Unleashing Agile Potential: Cultivating High-Performance Teams

Author: David Wildt

Vier Menschen arbeiten in der Gruppe. Drei sitzen und eine Frau steht an der Tafel und klebt ein Post-It ran.

Being self-organized, paying attention to quality and outcomes, reflecting to become more effective, and emerging solutions are qualities commonly found in agile and high-performance teams. These characteristics, however, are often not prevalent in the early stages of group development. So, if Agile isn't working for your team, it may be because your team hasn't reached the highest stage of group development: Work and Productivity.

Imagine having a team that effortlessly embodies agility and consistently delivers exceptional results. The secret lies in cultivating a group of individuals into a cohesive, high-performance team. However, this transformation is not an overnight phenomenon. It requires a strategic approach and the development of key qualities such as self-organization, quality focus, reflective thinking, and the ability to adapt to emerging solutions. In this blog post, we will explore the crucial steps and strategies to help your team embark on a journey towards agility and unlock its full potential for high performance.

Is your “team” truly a team?

Teams, as with groups, are characterized by the interaction of two or more individuals, sharing norms and values, and have assigned roles.

For agile teams, similar principles apply: A cooperative effort to achieve common goals, self-organisation, focus on quality, result orientation and the ability to reflect from the foundation. The exact goal varies from team to team. To achieve this goal, each team member takes on a role that matches their individual skills, interests, and capacities.

The following steps can help to unleash the potential of high-performance teams:

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Step 1: The framework

For a group to become a team, the first step is to define a common goal. Creating a framework that allows people to work together is also important. What this looks like will be different for each team.

Step 2: Identify tasks and roles

The next step is to identify the tasks needed to achieve the goals. Each team member takes on a role that corresponds to their individual skills, interests, and capacities.

Step 3: Establishing psychological security

For people to feel comfortable taking interpersonal risks – such as the risk of failure –they need psychological safety. This concept was formulated by Amy Edmondson in 1999 and popularised by Google’s Project Aristotle. It describes a reorientation towards failure, in which a learning mindset, active listening, and appreciation of the diversity of project contributions are ensured to allow employees to participate without inhibition. Because one thing is clear: in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world, failure is inevitable. Only through failure, growth and progress can be achieved. Agile and high-performance teams do not materialize out of thin air – they emerge and require careful cultivation. Merely setting the stage for agile teams is insufficient – building teams demands knowledge, skill, and patience.

“The group becomes an entity by virtue of its acceptance by the members, their desire to maintain and perpetuate it.”

Bruce W. Tuckman

Step 4: Resolving conflicts constructively

Conflict is an inevitable part of team dynamics, much like failure. However, it is crucial for the group to handle conflict constructively to prevent escalation. Productive conflict resolution is essential for the team to reach a consensus on the best way forward. Like failure, it is important to reframe conflict by distinguishing between desirable, constructive, and solution-oriented arguments, and undesirable, destructive, mean-spirited personal attacks. By identifying and overcoming these obstacles, the group learns how to facilitate conflict resolution that leads to a win-win outcome for all parties involved.  It is best to avoid delegating conflict resolution to authority, as it only exacerbates the situation.

Step 5: Make decisions efficiently

To make decisions efficiently, the group must learn to use different decision-making methods. The appropriate method depends on the urgency, importance, and complexity of the problem, and ensures that all relevant opinions are heard. This process thrives in a courageous space where conflict is managed productively and constructively. Commitment to decisions and their successful implementation then come naturally.

Step 6: Accountability and constructive feedback

In high-performance teams, members hold each other accountable. To establish this level of accountability, the team collectively agrees on behavioural and quality standards – just like a rule book — providing constructive feedback to one another. This feedback occurs in real-time, directly between team members, and through regular reflection sessions aimed at increasing effectiveness and adjusting behaviours accordingly.

What’s next?

Achieving the highest performance stage, akin to professional sports, is challenging and often unattainable for many. Sustaining that level of performance is equally demanding. Embracing change and encouraging the emergence of new practices, norms, roles, solutions, and processes are essential. Discarding what doesn’t work and evolving what does is the path to growth. The lessons learned during the team-building process will serve as the foundation for continued success.

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