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Transforming to a High-Performing Team
Sandeep Srinivasarao Solution Director, Digital & Analytics | May 8, 2020
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A Great Team is all about “People”

Incorporating team values, especially in Agile teams, and for an Agile coach, is critical to creating a work culture that is collaborative in the first place. It forms the bigger roof that brings together all team members and fosters unity and team engagement.

In an Agile teamwork environment-

  • People realize that thinking, planning, decisions, and actions are most effective when done in a cooperative manner.
  • People strongly support the notion- “none of us is as good as all of us."
  • Everyone in the team takes care of each other’s needs.
  • Members plan better things to make the team superior.
  • Individuals keep the needs of others ahead of theirs.
  • The culture of the team can be transformed completely.
  • Each team member can help in making the team better.

Organizations invest in sending teams to team-building events and, a as a result, expect greater results from the team. From the perspective of an Agile coach, this is not the right expectation.

As an Agile coach, I would like to share a few simple techniques from my experience which does help teams become a high-performing team (which is the goal of a Scrum master or an Agile coach).

Technique 1 – Serving each other in the team

In one of the Agile teams I coached, there was an individual who always used to ask this question, “How can I help you?”, very frequently. The question became viral in the team and, as a result, there was a massive change in the team’s behavior.

Industry-wide research has revealed that when team members are supportive and motivated enough to help their peers, such teams are automatically high-performing. It has also been observed that the members stay in such teams for longer periods and show higher team engagement.

The act of serving others is further strengthened by persistent cooperation among team members and eventually transforms to a productivity cult. It is the role of the management to build positive relationships amongst the team members and serving each other in the team helps in building such relationships. The role of an Agile servant leader is worth mentioning in this context.

This serving cult leads to an effective collaboration of roles, which benefits Agile teams in the long run.

So how do we build the culture of serving each other in a team?

When teammates serve one another, the level of caring and trust in teams increases dramatically. As an Agile lead, there are two important questions you need to ask to gauge this potential in your team.

What are you currently doing to serve others in your team?

Who in your team can you serve at this moment?

STEP 1 – DISCUSS

  • If we all started actively serving each other, what kind of difference would it make in our team?
  • What does or would service look like in our team?
  • How does service affect others?

STEP 2 – ACT

  • Start getting your team to serve each other. Challenge them to do one nice thing today for a teammate. Give them a few minutes to reflect on what they might do after giving them the challenge.

STEP 3 – PLAN
Have your team create a service plan.

In the table below, create a “service plan.” List each of your teammates that you can serve now. Next to each name, write an act of service they would appreciate. Include the date by which you will complete the service. 

Technique

STEP 4 – FOLLOW UP

In your meetings to follow, set a few minutes aside to talk about what the service looked like that week in your team.

Note: Without a follow up, you won’t keep the momentum you have gained through the service effect. So, it is important that you ensure this becomes a regular part of your meetings.

STEP 5 – ENJOY and WATCH
Enjoy watching the service effect take place. It is an amazing thing!

Technique

Technique 2 – Appreciating, Encouraging, and Complimenting Each Other in the Team

Here is one interesting story that has been doing the rounds on Facebook for quite some time.

Technique

“Too many times, a perfectly good day is ruined by someone else’s negativity. You wake up in a great mood because you get to spend the entire day at a job that you absolutely love and then, BOOM! You walk into the office and you get an uneasy feeling. You may start feeling drained, unproductive, and unhappy in that job you love so much” - Nicole Tinkham

How to Create a Positive Environment in the Team?

  • Take the time to get to know your teammates personally.
  • Work through problems together.
  • Recognize when personal problems are impacting the work culture and talk them through.
  • Be generous when rewarding merit but don’t give it out for everything.
  • Take time to explain any changes you implement to avoid anxiety.
  • Appreciate each other’s contribution to the work.
  • Remain positive (You always have a choice, develop the mindset required to remain positive).
  • Always smile.
  • Don’t become the problem.
  • Show gratitude.

The following activity can be used in building a positive environment within the team [either co-located or distributed (by making little modifications)]

  • Give everyone in the team an index card and a piece of masking tape.
  • Instruct the team to tape the card to each other’s backs.
  • Once everyone has a card taped to their back, instruct them to think about something they really like or admire about each person, and write it on the index card taped to that person’s back. What you write needs to be something that is genuine and thoughtful.
  • When everyone is done, have each team member find their own space and read what is written on their card.
  • Bring the team back together when done.

When you have the team back together, ask the following questions:

  • How did it feel to read positive things from your teammates?
  • Going forward, what can we do to be more positive and encouraging to each other?

Note: For distributed teams, use email instead of index cards for the same activity.

In the preceding sections, we have already seen the significance of “how teammates treated one another” has great impact on a team to become a high-performing team.

Feedback is truly a gift and has the potential to unlock personal performance barriers of team members.

Technique 3 – Giving and Receiving Feedback in a Team

The wrong reasons to give feedback:

The right reason to give feedback:

  • Defend/excuse your own behavior
  • To demoralize/condemn
  • You're in a bad mood
  • To appease a third party.
  • To make yourself seem superior/ powerful
  • Commitment/concern for another
  • Sense of responsibility
  • To guide/mentor
  • To support/enhance

While giving the feedback –

  • Reflect on the purpose of feedback being given
  • Focus on the behavior, not the person
  • Lead with questions
  • Intent positivity

How to give feedback?

One well known strategy for feedback is the “criticism sandwich,” popularized by Mary Kay Ash.

Technique

For preparing to receive the feedback –

  • Ask for feedback often
  • Ask for time to reflect on what you’ve heard, one element at a time
  • Cultivate a growth mindset
  • Take credit for your mistakes and grow

Feedback is truly a gift. You can’t become a great teammate without it. Your teammates have the combination for unlocking personal performance barriers you aren’t even aware of. All you have to do is ask, listen, acknowledge, act, follow up, and repeat.

The following activity can be used in creating the culture of giving and receiving feedback within the team-

Create an action plan for getting honest feedback from the members of your team in the next month. The action plan should include your approach to scheduling your one-on-one meetings and follow-ups on the feedback you receive.

Who will you ask?

When?

Follow-up Date?

 

 

 

Technique 4 – Establishing Psychological Safety

Helping the team succeed is the most meaningful work I’ve ever done.  You need a psychological safety for getting people to open up and discuss anything that is critical for a team to transform to a high-performing team. Conversational turn-taking and empathy are the behaviors that create psychological safety.

In some of the best teams, the team members are sensitive and empathetic about their teammates. This fosters an environment of psychological safety. It allows for moderate risk-taking, speaking one’s mind fearlessly, and most importantly, “sticking out your neck without fear of having it cut off”. These are nothing but the types of behavior that result in major market breakthroughs.

In some of the best teams, the team members are sensitive and empathetic about their teammates, and foster an environment of psychological safety.

How can you increase psychological safety for your own team?

  • When team members think that their expertise is valued, good things happen
  • Make everyone feel included and important
  • Encourage failure
  • Allow people to ask a lot of questions and think about new ways of working 
  • Everyone on the team isn’t scared to speak their mind or do things like take time off if they need it
  • Make sure the team is working toward a common goal
  • Share your experiences (mostly the project mistakes you committed in the past) and help people understand that it is safe to talk about mistakes and learn from them
  • Support your team in a manner so that they can rely on you for their problems 

Technique

An activity called “Johari Window” can be used to increase psychological safety on your own team.

Closing thoughts

A high-performing team takes time and effort to build. The most difficult part is to maintain the productivity level in such teams. It comes through team engagement and collaboration. Establishing psychological safety is the key to success in every high-performing team, not just the Agile teams discussed in this article. It is essential on the part of the team members as well as the leads and project managers to instill positivity and encourage reflective thoughts, which fuels the productivity that helps a team grow endlessly.

Transform your Agile teams today!