High performing teams regularly accomplish the impossible. They are the engines of innovation. Unfortunately, they are far too rare. A study in the Harvard Business Review estimated that three out of four cross-functional teams are actually dysfunctional. The study found that these teams most often fail to meet organizational expectations due to:
- Vague goals
- Unclear leadership
- Low prioritization of the project
- Not enough accountability for wins and losses
Dysfunctional teams have been dampening success since the dawn of business. What's new is that the Agile methodology fosters healthy behavior and provides a strong framework for re-enforcing it to create high performing teams.
Empowered teams that function at peak proficiency tend to do the same things, which all align with Agile principles:
- They set up clearly defined goals and a timeline with stakeholder input.
- Decision-making is collaborative and there is no looking back until the retrospective.
- In frequent discussions, every team member contributes in roughly equal measures.
- They maintain a culture of disagreement, where team members feel safe enough to speak their minds and manage their conflicts.
- Constructive criticism is directed at breaking down logistical barriers.
- Leaders emerge as needed to drive results, but no single person is in command.
- Team members know they can depend on a scrum master and a product owner for motivation and resources.
With an Agile framework in place, each stage of development reinforces the healthy habits of a high performing team.
Stage 1: Initiate
High performing teams begin by identifying participants and stakeholders necessary for successful product development. Most importantly, they establish a shared vision for a product that achieves business objectives.
Stage 2: Plan
Next, the team works together to translate the shared vision into actionable steps. They take on the user's perspective with more detailed and emotional user stories. At this stage, they re-iterate their shared understanding of requirements and create and estimate a prioritized backlog.
Stage 3: Implement
During implementation, the team focuses on specific deliverables. The Agile framework allows the flexibility for grooming and updating the backlog as needed. In this stage, the daily standup meeting is an outlet for the team to keep each other updated on progress and challenges.
Stage 4: Test
"Fail fast and often" is easy to say, but the cumulative effect can be hard on team morale. The nature of the Agile framework itself helps in constraining the damage. A loss of two weeks is much more productive than a year of micromanaging, and it makes the team more flexible and accountable for their collective actions.
Stage 5: Retrospect
In many ways, this is the most important stage because it is where true learning occurs. It is meant to assure that the team squeezes maximum value from sprints and elevates those lessons to the top of mind for the next project. In the retrospective, the team can highlight incremental changes that are easy to implement and have strong staying power.
Building Your High Performing Team
For the vast majority of companies, project teams never get a chance to evolve to the highest level of performance. Time and market demands throw together people with very different backgrounds, areas of expertise, responsibilities and priorities. Before they can come together into a cohesive unit, internal and external pressures tear them apart. Setting up an Agile framework helps teams gel and puts risk mitigation operations on standby from the very beginning.