I have always had mixed feelings about agile product development. Agile is sold as being the way to “increase success rates in software development, improve quality and speed to market, and boost the motivation and productivity of IT teams” (HBR, 2016). Its not that I am in any way a fan of the “waterfall” method, its just that I am dubious about an approach that is largely dictated by rituals. I have seen many teams follow all the routines and deliver diabolically poor outcomes, because the process in and of itself can never control the output if the foundational thinking is either absent or flawed in the first place.
I am also dubious about a way of working that mimics team harmony without having a good understanding of what makes a great team and how to grow one. My experience of working in high performing teams naturally followed a lot of the agile processes: regular updates with other team members to make sure we all knew what each of us was doing (and not doing) and a good rhythm of planning and examining progress. So far, so agile, but what I believe a significant amount of agile teams lack are the emotional elements that contribute to great team performance
In the Google team study (2015), they found that there were five key dynamics that set successful teams apart from other teams:
Agile only really focusses on the 3rd element - structure & clarity - and treats the others as optional whereas Google noted that the psychological safety to be the most critical and influential element of all. And that is why I think Agile is not the answer: its an element but relying on it as the way to get to great outcomes is like hoping a car chassis will be all you need to make a 100 mile journey - without the wheels and the engine, you are not going to succeed!
The other four elements of high performing teams need to be acknowledged as being key contributors of good outcomes and good, skilled team coaching can build the environment that is needed for them to grow. Currently team coaches are hired purely based on their agile qualifications. No certificate? No job! Any checks on team building capabilities? A “nice to have” at best.
I say its time to talk about all the elements of team building and not just focus on 1/5th of it. Who is with me?
25 years experience in helping teams build user centred products and services, now helping digital colleagues learn how to bounce back better than before from the challenges life throws at us from time-to-time.