Agility is an attitude and a curious mindset to always look for doingn things better.
Agility is an attitude and a curious mindset to always look for doingn things better.

What Makes a Team More Likely to Succeed at Agile?

Making agile an inside job

There are two common ways to become more agile. The one is to invest in a really good agile coach, which is rather expensive and inaccessible. Abd to be honest, I’ve only seen two or maybe three people who I would recommend.

Scarce resource. Very scarce.

The other, more accessible and affordable way to become more agile, is to make it an inside job. As apposed to wait for someone to miraculously make you agile, as if it was something that happened to you, a much better approach is to take action yourself.

Becoming agile is ultimately a choice that lies only with you. Either you embrace it and go all the way, or you remain a skeptic observer on the sideline, waiting for those around you to become agile before you are willing to commit. Everyone waits for the other one to become agile, resulting in little or no change at all.

After quietly observing the agile community to see who gets agile and why, after my own struggles, here is what I’ve noticed the difference is between those who get it and those who don’t in my search for improving my own coaching skills.

1. They don’t think they know all the answers

Certifications are great. It standardizes knowledge that’s been tried and tested by thousands. I recommend certifications to everyone. Get as many as you can.

The problem, however, I personally have with certifications is that those who earn the “badge” often tends to think they know all the answers. They stop learning once they’ve received the badge or certificate and close themselves from alternatives and other approaches. They often become so attached to the certificate that nothing else is considered valid.

The result is a lot of things known that has already been done before, with little exploration to what’s next and what hasn’t been done yet.

The teams who succeed at agile, with or without the certifications to go with, are those hungry to continue learning more. They sift hungrily through everything that comes their way with an open mind, not indoctrinated with what it should look like. They are open to possibilities and keep searching, asking more questions as they find answers to previous questions.

Successful agile teams have an open mind, looking outside the existing frameworks and what’s already been answered.

2. They express their thoughts and feelings openly

Bare with me on this one. I’m not trying to box anyone into a category, I’m merely trying to make a point and explain the patterns as I see them.

Lately, each time I’ve read an agile article that inspires or brings an a-ha moment rather than merely rephrasing something that’s already been said a thousand times (which I also enjoy), it’s been from Uruguy and other Spanish or Portuguese speaking countries. This surprised me, as the Europeans and North Americans were the leaders in the game until recently (in my opinion of course).

It got me thinking, and I realized that the difference is the culture between these demographics, and thus too their approach to learning and giving feedback. Two essentials in an agile evolution.

Americans, Canadians, Asians and Europeans mostly have a culture of being nice. In the Asian culture, it’s simply considered rude not to agree with an authority figure. In the western world, people tend to care about the other parties’ feelings, not wanting to offend or hurt or force their opinion onto someone. They’re nice, even though they don’t agree. They’ll do whatever their boss or Scrum Master asks from them, even though they might not necessarily agree, as long as the harmony remains.

On the other hand, there are the more expressive and outspoken countries, often speaking Portuguese or Spanish. They are, in terms of voicing opinions, probably the opposite of the cultures mentioned above.

These people are loud and they thrive when they can express themselves. They’re definitely not shy and they question and challenge the trainer or Scrum Master when they don’t agree or think there’s a better way. This expression often leads to discomfort in the short run, but exponential growth in the long run. It’s the questioning that matters.

Successful agile teams openly and freely express their thoughts and feelings, always searching for new ways to do old things.

3. They are not afraid to engage in conflict

Closely linked to the free expression mentioned above, yet distinctly different and deserving of a separate bullet point, the third and final differentiator of making agile an inside job is the willingness to engage in conflict.

When I say conflict, I don’t mean arguing or trying to convince the other person of your opinion. What I mean is having the courage to stand up for your beliefs and ideas, even if it means risking unleashing the dragon or going head first into the eye of the storm. Without storming, you don’t get to performing as a team.

It’s a myth and complete fallacy that there can only be one person right and there must be one person wrong in a conflict.

A more healthy form of conflict happens when you look for how both parties are right, considering a midway that might be something totally different than either’s initial thoughts or perspective on the matter. The more information you have, the better decisions you can make. With this point of view, suddenly conflict becomes a discovery rather than potential warfare.

Successful agile teams have the courage to engage in conflict and is willing to be vulnerable in front of their teams.

Making agile an inside job, rather than waiting for someone external to make you agile, requires humility, courage, and openness from each team member.

So my question to you is “What are you waiting for? What’s stopping you from succeeding at agile?”

Originally published on Medium: