A high-performing agile team delivers exceptional results time and again, irrespective of the challenges they encounter. Such teams are often admired and respected across their organizations because they exceed customers’ and management’s expectations repeatedly.
While their results may seem magical, lots of effort goes into building such a team. Their results are due to the sustained effort of committed people, both on the team and above them. While not easy to achieve, there are common characteristics that high-performance teams exhibit. Here are seven of those qualities that you should strive for when building your own agile team.
1. A unified outlook
High-performing agile teams have a clearly defined charter instilling a “one-team” attitude in them. Creating a team working agreement can help define team member expectations and how a team works together. Team members should collaborate and support each other, and although they will inevitably sometimes argue, they should then reconcile. They radiate positive vibes that can be felt by others in the organization.
The charter should include guidelines like these:
- Shared vision and goals
- A customers-first attitude
- Trust and respect toward each other
- Excellence through continuous improvement
2. Ownership and accountability in their work
Strong and effective leadership instills a sense of ownership and accountability in the team by giving them enough autonomy to make their own decisions while remaining within the boundaries of organizational values. Autonomy comes with responsibility; it is not freedom to take inappropriate actions or make immature decisions. Ownership and accountability happens when purpose is combined with empowerment and commitment.
High-performing teams are ready to take complete responsibility for failures without looking for excuses. They treat success and failures as "our success, our failures," not as "my success, your failure." The major difference between high-performing teams and normal teams is that high-performing teams are always focused on continuous improvement by not repeating the same mistakes.
3. A high level of emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence is an important building block of high-performing teams. People should be aware of their emotions at work. Emotions do flare up in social interactions, but the key is handling such situations in a more balanced manner. By being in control of their emotions, teams are able to maintain healthy relationships.
Emotionally intelligent team members are able to manage and control not only their own emotions, but the emotions of others as well. They show respect toward their colleagues, motivate each other, and support the personal growth and success of each team member. They are aware of the differences that can exist when working with teammates of varying backgrounds. These teams have worked on acquiring skills to handle situations more effectively, and that shows up in their work.
4. A visible culture of excellence
High-performing agile teams focus on process excellence, engineering excellence, and people excellence. This attitude helps to improve themselves and the team, which results in delivering quality solutions to customers.
Opportunities for innovation and continuous improvement are part of their work culture. Every member of the team is committed to overall improvement. T-shaped individuals, pi-shaped teams, cross-functional teams, and digital teams are norms today. Team members actively participate in hackathons, community of practice, self- and team development plans, and conferences and other knowledge-sharing opportunities. Internal retrospections and connecting with external communities help them identify new areas of development.
These teams do not settle for ordinary results. They are always motivated to challenge themselves, setting new standards for performance and achieving unprecedented results.
5. A passion for their work
Passionate team members are always an asset to any organization. These people are calm but still full of energy for their work. Passion makes a difference in their output and commitment to the project.
Passion is something that can't be taught, but great leaders have the capability to ignite passion in teams where it is lacking. Passionate team members are not lazy, and they don't look for excuses when the going is tough. They make every attempt to fulfill their commitment. Passion drives them to achieve excellence in their workplace. They stay up to date in their field, they are excited about their work, and they are always looking for creative ideas to solve complex problems.
6. Alignment on performance objectives with other departments
Because high-performing agile teams work with a “one-team” spirit, their performance objectives are aligned in a similar way. Organizations that have a strategy defined around product delivery, as opposed to project delivery, normally do not have much of a problem setting performance objectives because everything revolves around the product, and that’s how the teams are structured.
But organizations that have not transformed their organization to a product structure often struggle in setting performance objectives. Teams are still formed around people representing different departments. Those in powerful positions don't want to give away their control, so they are more focused on achieving their departmental objectives, thus putting business objectives at risk. In such circumstances, team members may have to bear the brunt of interdepartmental politics, but ultimately, it’s product quality that suffers.
Leadership plays a big role in bridging the gaps across departments. Leaders of high-performing teams, irrespective of their product- or project-based team structure, make sure that business and IT objectives are well aligned and that there is no conflict of interest.
7. Supportive and inspiring leaders
An effective leader is critical to making a high-performing agile team. Leaders of high-performing agile teams inspire the team constantly instead of controlling team behavior. Communication is a leader’s strength. The leader should regularly communicate with the team about the goals and directions of the organization, challenge the team to question the status quo, set ambitious goals, provide opportunity for individual growth, and always be available for any kind of support the team may require. The leader shows complete faith in the team.
An organization’s success is no longer solely dependent on its management and leaders. Organizations need teams that can respond quickly to challenges and be able to embrace constantly shifting expectations. This is where the value of high-performing teams is realized.
Management and senior leadership must realize the factors that contribute to making high-performing teams. Their language, behavior, support, and actions go a long way toward creating and sustaining the culture of high-performing teams. The reward is a team that consistently brings out the best in its people.