Sink like a rock or float like an albatross

I like to think of an agile team as being something like a ship making its way through a violent storm. If the crew is tight and well trained, helps one another out, and the ship has integrity, strength and the right tools, they probably will fare well. On the other hand, if the ship is dilapidated and the the crew is disorganized and doesn’t work well together, having no clear direction, then their outcome looks grim.

As the world around any team swirls and churns, it’s important to become internally strong, both individually and as a unit… a team. Stability should begin from within.

What defines a team? It’s just three things really: 1.) there is a shared goal or vision; 2.) the people in the team work together to accomplish the goal; and, 3.) there are two or more people.

“There is a shared goal or vision”

When a team has a purpose, a mission and a goal they understand, appreciate and most importantly own, then they will likely find every way possible to make it happen. Think about any game in sports, and you’ll find a team that is completely committed to making it happen. Why do these team members give it everything they have to get that goal? They give everything because they completely believe in it, want it, and do what they can for their fellow teammates. They are all in it together. They understand that they will either succeed or fail together.

Does your team have this kind of vision? If your answer is “no” or “not really”, then it’s time to do something about it.

Get clear on your vision and make sure your team participates in the definition of that vision, so they also own it. When they own the vision, they will get more creative and find ways to improve their process to get closer to accomplishing what they set out for. They will be more motivated.

“The people in the team work together to accomplish the goal”

Many “teams” never get to a point where they truly work together to accomplish their goals. This can be due to a number of causes.

Some teams are made up of “independent contributors” working on their own tasks, with little interest or motivation to step outside of their comfort zone in order to try something different or help a teammate out. Why does this happen? Sometimes it happens because they are simply not empowered to do so, or they see no clear benefit for them.

Does your team struggle with acting as a unit, or working together toward a common goal? If the answer to this is “yes” or “mostly”, then perhaps the team needs a vision that is clearer, and one that they feel ownership in.

From a leadership standpoint, you may need to give them the green light to take a chance, be innovative and simply work together. By “green-lighting” this, you are giving them permission to fail fast and early in order to learn and make improvements.

Posts like this always make things seem simple… “just do this and you’ll be ok!” We all know that it’s never that easy or straightforward. The topics above are deeper than what is stated and are often caused by deep-rooted organizational culture and individual psychology. Hopefully, some of these suggestions will get you a little closer to wherever it is that you’re going.