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How to create an agile team

At a glance, working under agile methodologies seems like a trend. Everyone’s doing it at angel-backed startups and at the hottest new software development studios. Bigger, established companies are still using the tried and tested traditional approach, with a rigid hierarchy – and they don’t seem to be struggling much.

But over time, trends give way to norms; and when agile teams consistently outperform the traditional bureaucratic approach, the old ways of working look dated (at best). In high-risk, all or nothing ventures, agile makes sense – an elite team, doing everything they can to achieve the goal in front of them. So why can’t a relatively low-stakes, established enterprise use agile?

Well, they can. At least partially at first. Agile methodologies don’t have to be adopted company-wide, or even team-wide – and there’s no right or wrong way to experiment with approaching agile. Creating an agile team takes experience; and the acceptance that failure is not only an option, but that it should be embraced. Maybe that’s the reason so many hold back; agile seems experimental and risky. But the bigger risk is standing still and doing nothing, because eventually, your business – no matter how big – will lose the edge.

To create an agile team at any scale, you’ll need some key ingredients. Biggest among them are:

  1. Communication, collaboration and trust
  2. The right blend of skills
  3. Patience

1. Communication, collaboration and trust

You’ve got to trust them. They’ve got to trust you back.

This is entirely non-negotiable.

Company culture, open communication and freedom to speak; this is how you foster a trusting environment. You’ve got to listen to the needs of your team, and have systems in place to do so, where everyone feels they can be honest.

Agile relies on open and free communication. Without it, or if members of the team don’t feel safe to air concerns, projects collapse. When communication is free and transparent, true collaboration can begin.

Tools like Atlassian Confluence, integrated with project management tools, can keep steady communications and open collaboration within an agile team – with full transparency and visibility to any authorised persons in the rest of the company.

Leadership can track progress, while the team works uninterrupted. And, as long as the trust is there, communication will continue to flow.

Trust between teams and leadership is the bedrock of a great place to work, and a KPI for success. Trust is what gives agile teams the freedom to deliver the best work. With no restraints and the ability to apply their expertise, they can capitalise on incredible opportunities and create novel solutions.

While it’s hard to measure, creating a KPI for trust is not impossible. Using engagement surveys or continuous listening, teams can communicate their needs and feel listened to – cementing trust in their company.

2. The right skills for agile teams

What’s better – a team of specialists, or a team of generalists? A mix? How about specialists led by a visionary, or generalists led by a technical wizard?

This is the million dollar question, because the right skills aren’t actually as important as the person who wields them. Back to point one, the right people for an agile team have to trust each other first and foremost – and the right members might already be working together, just in a more siloed capacity.

To create an agile team, break down and reorganise your staff assignments. Analyse the working styles and personalities of candidates – their core strengths and weaknesses, how they complement each other –  with the end goal of creating a balanced team. The idea is to have a small, autonomous group of people who can self-start, but making sure the right personalities are there is fundamental to success.

Having duplicate or absent skill sets doesn’t equate to a bad outcome; skills can be learned quickly by the right people, and hiring agile contractors will fill any short-term gaps in skills. A lack of trust and a group of personalities that don’t work well together absolutely will lead to a bad outcome.

The right skills aren’t always technical. Sometimes, the most valuable skills are the ones that many take for granted.

3. Patience

Some people worry that agile teams lack rules and structure. On the surface, giving a team total autonomy seems like a recipe for chaos – but the truth is that agile teams are fundamentally process-oriented; each member has a purpose in the team, with a key set of strengths.

The anarchic appearance of agile is most likely attributed to this seldom-spoken fact: agile teams fail. Daily. Hourly, even. We’re not talking monumental business-killing failures, here – what we mean to say is that, when you’re pushing boundaries and doing the undoable, you’ll hit a lot of dead ends.

This is what makes agile teams objectively and overwhelmingly better at creativity than traditional teams.

The opportunity – the encouragement, in fact – to fail. Risk needs to be assessed and monitored as a part of the process, but without it there will be literally no reward to speak of. Only out of the ashes of 100 micro-failures will the glowing phoenix of triumph emerge.

This takes time and patience from leadership, who could be forgiven for thinking agile is a waste of time when the end goal seems so far out of reach. But not only does every failure provide a learning opportunity, it leads to the creation of novel solutions.

Nobody walked perfectly the first time they tried as a baby. Agile teams won’t hit the target first time round, either. But just as babies learn to walk within months of their first attempts, agile teams will learn how to solve the challenges your business faces – even if they seem a bit wobbly at first!

Boost your agile teams with highly skilled contractors

Give your highest performing teams the additional knowledge and skills they need. ClearHub helps you find the best Atlassian experts, and to hire agile contractors that align with your values and goals. Want to know more? Get in touch with the ClearHub team today – call +44 (0) 2381 157811 or send your message to info@clearhub.tech.

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