The major problem with agile team transformations in SA… and how to fix it!

The Agile movement has proven without a doubt that companies who thrive in uncertain and volatile markets are companies who deploy high-performing small teams in all areas of their business with the use of agile methodologies. The increase in efficiency that comes with the shift from high-performing individuals to high-performing teams is significant, even with small changes to adopt agile mindsets and methodologies. We found that several factors influence the success of agile transformations, none of which has anything to do with the agile methodology or tool you choose to adopt. This blog aims to share some of our insights and experience to shed some light on the reasons for this inherent struggle to navigate successfully and agile transformation.

The epic rise of the Agile school-of-thought can be directly linked to three main attributes of agile practices:

  1. Agile methodologies are uniquely suited to handle uncertainty. If only there were a crisis at hand, causing volatility/uncertainty in the market and forcing us to look at more innovative solutions to our human capital strategies…..?

  2. The agile processes of using high-functioning teams are proving to be vastly superior in getting things done than traditional company structures.

  3. Traditional companies are managed from the top-down, with the power to make decisions flowing down the hierarchy. Agile companies tend to create a shared purpose across all levels of the organization and then hand the ability to make decisions over to teams who are closer to the problems/solutions of the company.

One of the more obvious causes for struggling transformations is the perceived complexity of changing an entire organization from a hierarchical structure to an agile organization with high-performing teams. Therein lies one of the major problems – the whole organization does not need to change in one fell strategic swoop. In fact, the companies who mostly fail at these types of projects did not apply an agile philosophy to their agile implementation. You can embed agile practises in teams across the organization over time, one team at a time, and then stop to learn before you can continue.

For the sceptics out there, we have also combined the available theory with our recent consulting experience. We have created a comprehensive list of all the reasons why it might not be a good idea for companies to become agile in today’s volatile economy:

All jokes aside – although we are a big proponent of adopting agile practises, as well as adopting a core agile philosophy, in organizations, there is one pitfall that we have seen over and over when it comes to the practical application of agile practises:

  • Companies impose new ways of work and agile methodologies on teams that might not be healthy, to begin with, and as a consequence, the project fails before it begins.

The assumption of most agile processes is that the team is ready to focus on the work and nothing else. Companies want to see an immediate return on investment. They want their teams to learn and apply remarkable frameworks like scrum and design thinking without stopping to assess the team itself to see if they are willing and able to run with this new way of work. Scrum, as an example, strongly advocates that teams need to be highly motivated and share a common goal. We found that not only do companies graze over this crucial step in the process but that more factors need to be considered when assessing the readiness of teams to undergo a transformation process.

The result of running into the same wall is that we were incentivised to take a step back and consider the problem. Through research and practical application, we found that there are eight crucial characteristics that a team needs to have to be healthy and agile-ready. Without all eight elements being present in a team in some form, the application of agile processes will fail. The end results were that we developed a Team Intelligence Model that was designed to diagnose a team to see which of the eight characteristics they inherently have. The good news is that teams can be trained on all eight elements of the model, and we have created the program to do just that with a blended learning journey that incorporates the latest principles of neuroscience.

The eight characteristics are shown in the Yellow Seed Team Intelligence Model below:

The first stage of the program is based on creating a baseline of measure, for both the team and the individuals in the team.

  • We developed an Agile Team Intelligence Diagnostic that allows us to score the current health of the team on the eight elements of the model. This has been created in a survey format and all team members need to participate.

  • For the individual assessments, we have partnered with our good friends at Cloverleaf, who created a team dashboard tool that presents individual assessment results of all team members on one dashboard. All individual in the team must complete their online assessments on the Cloverleaf platform. Various assessments are done and cover personality, drive, culture and strengths.

  • Each team member gets individual feedback on their Cloverleaf results, but for larger projects, group feedback is done.

There are three workshops that need to be attended to complete the Yellow Seed Agile TQ Program. In between the three workshops, team members are provided with online learning modules that have been designed to support the retention of principles learnt during the workshops. The team members also receive automatic messages through an AI engine that provides team members with useful tips about their team members.

  • Workshop 1 is a team insight process to gain a better understanding of the functioning and interaction of the various team members within the team according to the assessment results.

  • Workshop 2 focuses on team development and covers all eight elements of the model.

  • Workshop 3 is the first time that the team gets exposed to the agile philosophy, then to some of the agile methodologies that could be implemented by the team, based on their levels and roles. The aim is to leave the team with a toolkit of practical skills.

The Program ends off with team leader sessions to assist the leader in setting up rhythms within the teams that will help to sustain their continued development.

Team leader coaching has also proven to enhance the success of the program.

The proven benefits for companies who succeed in adopting agile practices are staggering. Organizations that have adopted Design Thinking or Agile in their approach to work out-perform their competitors by 228%. There are thus 228 reasons to seriously consider an agile transformation in your organisation, but be careful to not neglect the team members in the process and make sure they are able and ready for the change.

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