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Nurturing and Growing Agile Teams

Andy Kelk talked about nurturing and growing agile teams at 1st Conference in Melbourne, Australia. His talk is based on the blog post Culture Gardening:

For people from technical roles, it can be hard to grasp, but the path to building effective teams is a lot more like gardening than it is like computer programming. People are certainly not as predictable as a computer and discovering what to do takes time, energy, determination and hard work. But the results are worth the effort you put in.

People with the right attitude can help you to create the culture said Kelk. Look for ways to get them on board as supporters of your cultural transformation.

Kelk told a story about a person who was really negative about agile and didn’t want to be part of it. After he was put into a team and found out what agile is about he became one of the biggest supporters. If your are able to convince your enemy, that can help you to give a boost to the culture change.

You can look at other companies for inspiration but don’t just copy their culture said Kelk. You need to grow a culture that’s right for your own organisation.

Kelk suggested that when hiring people you should give attention to culture attitude over technical skills. Ways to do this are to mention culture in your job adds and ask the right questions in your interviews. For instance you can ask candidates to talk about their experiences working in a team. Other ways to do this are to arrange for the team to talk with a candidate, bring one or more candidates together with team members in an informal setting, or have candidates doing pair programming with a team member.

The Belbin model can be used to look at roles which are played in the team. For instance you can make a spider diagram of your team to see what you are lacking in the team, which can help you recruit someone for a particular role.

If you are hiring from inside the company or want to change your organizational or team structure you might want to take a different approach than managers making the decisions on who will be working together. Kelk mentioned a squadification day at TradeMe where people could sign up for the team that they wanted to work in. The self-selection approach that Sandy Mamoli and David Mole used for this is described in their book Creating Great Teams.

The cost of a bad hire is very high. The definition of a bad hire is someone who undermines what they team is doing or who has a negative effect on the team’s results. Bad hires tend to be overconfident, self-centered or rule-following.

Transplanting a person into a new company can be challenging. Onboarding aims to make people feel part of the team. You can’t read a wiki page to understand how the team works said Kelk. He suggested to get the team on board when you’re onboarding a new employee.

Nurturing a team is a job which is never done. You want to establish a culture which promotes learning, and to make time available for people to learn. Ways to do this are to regularly plan time for self learning and to support book reading groups.

If there are problems with a person working in a team Kelk suggested to try to have them work in one or two other teams. If it doesn’t work in any of of them, then it’s probably the person who is the problem.

Respect and dignity matter when people are leaving. For instance by being genuinely excited for a person who’s taking a next step in his or her career said Kelk. There is a chance that they might come back later and want to work for the company again, at which time it might be useful to talk about how to do it different this time.

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