Sustaining Employees and Culture of Remote Agile Team

November 23, 20204:21 pm3306 views
Sustaining Employees and Culture of Remote Agile Team
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Abrupt shifts to remote working in response to the coronavirus has challenged the typical approach to managing agile teams. Traditionally, agile teams thrive when team members are co-located, with close-knit groups all working in the same place. Co-location allows frequent in-person contact, quickly builds trust, simplifies problem solving, encourages instant communication, and enables fast-paced decision making. Work experience can tell that agile teams that have worked remotely from the start can be as effective, but the sudden transition of co-located teams to a fully remote approach might reduce cohesion and increase inefficiency. The good news is that while it takes real work, much of what leads agile teams to lose productivity when they go remote can be addressed. In fact, if the necessary technology is in place, a talented remote team can deliver just as much value as co-located teams. 

Below is McKinsey’s advice to sustain an agile remote team. 

Revisit the norms and ground rules for interactions  

Virtual whiteboards, instant chat, and videoconferencing tools can be a boon to collaborative exercises and usually promote participation. But they can also require teams to reconsider existing norms and agreed-upon ground rules. Some challenges might require team members to adjust to the tools themselves: team members should be generous with one another in offering practical support on navigating virtual tools, such as help formatting or recording presentations or informing the host about any technology issues. 

New ground rules for communication might be needed to keep people who are interacting virtually from talking over one another. For example, something as simple as asking each speaker to “pass the ball” by calling out the next presenter by name can help during a teleconference. Other team norms might also need to be revisited and revised. On an agile team, everyone needs to take responsibility for capturing spontaneous ideas and putting up blockers to avoid losing them. When using virtual whiteboards, for example, teams need to make extra effort to capture the collective view, especially in larger remote teams. That will help avoid ambiguity and confusion in individual priorities. 

See also: 5 Suggestions to Improve Remote Team Training

Cultivate bonding and morale  

Many of the kinds of activities that nurture morale for co-located agile teams, such as casual lunches, impromptu coffee breaks, or after-work social activities, are not possible in a virtual environment. Team members should encourage one another to introduce their pets and family members and to show any meaningful items in their working space. Working remotely, teams need to make a more conscious effort to be social, polite, precise, and tactful to ensure everyone feels just as safe contributing remotely as they did in person.

Adapt coaching and development  

With coaching, agile teams should aspire to model remotely everything they would have done in person – but more frequently, given the abruptness of the switch to remote format. If you would do one-on-one coaching over coffee, try doing it remotely while actually having coffee over video. Encourage all team members to turn on their video and actively monitor body language during group meetings, especially those in the role of coach. 

Recalibrating remote agile processes  

The challenge for remote agile teams is that they’ll be tempted to try to replicate exactly whatever has worked for them in a co-located setting. But what worked in the office setting won’t always work remotely. The trick is to work backward, start with the outcomes you were getting in the office and modify your scrum ceremonies as appropriate. It’s all about adapting to the situation rather than sticking to a guide. Consider breakouts, for example. Group meetings that use certain video-chat forums can allow large groups to break up into smaller ones for discussion, just as they’d do in person. 

Establish a single source of truth  

Agile team processes are fairly informal when working in person, and there’s little need for capturing notes and documenting agreements. Conversations are organic and in real time. Take morning stand-up meetings, for example. This is the daily huddle that keeps teams informed, connected, and aligned, and in person it usually takes 15 minutes of discussion. Teams make decisions with everyone in the room, so there’s little need to record them. Working remotely, teams might need to consider a different approach to documenting team discussion, producing a so-called single source of truth to memorialise agreements. This can then be kept in a single shared workspace. 

A remote stand-up can be more involved than an in-person one, depending on a team’s cohesiveness and its maturity. If team members don’t all participate in the event or if there’s a risk that they’ll be distracted during the call, then it’s important to calibrate the process to the context. The right approach is likely to be team specific, depending on team maturity and existing norms. 

Adjust to asynchronous collaboration  

Asynchronous communication, such as messaging boards and chat, can be effective means to coordinate agile teams working remotely. In fact, we have already seen some teams replacing certain traditional ceremonies with asynchronous communication. For example, a team in a services institution has replaced some of the daily huddles by a dedicated messaging channel to which team members submit their updates and identify impediments to further work. This has the benefit of allowing team members to raise red flags at any point during the day, and it serves as the registry of concerns that have been raised and addressed. Note that asynchronous communication needs to be used carefully. Teams that grow overly reliant on asynchronous channels might see team members feeling isolated, and the trust among them might suffer. 

Keep teams engaged during long ceremonies  

A remote-working arrangement creates new challenges to keeping agile teams motivated and avoiding burnout. Working in isolation is hard for any person, but particularly for agile teams accustomed to face-to-face communication and frequent interpersonal engagement. Multitasking and homebased distractions also take a toll, depending on how things are set up. But approaches to keep team members engaged aren’t unique to agile teams, even if the imperative might be more acutely felt. 

Adapting leadership approach  

The core mission of leadership stays the same, whether co-located or remote. But leaders need to be more deliberate when engaging with customers and teams, especially when you have limited in-person interaction. Leaders in this context can be anyone on the team, whether product owners, scrum masters, or even a developer demonstrating leadership. Working in the same location, agile team leaders often empower teams to push work forward. Working remotely, they need to be closer to and more proactive at guiding their own team members. Leaders also need to be purposeful at engaging external customers and stakeholders. They must be transparent and reassuring in their communication about team performance and objectives. 

Agile teams can reinforce productivity by taking a purposeful approach to sustaining an agile culture and by recalibrating processes to support agile objectives while working remotely.

Read also: Seven Smart Strategies for REMOTE Team Onboarding

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