I had the pleasure of attending the keynote talk of my colleague and friend, Michael Mah, at the recent PSQT conference in San Diego in August. Michael, as usual, was very entertaining and passionate about his ideas and research. In his talk, he discussed a case study in which one of his clients has achieved and continues to achieve great results in implementing XP. He also drew an analogy of their Agile team characteristics as compared to other high performing teams. No, he wasn’t talking about the Golden State Warriors. Michael’s passion is saving the oceans, so he was sharing his experience in working with the Sea Shepherds. The Sea Shepherds work together with passion and purpose and Michael’s story could motivate anyone to stop going to SeaWorld and join the fight in saving the oceans and the life within them.

High Performance Team Attributes

Agile Team Characteristics and High Performance Teams

You may think that the bottom three in the above list are a little indirect, but I still think there is a direct correlation between the Eco-Pirate Team Attributes and high performance Agile Team Characteristics.

Powerful purpose: With a goal in mind that’s bigger than themselves, it’s easier for a team to rally to win and do what it takes. Purpose could be instilled by the product owner on the software’s goal and how it helps its users.

Leaders and backup leaders: With Agile teams, everyone is a leader in their own specialty, pulling for the same goal. The important differentiator is that with fully-stacked, cross-functional teams, you can be a back up for others and take on whatever work needs to get done.

Team communication: Communication is clearly a primary characteristic of any winning team, but for Agile, it’s even more pronounced as team members support and participate in a process that requires them to bring up issues before they become problems.

Transparency: Transparency is built into the Agile process and without it, it just doesn’t work. People work in the same location, if possible, and share ideas and problems everyday. Progress or a lack of progress is shown for all to see.

Trust: Without your teammates’ trust, the team goes nowhere. Agile team members have to feel comfortable admitting when they didn’t get something done, and must be able to admit it without being attacked by others. Rather, expecting offers of help or advice on how to solve the problem should be the norm.

Celebrity power: Paul Simon brought celebrity power to the Sea Shepherds, but the advantage of having Paul Simon was the added visibility for their goal. For Agile, the visibility of the customer and what’s important to the customer or end user is brought straight to the team through the product owner.

Social media: Agile teams don’t necessarily use social media, but they do have many tools to communicate with each other, some of which are specifically designed to get the word out and foster communication.

Metrics: Of course, how can you improve if you don’t know where to start? Metrics are a key part of Agile, just as continuous improvement is built into the retrospective philosophy.

The premise of Michael’s talk, Beyond Productivity and Toward Market Dominance – What’s Next for Agile as the Great Disrupter, was that now that we have Agile, what’s next? The “what’s next” is for us to optimize and fine tune the performance of our teams. By keeping these Agile team characteristics in mind, review your Agile processes and see if you can work toward purposefully instilling these characteristics into your actions. For instance, for Trust, Michael discussed how each team member would have a picture of their family at his or her desk. By having this picture, it naturally increased discussion and comfort amongst team members. One of the unknown benefits is that it also keeps at the forefront the facts that everyone has a family at home and that overtime is to be avoided.

I really enjoyed how Michael was able to tie his research in productivity metrics to his passion for the Sea Shepherds, while also teaching us at the same time! (And not just about Agile!)