behaviors, not only does the individual contribute meaningfully to that success, but those same choices enable them to personally thrive in the emerging Agile world.
Do you see the “i” in Agile?
10 Tips to bring out the “i” in Agile
#1. Take personal responsibility
“All it takes is one person demonstrating responsibility and requesting it of others.” – Christopher Avery, author of Teamwork is an Individual Skill
It is up to you to take personal responsibility for your own experience on the team. On an Agile team, you have many opportunities to show personal responsibility by being open and respectful. For example, instead of casting blame when things go wrong, see challenging events as learning opportunities, expand your skill set to embrace versatility while mastering your craft, pay attention to the quality of the work produced by your team, be fully present during meetings and ceremonies, stay focused, and hold yourself accountable for your commitments. Set the example for your team by showing what is possible and watch your team follow suit!
#2. Get out of your comfort zone
“Fear is what keeps us in our comfort zone. Death may kill us once but fear kills us over and over again.” – Steve Chandler, author of 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself
Being on an Agile team allows you to stretch into new areas. While it is important to master your craft, developing versatility is also useful. If you are a developer on the team, offer to do some testing or graphics; if you are a tester, try writing automated test scripts; if your Scrum Master or Product Owner is on vacation, offer to fill the role while they are away. When you are part of an Agile team, the more things you can do, the more valuable you are. Even beyond Agile teams, industry trends show that companies prefer ‘versatilists’ over specialists. Why? Because solving today’s complex, interrelated problems requires broad, interdisciplinary skill sets.
#3. Don’t Settle for being excellent sheep
Respond from choice rather than from autopilot.
On an Agile team, you can choose to merely be a ‘team player’ or you can be an active component of the team. A team player is someone who goes along for the ride, not making any waves, quick to compromise to ‘keep the peace.’ In contrast, when you are a component of a team, you are like a member of a great sports team or inspired jazz band, bringing your own unique gifts or contributions to the shared purpose of the team. You are not quick to compromise without being heard first, and you muster the courage to speak up when it is for the good of the shared purpose. Strive to engage in healthy conflict over ideas, ask for what you need, speak your truth, set your boundaries, ask for support, and only commit to actions and decisions that you truly believe in and fully support.
#4. Align to a shared purpose
“Do the work you love to do, work with purpose and care for your tribe” – Diana Larsen, author of Agile Retrospectives and Liftoff
On an Agile team, each team member is responsible for improving the solutions the team creates and the way they work together. To contribute as a true component of the team, to support the contributions of others, and to feel supported by them; you must be aligned to a shared purpose. If you cannot find a shared purpose with your team, consider that you may need to find it elsewhere.
#5. Develop a collaborative mindset
“Don’t aspire to be the best on the team, but the best for the team.” – Unknown
On an Agile team, you are in a classic situation of shared responsibility—you succeed together and you fail together. You recognize that your success is dependent on others succeeding.
With a collaborative mindset, you open opportunities to build on the ideas of others, to create results that are far superior than each of your individual contributions alone, to share a bigger piece of the pie by collaboratively creating a bigger pie.
#6. Build trust
“Without trust we don’t truly collaborate, we merely coordinate or, at best cooperate. It is trust that transforms a group of people into a team.” – Steven Covey, author of 7 habits of highly effective people
Trust is the foundation of great teams. When you have trust, you know that when a team member pushes you, they are doing it because they genuinely care about you and the team.
When you trust that everyone else is doing their part, you are able to focus on what you need to do to create amazing results together It takes individual effort to build trust. Take time to get to know your teammates, see them as human beings. Show your vulnerability, share your needs and motivations and seek to understand your teammates’ desires, offer and solicit feedback, and trust them to do the best job they can.
#7. Forge meaningful partnerships
There is no better reward than when you awaken the possibility in another.
On an Agile team, it is not enough to leverage your own value, you need to activate the full talent of your teammates as well. Invest in and cultivate your relationships. Grow your circle of influence at work and outside of work. The more time you spend building relationships, the less energy is spent on bureaucracy and politics. Strong, healthy relationships expedite team impact. Seek synergies, creating opportunities for the relationship to produce greater output than the input of its individual contributors.
#8. Take time to reflect and renew
“Renewal requires opening yourself up to new ways of thinking and feeling.” – Deborah Day
The 12th principle of the Agile manifesto recognizes that at regular intervals, you should take time to reflect and tune and adjust your behavior in the pursuit of getting better. Another principle reminds us of the importance of maintaining a sustainable pace. Contrary to what we have been taught to believe, busyness actually makes us less productive. Reflection and renewal are critical to high performance. Creativity and innovation emerge more naturally when we make time to ‘take a breath.’ Make sure you are creating opportunities to reflect and renew regularly. Take time to rest and observe how you emerge more energized, focused and efficient. Take time to reflect on where you are and where you want to go. What steps will you take to get there? Use vacations as an opportunity to truly disconnect for a time. Come back recharged, refreshed, and ready to fully engage in creative endeavors and produce amazing results with your team.
#9. Seek joyful work
“The only way to do great work is to do what you love” – Steve Jobs
Your biggest competitive edge is learning as much as possible about YOU and what works for YOU and it is a process of continuous learning.
On an Agile team, you have opportunities to explore other areas of work beyond those for which you have prepared academically and professionally. Novel roles and responsibilities may come your way. These are the pathways to discover work what really makes you shine. Be on the lookout for work that brings you great satisfaction—work that puts you in a state of ‘flow,’ where you are both highly focused and completely lost in what you are doing. There, perhaps, you may have discovered your joyful work!
With #10, we leave room for new learning!
This article was inspired by the following books:
Teamwork is an Individual Skill by Christopher Avery
Drive by Dan Pink
100 Ways to Motivate Yourself by Steve Chandler