Agile Teamwork?

I’m often asked, “What is Agile?” I respond with five key words: collaborative, iterative, incremental, adaptive, and visual.

The Agile Manifesto begins with collaboration: “We value individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” As important as processes and tools are, real communication with real people is even more important. And lack of real communication with real people is one of the leading causes of organizational failure.

I think there are two reasons we default to processes and tools over individuals and interactions. The first is obvious. This is the age of processes and tools. And we, the people who build processes and tools, like processes and tools.

The second is not so obvious. I often ask my clients, “You know what the ‘I’ in ‘IT’ stands for?” They look at me like I’m crazy; everybody knows the ‘I’ is for ‘Information’ and the ‘T’ for ‘Technology.’ “The ‘I’ is for ‘Introvert,’” I like to say, “because many engineers, software and otherwise, are introverts.”

For instance, I grew up a software engineer and I’m an INTJ on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator—the ‘I’ is for “introvert” too. That means I’d rather send you an email or an instant message than have a real conversation with you. Even if you sit right next door!

The problem, of course, is that email and messages are not real communication. How can they be when the communication experts tell us 70% of real communication consists of voice tone and pacing, facial expression, and body language? Email is a great distribution tool, and it can serve as a backup communication tool if necessary, but never rely on it for important communications.

The same goes for instant messages, requirements documents, design specifications, etc. This is why we miss and misunderstand so many requirements. Again, processes and tools are important, but only if they are facilitating and documenting real communication with real people. This is a non-negotiable, critical success factor for organizational success.

Besides, real communication with real people is more fun. In one of my workshops we run a simulation from beginning to end. The first half of the week we do everything manually using flipcharts and sticky notes. Wednesday afternoon we do a crash introduction to a set of tools that we use for the remainder of the week. The teachable moment always comes about Thursday morning:

“Timeout. What are we doing?” I ask.

“Uh, working?” comes the reply.

“I understand. But we were working yesterday too. How is today’s work different from yesterday’s work?”

“Ohhhh…yesterday we were a team. And we were having fun! Today it’s just work.”

The research bears this out: we are often more collaborative and productive working together, having real communication, with real people. How can you ensure that your team is a real team, driven first and foremost by individuals and interactions vs. processes and tools? I’d love to hear how you’re doing, especially if you’re remote or part of virtual team.

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