To Improve Agile Teamwork, Think about the Individuals
Much of the agile process emphasizes team-level activities. In Scrum, for example, sprint planning, the daily scrum, and the sprint review are all about how the team can meet its commitment for the sprint. The sprint retrospective does have a specific focus on how the team works together, but it’s up to the team to decide how much to focus on individual contributions as opposed to team dynamics.
Given the emphasis on teamwork, it’s sometimes easy to forget that agile methods have the value of individuals and interactions as a central principle. As much as an effective team dynamic is what makes Scrum work, teams are composed of individual people, and it’s important to balance acknowledging the role of individuals in successes (and failures) with the desire to maintain team accountability.
While the dynamics of a software team involve more than negotiation, there are some interesting points in the book Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate. It details the importance of acknowledging emotion in the negotiation process, as agile team members are often making decisions that involve conversations and compromise. And parts of the software development process—in particular those involved in planning or implementation decisions—are very much negotiations.
When dealing with the individuals on your team, especially in the situations where negotiation is required, in order to have a successful interaction, you have to address the core concerns outlined in the book: appreciation (you feel like your thoughts and feelings are valued), affiliation (you are treated as a member of the group), autonomy (you feel that your team respects your ability to make decisions on your own), status (you feel that you have the recognition you deserve), and role (you have a role that is both understood and fulfilling).
There are a number of ways to address these concerns in the Scrum process. The retrospective is the obvious place to focus on expressing appreciation, but you can keep it in mind during the rest of the process as well. An appropriate “thank you” during the daily scrum, sprint, or sprint review can foster value recognition among team members and give them a chance to then also address affiliation, status, role, and autonomy.
You may not even have to act differently. By approaching Scrum events with an eye toward thinking of the individuals on your team, as well as the product owner and others the team interacts with, you can improve cooperation and collaboration.
Scrum is about teams, and it’s easy to forget that a well-functioning team is composed of people. Even the most team-oriented people need to think about their own needs. By remembering the individuals and taking time to acknowledge their contributions, you can be a better team member.