At The Agile Eleven, we have coached hundreds of teams with the main goal of improving their ways of working. From small to large, highly operational to strategic, we observed how our approach impacted most teams’ performance. Of course, not all teams are the same. Some already engage with us from a higher base, while others need additional coaching and support.
If you ever worked with The Agile Eleven, you probably know that we don’t follow a rule book and we don’t impose a particular agile framework, but we create bespoke solutions for each team and organisation. But what we have found in all our engagements is that there are similar ways that will lead to increased effective communication, improved collaboration and higher levels of engagement, all resulting in higher team performance.
When codifying our findings, we realised that they could be simplified into 11 steps within 4 key elements that can be applied to any team. They include the following: alignment, direction, rhythm and review. The 11 steps within them don’t necessarily have a particular order. For some teams, these steps will already exist, so we don’t suggest reinventing the wheel, but bringing it all together is the key to high-performing teams.
1st Key Element: Alignment
Have you ever worked with a team that ‘gets it’? They are coherent in their understanding of themselves, their work and where they are heading together. Alignment also promotes connection and ‘feel-good’ moments within teams – they know they are all in it together. And who doesn’t want to feel connected at work? These are the four steps under alignment:
A team’s purpose is the motivational force that drives them, it’s their ‘why’. A purpose should be meaningful and long-lasting. We don’t believe in beautiful words put on a wall for the sake of it; a team’s purpose should drive the teams’ behaviours and actions every day. When teams clearly understand their purpose, they will self-organise to re-align their work to their purpose.
If the purpose statement is the ‘why’, the vision is the ‘where’. Where does a team want to be? Having a shared destination makes the journey clearer for team members and gives a north star pulling the team into their preferred future. Vision statements should be inspiring and inform a team’s roadmap and objectives.
We like to think of this as how a team works together. Values should be actionable behaviours that the team can display as they work with each other. Teams can’t afford to go through long stages of forming and understanding of each other when they need to deliver customer value quickly. Therefore, having shared values will improve their ways of working and uncover any unspoken rules. Having clearly defined values will assist teams to reflect on how they can continue to improve their ways of working.
We believe that a team’s DNA should represent a team’s collective traits, how they show up in an organisation. Clearly stating how a team wants to be known for externally - to their customers and to the rest of the organisation, is paramount for a team’s success. A team’s DNA is inherent in their being.
2nd Key Element: Direction
Once teams have an inspiring vision, they will need clear direction on where they should focus their energy on, otherwise, each team member might end up focusing on what they believe is the right work. Having this shared understanding will not only promote better outcomes for a team but also alleviate any anxiety teams feel when working with unclear objectives. These are the three steps under Direction:
5. Strategic drivers
We believe that a strategy shouldn’t sit in a drawer and the strategic drivers are the pillars of a team’s direction. Based on the vision for a team, the strategic drivers should be well thought to support the team’s path and inform initiatives. If the work doesn’t align to a team’s strategic drivers, there are two questions worth asking: should we be doing the work? Are our strategic drivers still relevant to where we want to be?
What we observe with teams is that they have plenty of work to do but they can’t confidently explain the ‘way forward’. Collaboratively defining the outcomes for each strategic driver is the first step for a team to work in one, cohesive direction.
A roadmap is about a team’s intention for the future, not planning out the entire path and trying to stick to it. We like to work with three to five-year roadmaps, with a team’s vision being long-lasting. Thinking ahead is important for the team to understand what the opportunities for the future are, however, there needs to be a willingness to adapt their strategy as they uncover new pathways and pivot to market conditions.
3rd Key Element: Rhythm
This is what agile is known for and a vital element in any team looking to become more collaborative with a focus on personal growth. Teams that take advantage of visual management tools to foster meaningful conversations will stay ahead, self-adjust and get the right work done. These are the two steps under rhythm:
8. Visual Management
What gets visualised gets talked about and what gets talked about gets done. Organising the work in a visual representation that suits each team is a powerful step in our work with clients. Leaders who foster transparency of work will experience a positive shift in their teams: more communication about what matters, collaboration to deliver the team’s outcomes and true ownership of the work. It’s not rare for teams and leaders to come up to us to share how happy and engaged their teams have been after they started visualising their work. We’ve seen teams outperforming their own expectations by shifting the work from computer files to a transparent way to display and talk about the work. There is no one best way to visualise the work as there are no rules. The key here is that the most high-performing teams we’ve seen live and breathe the agile mindset, therefore evolving the visualisation of their work.
9. Operating Rhythm
Visual management is only as good as the operating rhythm that goes with it. The operating rhythm is the frequency at which the visual work is talked about. We find that the closest teams are to their customer, the more frequently they should meet; daily or more often if the information changes quickly. More strategic teams might talk less frequently (maybe weekly, fortnightly or even monthly) about how their initiatives are moving. Whatever the operating rhythm, the value is in the team conversations that happen around the visual representation of the work.
4th Key Element: Review
The power of hindsight is only as good as a team’s willingness to learn and adjust their ways of working and the work itself to continue to improve what they do. Teams that pause and take a moment to review their work, celebrate success and re-calibrate are able to harness their collective insights, outperforming teams that get stuck in the rut of doing the work. These are the two steps under review:
10. Continuous improvement
Continuous improvement is so often talked about but so often put on the backburner in preference of the actual work. Prioritising reflection helps teams learn what they need to improve and take action to make those improvements. A regular rhythm of reflection is a trademark of high-performing teams.
These should be created in alignment with your objectives. It is very important that metrics are used to understand how a team is going in the achievement of their objectives, and ultimately their vision. Leading indicators are incredibly useful in informing decisions for how to proceed and lagging indicators can sometimes be helpful in understanding the achievement of results, as long as they are not the only metrics a team relies on. Most importantly, we don’t believe that metrics should be used as a performance indicator
So, there you have it, the agile 11 steps for high-performing teams. There is no silver bullet, so think of these steps as a map to take your team to a place of high achievement, particularly in the fast-paced environment in which we all work.
If you want to learn more about what we do and how we can help your team and organisation, contact us here