Agile & Digital

Don’t forget the individual in your Agile teams and new ways of working

Much of the focus on Agile and other new ways of working is on the team as the basic unit for getting work done. However, most work is done by individuals and most people spend most of their time working on their own deliverables. What is the place for individual empowerment and performance in this new team orthodoxy?

It is useful to make a distinction between collaboration and coordination.

  • Where we have several individuals doing similar tasks, but they are relatively independent, then we can focus on the coordination of their effort to make sure they are aligned and pointing in the same direction. This allows individuals to get on and do their own work and can be very motivating and efficient
  • Collaboration on the other hand implies high levels of interdependence and can only really happen when we are involved in some kind of live conversation such as the meeting, conference call or webex. Collaboration can be great for sparking ideas, co-developing complex solutions and making consensus decisions.

Our research shows that managers and professional people spend about two days a week in these collective meetings. So even these individuals spend a significant amount of their time working on individual tasks. Further down the organization people spend even more time working individually.

The strict Agile methodology came out of the world of software development. Even in this world most coding is done individually. Of course, there needs to be peer review and careful alignment and coordination of the efforts of individuals, but code is not written in meetings.

If we only focus on team performance in the way we manage Agile, then we are missing over half of the picture in delivering results.

I’m a big believer in empowering individuals and letting them get on with their jobs. An overemphasis on teams can lead to individuals having to come back to review their work and receive approval to proceed from people who know less about it than they do. It can also lead to a proliferation of meetings – including the daily Agile meeting which is unnecessary for a wide range of Agile teams. It can also lead to delay “we can’t make a decision until the next meeting.”

So, as you focus on introducing Agile teams don’t forget the equal importance of having Agile individuals able to perform their work, make their own decisions and get things done without waiting for the next meeting. If you need help developing the skills to make Agile teams and individuals effective, please give us a call

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