The psychology of effective agile teams

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Posted by Brian Borg

“People, not methodologies or tools, make projects successful.”- Lisa Crispin and Janet Gregory, authors.

When it comes to agile, it’s all in the name. An agile team is highly flexible, able to adapt to situations and solve problems as they arise.

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Software devs created the agile methodology in 2001, and many businesses quickly adopted it and fired their old waterfall methods. According to CEO Chris James at the Global SAFe Summit, 93 percent of companies that adopted an agile model before the pandemic outperformed those that hadn’t.

Agile teams don’t follow the hierarchical structure of classic teams. Everyone works together towards a common goal and the responsibility doesn’t lie with any single teammate. You might have team leaders, but there’s no single dictating voice dishing out the work.

By diffusing the responsibility and encouraging self-leadership across everyone in the team, it fosters an environment that’s collaborative and cohesive. When everyone understands the end goal, they’re more likely to achieve the desired results.

So, what’s going on in the minds of those agile teams that helps them work effectively?

The mindset of agile teams

Being agile is being empowered. Agile moves employees away from the isolated and siloed world of waterfall methodology and into a thriving, supportive, cross-team environment. That, however, isn’t enough to adopt the mindset.

The values of an effective agile team include:

1. Respect

Everyone’s important to the success of the team, so everyone is deserving of respect. Highly effective teams are ones that cultivate psychological safety. This allows everyone in the team the freedom to speak up with new ideas without fear of repercussions.

2. Optimize

An optimized workflow helps you catch problems in the early stages and respond more efficiently. Essentially, passing feedback quickly amongst the team helps to identify issues and resolve them before they’re swept under the carpet. This prevents groups from getting overworked as deadlines approach.

3. Innovate

This one plays into the idea of self-leadership. With autonomous individuals making up a team, you’re more likely to find new and innovative solutions to problems you’re experiencing. When workers can think freely, innovation happens.

4. Improve

Constant improvement should be an ongoing goal for all agile teams. It’s what makes up the methodology, right? To improve, teams should take time to reflect on projects. What went right, what went wrong. Learning from mistakes will better prepare them for their next project. Don’t shortcut the process by skipping this important step.

The soft skills required

Soft skills are the behaviors you exhibit in certain situations, not the technical experience you bring to the table (hard skills). We’ve already established that agile teams need understanding amongst themselves to succeed, so naturally, everyone’s soft skills play a role.

Notoriously, software devs, coders and testers are not known for their soft skills. Hard skills are historically seen as the ones to look out for in a good tech hire, but nowadays soft skills are proving more critical to how well teams work together.

In agile QA teams, important soft skills could include:

  • Staying calm under pressure. Looming deadlines will motivate some people and paralyze others. Staying calm when it comes to crunch-time is imperative. If you’re in a leadership role, get to know how each of your team members respond to pressure to be able to support each one in the way they will best receive it.
  • A data-centric attitude. Data is emotionless. It’s not bothered about petty disputes or arguments. In development cycles, people can get overly emotional and this isn’t compatible with the agile framework. Staying grounded in the data keeps you focused.
  • Honesty (to a fault). You’ve got to manage the truth in agile teams. Whether it’s being transparent about not reaching deadlines, or individuals being honest with themselves on where to improve.
  • A thick skin. Some feedback might seem a little brutal, but agile team members have to take it in their stride for the benefit of the end product. Brush off the tendency to take things personally, but don’t be afraid to speak up if a conversation seems to get out of balance.

Unbeatable agile teams

It’s human qualities that add value to agile teams. Without interference from higher-ups, agile teams approach projects in a collaborative and inclusive manner. Soft skills create a supportive working environment where everyone takes ownership of their own work.

If you want to learn more about the agile framework and how teams can work more effectively, head over to our blog.

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