Whilst traditionally cited reasons for companies adopting Agile include changing priorities and accelerating software delivery, an equally important driver is the positive effect Agile can have on team morale. With 1 in 51 employees considering moving employers within the next year, effectively deploying Agile ways of working could ensure employees remain satisfied and prove a key differentiator in retaining and attracting talent.
Companies willing to make the jump and adopt Agile in the workplace can experience strong uplifts in performance; research suggests that building a strong Agile culture can increase commercial performance by as much as 237%2. Without doing so, companies risk being left behind by competitors. Below are three key considerations to ensure prioritisation of individuals and the creation of impactful, meaningful interactions which have a lasting effect within the workplace.
1. Leaders must listen and reflect
The benefits of empowered employees include enhanced job performance, satisfaction, and commitment to an organisation. Yet, only 28%3 of delivery teams in Agile environments feel empowered by their leaders, and just 16%4 think their leaders are role models in Agile behaviour. This demonstrates clear need for improvements in leadership empowering and unleashing the potential of their employees through agile.
As Agile consultants, we can learn from the State of Agile Culture Report, which proposes three recommendations to empower teams:
- leaders must create a shared understanding of the target outcomes
- leaders must ensure teams have skills and capabilities to achieve the aspiration
- leaders must be able to relinquish control, instead acting as servant leaders to help teams achieve a goal.
A leader overseeing an Agile team, or managing a transition towards an Agile environment, must understand that working in an Agile environment will require a mindset shift. Leaders should be practised with Agile and consider working alongside an Agile Coach, as this interaction creates enhanced understanding about Agile processes, alongside deeper knowledge of how they can relinquish control to the team.
Furthermore, leaders must ensure that they openly listen to their employees, taking time to reflect on teams’ areas of frustration and creating pathways to removing obstructions, so employees feel both heard and empowered.
2. Vulnerability opens dialogue
One of the cornerstones of the Agile Manifesto is encouraging team reflection at regular intervals to tune and adjust behaviour to become more effective. Whilst teams can use tools such as retrospectives to facilitate dialogue, it is vital that they create a psychologically safe culture where team members feel comfortable being vulnerable and open with their communication. Within Agile teams, this should manifest as transparent and open dialogue as a means for talking and listening, analysing, and solving.
Where teams demonstrate strong dialogic interactions, this creates high psychological safety, the impact of which is the creation of a performance response with innovation as a central goal. By contrast, when interactions are poor in quality, low psychological safety ensues, creating a fear response with survival as the goal.
Whilst showing vulnerability in work environments can be somewhat daunting to employees, facilitating this can start in small practices. An example of encouraging this behaviour is creating an Agile Team Agreement, with a shared understanding that team members should let others finish their thoughts when in group discussions. Alternatively, we see it work well when teams start by having one question in their retrospectives focused around if the team is communicating effectively, or if during the sprint a member of the team wanted to input an idea but didn’t feel the environment was safe to do so. For newer Agile teams, starting with small acts encouraging open communication can create powerful feedback loops which can inspire success within an Agile workplace.
3. Agile Coaching refocuses the lens
Common blockers for adopting Agile include inconsistencies in processes and practices, cultural clashes, general organisational resistance to change, and a lack of skills and experience. Due to the complex reality of how companies operate, we know that no two Agile transformations will be the same. Approaching an Agile implementation through applying a framework and providing a limited number of training sessions is likely to create a poor Agile adoption and generate frustration – an impact of which is a reduction in employee morale. Agile Coaches are trained to alleviate these issues:
- They tailor practices to ensure they are suited to an organisation and its individuals
- Coaches increase focus on engaging leadership and their understanding of the change
- Employee voices become amplified, creating empowered individuals
- Agile mindset is fostered amongst employees via continuous coaching and training
- Stronger practices are identified which can be applied within the work environment.
Whilst companies may be tempted to go it alone and not make use of an Agile Coach during their transition to Agile, they should resist this temptation. Instead, companies must ensure they consider the appropriate coaching capability for their organisation when transitioning towards Agile.
Agile is often seen as a panacea for companies to increase commercial performance. However, how Agile is adopted within a workplace is critical in determining whether an Agile transformation succeeds. Amongst the changes which assist companies to transition to an Agile culture and mindset, a central consideration must be how to empower individuals and create powerful interactions, the result of which is high performing teams.
Through prioritising individuals and interactions over processes and tools, Agile transformations can work towards creating teams with strong morale. These teams are more likely to be innovative, motivated, and empowered to deliver company goals.