5 Qualities Leaders Need to Build Highly Collaborative Agile Teams

Apr 16, 2020 | Best Practices

A group of people building a process

Collaboration is a key ingredient in the success of agile teams. Developers, testers, project managers, business folks, and other stakeholders need to work as one single unit to deliver high-quality products to customers.

As a leader, there are multiple factors to consider to enable seamless communication between different roles in agile teams. It is critical to ensure teams are motivated, have frequent interaction, and work toward a common goal.

Here are five qualities necessary for a leader to build highly collaborative agile teams.

1. Clarity in goals and objectives

The expectations of the team need to be clearly communicated by the leader. It is hard to know in which direction to proceed without knowing the destination. Similarly, it is impossible for teams to work toward a common goal if they do not know what needs to be accomplished within a given time frame.

It is the responsibility of the leader to ensure that all team members are aware of their expectations and have sufficient know-how to meet goals for achieving customer satisfaction.

2. Effective communication

The leader needs to set standards and processes to increase communication between teams. This becomes more important when working with distributed teams and is a core determinant of success in agile teams. There are different ways this can be achieved:

Truly follow agile practices

It is crucial to ensure teams follow different agile practices set forth by the organization. Daily stand-ups, retrospective meetings, and planning meetings are common practices that occur in any agile methodology and should be respected.

It’s often necessary to give reminders and place emphasis on the value of these practices. As a leader, it is important this message comes from you.

Invest in collaboration tools

To build highly collaborative teams, any barriers in communication need to be broken down. As part of this effort, have effective collaboration tools that teams can use easily. There are numerous video-conferencing and chat tools that enable people to have uninterrupted conversations with one another from anywhere.

Evaluate tools to determine which makes sense for the team, and invest in the tool as soon as possible.

Encourage socialization

Apart from team members having constant communication related to work items, there also needs to be a channel through which they can get to know one another at a personal level. This helps bring teams closer and build lasting relationships.

As a leader, enable this transition by hosting social events for both onsite and offsite employees.

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3. The ability to empower self-organizing teams

Teams are more motivated when they are assigned clear responsibilities and given ownership of tasks. Each individual on the team has a different skill set, and in order to increase productivity and team morale, the assigned responsibilities need to align with each person’s strengths.

It is your responsibility as a leader to build a conducive environment for learning and empowered teams. There are different ways to do this:

Individual conversations

Use one-on-one conversations to identify individuals’ strengths and interests. Assign tasks based on their strengths and hold them accountable for it. Have team members share their progress in team meetings to help them realize why their work matters to the project.

Rotating responsibilities

A great way of helping individuals figure out their interests and passions is to rotate the various responsibilities within the team. For example, each sprint you can rotate the role of the ScrumMaster so that each person gets a chance to experience the role. The same can be done with lead roles in dev and QA: One person would inherit the role of a lead and run point on all developer- or testing-related activities.

This allows firsthand experience in different roles on agile teams, gives the feeling of empowerment and ownership, and helps to build self-organizing teams.

Peer coaching

Every team member has certain skills to offer. The first step to build highly motivated and cross-functional teams is to give sufficient training.

One way to do this is via peer coaching, where people are assigned mentors within the team to learn different skill sets. This helps people increase communication, learn new skills, get insights into each other’s work, and understand how their work helps the project.

4. Proficiency at giving feedback

Getting feedback on completed work is critical for the success of an individual and a project. As a leader, it is your job to establish effective feedback loops to let team members know how they are performing and contributing to the overall goals of the company. Feedback also helps team members understand areas that need improvement and take corrective actions in a timely manner.

The feedback loops can be in the form of weekly or biweekly one-on-ones, retrospective meetings, daily standups, planning meetings and all-hands meeting with the entire group. Each meeting should address how the company is performing, how each individual contribution has helped in the growth of the company and the areas that still need improvement.

5. Increasing visibility

Everyone’s work needs to be visible to ensure they are progressing according to plan and understanding the contributions they are making to impact the project. There are various agile tools and dashboards that can help people visualize their efforts and hold each other accountable for their actions. Most importantly, visibility gives the feeling of empowerment and ownership.

Adopting these leadership qualities can help you encourage any team to become more collaborative, inclusive and effective.

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