Team Management Systems

Agile Teamwork

By Dick McCann
Copyright © Dick McCann. All rights reserved.

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Just when we think that the rate of change is about to stabilize, events seem to conspire to bring about even more (and unexpected) change. Very few people were predicting the Global Financial Crisis and many organizations were left 'flat-footed' in their ability to adapt quickly. In addition we are now entering the age of the real 'dot-com' boom which was illusionary some 10 years ago but is now impacting just about every business. As fiber-optic communication traverses the world, the way business is being done is changing at an alarming rate. Traditional management methodologies need constant revising if organizations are to become 'agile'.

Agile methods were initiated some 8 years ago in software project management where traditional 'waterfall' approaches were found to be cumbersome and failed to adapt to changing specifications, with the result that many large IT developments were obsolete before they were implemented. Agile IT principles value individuals and interactions over processes and tools; working software over comprehensive documentation; customer collaboration over contract negotiation; and responding to change over following a plan. Agile methods have now moved beyond the IT world to project management in general – spawning the age of Agile Teamwork, which embraces many of the Team Management Systems concepts.

Agile Teamwork is a valuable concept where teams are comprised mainly of knowledge workers. In the software industry skilled developers and testers are often worth more to their organizations than their managers and in these teams Agile Leadership is required to make them successful. In terms of the Window on Work Values many IT professionals hold strong values of Independence and Empowerment. With such teams, Agile Leadership seeks to strike a balance between the structure required to achieve high performance and the leadership control to affect it.

Old-style leadership seeks to prepare complex end-to-end plans that will cater for all eventualities but the real world is defined by probabilities not certainties and such an approach trades order for agility. Agile Leadership allows order to emerge from the team dynamics and this is aided by the Team Management Profiles (TMP). With the help of Team Management Systems tools a fair degree of self-organization is possible; control processes implemented by the leader are then secondary to the emerging team order.

Agile teams need to readily adapt to changing circumstances and a pre-requisite for this is open and free-flowing information. Traditional hierarchy teams impede the flow of information, as power is often correlated with controlling information and releasing it on a 'need-to-know' basis. Agile IT teams are often geographically dispersed and use a web 2.0 Requirements Management System to ensured rapid response and updates to changing situations. Many of these approaches are easily adapted to non-IT teams.

Good 'agile leaders' need to be Linking Leaders, implementing the six People Linking Skills, the five Task Linking Skills and the two Leadership Linking skills. In particular such a leader needs to implement the skill of Motivation. They need to:

  • Inspire team members to perform
  • Articulate a compelling vision of the team's future
  • Focus unwaveringly on clear end goals
  • Take a stand on controversial issues affecting the team
  • Be someone team members want to follow
  • Make others feel optimistic about the future

Leaders of agile teams inspire team members to give extra effort towards achieving outputs and outcomes. This is particularly important when setbacks occur. At these times it is important to understand how everyone is feeling and use the skills of Pacing and Leading to encourage team members to put the past behind them and look to a prosperous future.

If team members are to give of their best they need to have a clear picture of what lies ahead. In addition they need to be persuaded that this vision is worth pursuing. Along with the vision there needs to be a set of clear end goals that act as beacons to follow. These goals need to be outcome based and generic rather than specific.

Linking Leaders take a stand when controversial issues arise affecting the team. Team members need to know that someone is out there 'fighting' for them and being an advocate for the team. If team members feel justifiably ill-treated by some issue or situation, then it's important for the leader to put the case strongly to senior people in the organization.

Another key component of the Motivational Linking Skill is making others feel optimistic about the future. The execution of this needs a good understanding of the behavior associated with optimism and pessimism. Team members will follow an optimistic leader, so long as they don't neglect the obstacles, which are always present!

Copyright © Dick McCann. All rights reserved.

With a background in science, engineering, finance and organizational behavior, Dick McCann has consulted widely for organizations such as BP, Hewlett Packard and Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank. He is coauthor of Team Management: Practical New Approaches with Charles Margerison; author of How to Influence Others at Work, the TMS E-Book Series and The Workplace Wizard: The Definitive Guide to Working with Others; and coauthor with Jan Stewart of Aesop's Management Fables and The Half-Empty Chalice. Dick is coauthor and developer of the Team Management Systems concepts and products and also author of the QO2™ Profile, Window on Work Values Profile and the Strategic Team Development Profile. Involved in TMS operations worldwide for over 25 years, Dick is now Managing Director of TMS Australia and a Director of TMS Development International.

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