4 Ways to Improve Communication in Agile Teams

Apr 28, 2020 | Best Practices

Improve Communication in Agile Teams

We live in an agile world. Small, focused teams collaborate to develop the next big feature for their customers. The key to delivering these high-quality features on time is effective communication.

The way teams communicate has a direct impact on cost, productivity, team morale, and employee retention in the workplace. We have a plethora of tools, resources, and frameworks available, and it has become a necessity to have an effective communication process in the midst of all these factors in order to get work done.

Here are some tips to improve communication in agile teams.

Identify effective communication patterns

There are various forms of communication, including verbal, non-verbal, written and intercultural communication. Each one is important to build high-performing teams, but let’s focus on two of the methods of communication that are often not prioritized as much.

Non-verbal communication

This is one of the most overlooked aspects of communication. According to the researcher Albert Mehrabian, an astounding 93% of our feelings and attitudes about a message come from non-verbal communication such as body language, tone of voice, eye contact, posture, attentivity and facial expressions.

Teams are made up of individuals with different personalities, making it crucial to pay close attention to these non-verbal cues. We must observe patterns that are effective and those that disrupt collaboration in order to take corrective actions. Teams should be trained to respect other people’s opinions, show interest in conversations, pay attention to gestures, and be mindful of the way individuals behave in a team setting.

Intercultural communication

Teams consist of people from different regions, cultures and backgrounds. This diversity is what makes teams succeed as they provide a channel to foster innovation and creative ideas that help to build the next cutting-edge product.

It is of utmost importance to cultivate an environment of transparency and openness while recognizing regional differences when working together. For example, when we use idioms such as “This product is a cash cow,” a person who comes from a different cultural background may not understand the meaning of this phrase.

If you’re working with distributed agile teams, it is important to pay attention to time zones. When mentioning meeting times or deadlines, ensure time zones are added — this becomes even more relevant when working with teams across different countries.

Finally, be cognizant of the fact that people react, behave and understand things differently. In his book “When Cultures Collide: Leading Across Cultures,” Richard D. Lewis goes into detail about the importance of noticing differences in individuals’ traits. Focusing on these varied traits helps to improve team communication.

Set clear expectations, goals and deadlines

Each individual on the team should have defined expectations, goals and timelines to accomplish their tasks. Having these key factors in place helps to guide their work and prevent ambiguity in responsibilities.

Check-in with team members periodically to see how they are doing and address any issues that could be obstacles to their progress. Make them take ownership of their actions, and recognize good work by making it visible to the entire team. All these add up to a more productive team — which means delivering features on time.

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Establish feedback loops

Communicating timely feedback is crucial to an agile team’s success. This can be done in two ways.

Proactive feedback

This is when you request feedback from a trusted peer or colleague on how you performed with a particular task. It could be as simple as asking questions such as “Did I do this right?” or “Could I have done something better?”

Reactive feedback

This is when a peer or colleague gives you feedback based on something you did. It could be feedback such as “What you told us was great, but next time we only need to hear X, Y and Z” or “This approach seems to work better. What do you think?”

To improve team feedback, we need to ensure we have retrospective meetings as part of our sprints to discuss what worked and what did not. Problems faced by teams should be discussed openly, and we need to collectively come up with solutions to them. For each solution discussed, an individual from the team needs to be assigned to the task to follow up on it. This helps give the teams a feeling of empowerment and helps everyone work as a single unit.

Improve team morale

Teams need to work hard and play hard. Usually, organizations concentrate on the former aspect, emphasizing building more features and releasing faster. As a result, individuals do not get time to interact with other team members and get to know them on a personal level.

If you want to build highly productive teams, team morale needs to increase. There are lots of ways to do this:

  • Periodically have onsite meetings with the whole team so everyone has a chance to interact with each other
  • Hold team-building activities where individuals are tasked to work together
  • Recognize individual contributions and make these announcements to the whole team
  • Provide sufficient training so individuals can improve their skills
  • Break down roadblocks that are preventing the team’s progress

Identifying gaps in communication and working to improve them helps agile team members with different roles and responsibilities collaborate better. And that helps them deliver better software.

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