Healthy work relationships are the crux of high-performing, agile teams. In this blog, we explain why guiding your agile teams into symbiotic interactions is so important.
If you get a group of Agile coaches together and ask for their perspective about what makes agile teams great – versus simply good – be prepared to hear many different and passionate answers. Just like any other group of people, coaches have different personalities and experiences, which influence their views about what is the most important part of Agile. As a coach, you likely have your own answer to this question and can explain why you believe your answer is indeed the secret sauce to Agile.
I believe the secret sauce to Agile is all about relationships – relationships within teams, between teams and externally, including leadership. Let me explain why.
Why We Need Relationships for Agile Success
At this point, you have probably heard of Agile practices. You might even be tired of hearing about agile and think it simply is the latest business transformation trend. I certainly understand why you would feel that way because I, too, felt similarly when first introduced to agile.
It wasn’t long, though, until I figured out the secret to successfully practicing agile is building relationships within my team, outside teams and leadership. Teambuilding is my natural way of working, so the transition was easy for me. However, I noticed not everyone thrived in this environment. I saw some friction between coworkers who were previously successful.
These observations led me to evaluate why friction was happening. The interesting patterns I noticed led me to become a coach and mentor with a relationship focus.
I observed the biggest frictions were between introverts and extroverts working together in this new collaborative style. Before, people talked less and worked in silos. In Agile, people talk and collaborate more. This extra interaction can make introverts feel overwhelmed and exhausted, often resulting in decreased or no collaboration. They simply shut down.
Our team needed to deal with this situation. Our approach was to talk about the differences and devise a plan for handling these differences to prevent damaging existing relationships and help build new ones.
This was not a magic bullet that fixed everything with just one conversation. It did open the channel for communication that improved the working relationship within the team to a level unseen before. The team became more successful than anyone could imagine, going from one of the teams others avoided to one they wanted to work with. This led me to realize that communication fixes most problems.
Work Relationships and Agile Teams
When we talk about relationships in the workplace, we don’t mean romantic or personal friendships. Workplace relationships are about building connections that enable us to work together seamlessly. We build relationships on respect, trust and honesty.
When a company starts an agile transformation, they often form new teams consisting of people who may or may not have worked together previously. This process can lead to dysfunctional teams due to conflicting personalities or behaviors from previous work experiences.
Once you form a team – or add new people to an existing team – team members need time to get to know each other and figure out how to work together.
One of the biggest mistakes companies make is expecting teams to immediately produce quality work after a big change. People need time to process and deal with all their emotions before they can effectively move forward. They also need time to get to know each other and form healthy relationships.
As agile coaches, we can help teams accomplish this in several ways, such as team building exercises, lunches for socialization and documents such as working agreements to define how the team will work together. By using these tools and others we pick up through experience, we can help teams iron out frictions different personalities and working styles produce. Usually, acknowledging differences and forming ways to address them is all a team needs. Once you get out of the team’s closed environment, things get more complex.
Building Relationships with External Teams
When working with other teams, the Scrum Master and Product Owners are ambassadors for their team. They should form relationships with their counterparts on other teams. This process allows teams to form agreements about how to work together.
The key to good working relationships between teams is mutual respect for each other’s processes. If a team has a two-week lead time, other teams need to respect that process unless it is a dire emergency. Respecting each other’s processes eliminates stress and frustration between teams, which can be detrimental to interdepartmental relationships because it erodes trust.
Working with Leadership on an Agile Team
As important as relationships are in and between teams, they are as important or even more so when dealing with leadership. The fastest way to build good relationships with leadership, including stakeholders, program leaders and executives, is to be open, honest and transparent about the ability complete work in a specified time.
If your team commits to getting work done, they should do everything in their power to do so. When teams are unable to meet given deadlines, the Scrum Master and Product Owner need to discuss the reasons why. They should also talk to leadership immediately since bad news, like fish, does not age well.
In the case of bad news, covering it up can lead to broken relationships and trust.
Relationships are the driving force behind everyday life and work. Once you establish these within your teams, revisit working agreements and make changes as needed to keep them healthy. When a team member leaves or you add a new person, give the team enough time to reform relationships around the change. Let leadership know the team will need a few sprints to return to work as usual.
Next time you consider a change to an agile team or your Agile methodology, ensure you have the relationships right before you change. Remember the first value of Agile: individuals and interactions over processes and tools. The processes and tools will come and will work well once you establish healthy relationships.