What distinguishes an agile team in practice from other teams

In what is perhaps the most ingenious expression of a feedback loop, humans create cultures and a culture in turn shapes humans. This is true across geographies and ages. In fact, this phenomenon is as much a mainstay of human habitats as creating music or procuring food .

The intricacy of the cultures we give rise to often goes unnoticed- because we come to inhabit a culture, much like we do a landscape. And just as we don’t tend to talk about the geographical features of our everyday habitat, we don’t comment upon the cultural landscape either.

Even as cultural production remains ubiquitous, each culture endows its people with a set of values and approaches to problems life throws at us. These are often stunning in their effectiveness as they are unique.

The cluster of moral and practical knowledge different cultures brings is a veritable boon for businesses. This is especially true for agile businesses that aim not just for faster completion of projects but also consistent delivery of quality.

 Let’s now see why cultural diversity in organizations is important for agile businesses.

Better adaptiveness to changing situations : Agile Teams are like a Flux Capacitor

The adage that change is the only constant has never been truer than  in the current century- a time period when trends are a matter of days and the next thing to revolutionize an industry is always a potential waiting just around the corner.

The increased production of goods which began with widespread adoption of industrialization has now led to an increased rate of innovation, thanks in large part to the relative ease with which ideas can be translated into actions via technological interventions like programming software.

This entails that organizations would need to grapple with frequent changes in the marketplace and consumer behavior. That is not a question of if but when.

The world is always in  flux. Continual adaptation is the key to success. 

By definition, changes bring challenges. A culturally diverse team has more chances of tackling unforeseen challenges than others. For one thing, people from different cultures are used to solving problems of different kinds. So, the wider that pool of experience, the better prepared you are to confront surprising challenges.

Talking of adaptiveness, one other thing that helps with the same is the smaller team sizes prescribed by the agile model. A smaller team consequently helps expedite decision-making processes.

 This is crucial in the face of changes that call for behavioral changes or adopting a different strategy to problem- solving. Typically, the bigger the team, the taller the hierarchy involved in taking a decision. That’s hardly conducive when a reaction is needed more spontaneously. Faced with abrupt changes, such teams often stumble, whereas agile teams are prone to act quickly, and decisively. 

While talking of adaptability, let’s not forget that’s a skill and not something which is given. Like any other skill, one may need to train to acquire it. This training in turn entails assessment of scenarios so that needful responses could be made to them. 

While undergoing agile training, change agents are often presented with simulated scenarios that mimic real-world conditions. The stakes, obviously, aren't as high as in a real world problem, but the ingenuity and learning required to solve these often problematic scenarios are the same as in real world cases.

 This lays a groundwork for the team members, helping them meaningfully react to challenges that come unheralded. This is also another reason to adapt better to changing scenarios. 

We would be remiss to mention change without mentioning innovations. 

In evolutionary terms, the word adaptability is often used in relation to survival. Businesses though are not always looking just to survive. They wish to thrive, to preferably dominate in a field, to stay ahead of their peers, just like a runner in a sprint- the longer the distance between you and the ones behind you, the more chance of you becoming the champion.

Innovation can help with this. 

The idea of innovation is interspersed throughout the Scaled Agile Framework. For instance, the Innovation and Planning or IP iteration happens in every Program Increment or PI. Among other things PI is an action plan for the coming sprint or iteration. IP iteration helps ensure that dedicated time will be set aside during the software development process for innovation. That proves how fundamental innovation as a practice is to agile teams. 

Coming back to the point about adaptability and survival, it would be good enough if you survive in the face of a crisis or massive change. But what if you could use the scenario as an opportunity to innovate? 

Assuming that happens, either of two things are possible. One is that innovation aids in keeping the organization afloat in a time of crisis. The second is that the innovation ends up becoming so profound it could be a new revenue stream by itself, something none of your peers have, thereby putting you ahead of your competition. 

By making innovation integral to a team’s functioning even during regular times, the SAFe Agile model makes sure that teams have a better chance of innovating to weather changes and unexpected events. 

Helps replace top-down management model

The traditional mode of management practiced in many organizations is inevitably top-down in approach. This model was a product of a bygone era, created in specific circumstances and in response to specific needs. But that model is not conducive to agility.

In fact, one of the first steps in placing a company on the path of agility is to plateau the top-down hierarchy.


Supplant a top-down management method with a community-oriented approach 

This means more decision-making power for the team members. The advantage is that it helps teams respond faster to requirements. In the top-down model, team members would need to first request approval from a leader, wait for the approval to come through, and if it is rejected, devise another plan of action  and send that for approval. But in agility, members of a team are encouraged to actively gain knowledge. This in turn helps them take relevant decisions when the time comes.

The idea of different team members bringing in different approaches to problem solving that we discussed in the previous section becomes important once again in this context

Culturally diverse team members have more to contribute to the team’s day-to-day decision-making. At the very least, the winning viewpoint could be tested against different ideas before it is put into action. This also has the add-on effect of stronger team bonding as fruitful discussions always tend to have.

 On the other hand, a culturally monolithic team would have just one approach to managing things, which they perform without a second thought. Hardly any discussions are involved with them- at least, the potential for more viewpoints is drastically reduced.

Ideas like cultural diversity are being increasingly discussed in the context of agility. We at Temenos+Agility have guided multiple organizations through their agile journey, and our consultation comes with recommendations on best practices on adopting agility in your organization- touching upon not just processes but what makes up a team.

Reach out to us, and we will be glad to help your organization adopt agile and enter an era of greater prosperity.


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