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Creating a fast, flexible team built for IT agility

Have you ever been confronted by an impatient CEO who wants the business to be more nimble and able to capitalize on emerging opportunities to outpace the competition? This might be an all-too-familiar scenario. With companies big and small becoming increasingly dependent on tech in all areas of their operations, it’s critical for IT to cultivate and practice flexibility in response to rapidly changing business needs. Fortunately, thanks to the IT agility that results from using the agile methodology, there are many smart techniques your team can use to tackle this new reality with energy and resilience.

IT agility—and why it matters

Although the agile framework was originally created for software development, it’s now used to deliver value on a broader scale throughout the business. People even talk about agile marketing and agile human resources. So, how can IT agility benefit your team?

If you’ve ever managed a traditional project, like rolling out a new mobility solution, you’ve probably run into every project manager’s nightmare: encountering a new requirement or seemingly unwelcome change just before launch. Traditional project management processes, like the Waterfall model—which requires you to tackle work in separate phases with requirements fully defined upfront—don’t handle these sudden changes well. But since these out-of-the-blue changes are a regularly recurring feature of IT projects, we need a better solution to respond to them.

An agile approach allows you to stay focused on your main goal while flexibly responding to emerging challenges and opportunities that inevitably show up along the way. By adopting iterative, two-to-four week sprints (work cycles), which allow you to break work into bite-sized chunks, you have an opportunity to review where you are at each incremental point in the project before beginning a new piece of work. You can also choose to accommodate any changing requirements that may surface at each point along the way. This is in line with values promoted in the Agile Manifesto, which tout a “ship early, ship often” approach—putting the customer at the centre and promoting constructive collaboration.

While this approach fosters more flexible project management, it can also pose a challenge when it comes to team dynamics. An agile team doesn’t behave like a regular project team and needs special care to work well.

Assembling an agile team

It’s essential to build an IT team that can quickly react to changes and continually improve itself, all while staying on task in a rapidly changing environment. Sound fun? This begins with forming a cross-functional team that eliminates silos. You may even want to include a non-tech colleague when assembling your team, depending on the circumstances, to ensure steady feedback from your customers or main stakeholders.

You also need to make sure each member of the team is dependable, both in terms of submitting work on time and communicating well within the group. Without good communication, a breakdown in the psychological safety that’s so critical to agile team success will quickly ensue, endangering the project’s progress. Your team needs to be stable, self-healing, and resilient when things don’t go according to plan—ideally without an active, guiding hand from leadership. Your team should also view mistakes or challenges as learning opportunities rather than showstopping obstacles.

As an agile IT team leader, you need to prioritize communication even more than you might when leading a traditional project. This means giving clear overall goals for your project and incremental objectives your team will tackle in each sprint. It also means supporting and encouraging frequent, collaborative communication within the team.

Foster a culture of trust and empowerment in your group. This might include inviting team members to participate in the planning process or providing them with specific roles and positions of authority within the project according to their skills. As they become more experienced, your team members will develop and strengthen the critical thinking and problem-solving abilities that will serve your business well, time after time, project after project.

The agile way

Ultimately, IT agility represents a more current, customer-focused approach to IT service delivery. If you and your team have ever been told you need to be more responsive and less stuck on procedure or policy (like pretty much every IT department on the planet, no doubt), you probably want to take a look at the flexibility an agile approach can offer. You don’t have to abandon due diligence or discipline—far from it—but you may just find that you’re able to navigate and adapt to changes more easily as they come. That’s a capability any IT team would love to have in abundance.

5 ways to build an agile team

Creating an agile team can be a delicate art, especially in IT. It’s the challenge every IT decision maker faces: How do you pull together a group of tech professionals with different skill sets—not to mention different mind-sets—and bring out the best in each of them? Sometimes, a little extra attention to the softer or more human side of things can go a long way, although it may not come naturally.

However, millennials are disengaged, according to a recent Gallup poll, and a disengaged team is anything but agile. What’s it going to take to master agility and resilience?

1. Honour psychological safety

Psychological safety is a major success factor for an agile team. If your team members don’t feel safe expressing concerns or doubts (or simply taking risks) because they always feel like they’re one step away from the chopping block, you won’t get their best ideas.

If you create an environment where your team feels free to respectfully disagree with one another (even you) and make mistakes they can learn from, you’re more likely to see innovative and creative thinking within the group. When your team gets a confidence boost from having that sense of security, you have a better chance of retaining your best staff. And a close-knit team will become even better at tackling big projects and solving tough problems in the future.

2. Be transparent and vocal

Long before IT was a thing, poor communication wreaked havoc in the business world and beyond. Millennials in particular need good communication to thrive at the workplace. As an IT leader, you owe it to your team to make their goals crystal clear—otherwise, confusion may creep in, resulting in a dip in morale, or worse, an outcome you hadn’t intended. This is especially true if your IT employees telecommute, because effective communication is even more of a challenge in a remote setting.

Make sure everyone is on the same page by spelling out deliverables, due dates, and accountability for each task. Your agile team members want to understand their roles and responsibilities, but they’re also looking for a sense of where they fit in and how they’ll contribute to the team’s success. Once they know the team’s goals and their role in achieving them, they’ll be far better equipped to make a positive impact.

3. Nurture the right skills

If your business is rapidly changing, you’ve got to deploy the right skills to help it meet the next wave of challenges it faces. I don’t mean just tech skills here—many of the abilities your team members will need to have at the ready are considered soft skills. To start with, they need to be fully aware of their strengths and weaknesses. But awareness alone isn’t enough. Each member needs to be actively working on ways to accentuate their strengths while addressing the areas that need improvement.

Those on your team must also be open to feedback from others in the group, which supports strong communication. Beyond that, adaptability in the form of critical thinking is a must. To take on increasingly complex challenges, your agile team must reflect on what it already excels at—and how it can do even better the next time.

4. Remain steadfast when approaching challenges

As we all know too well in IT, it’s not always smooth sailing when you’re trying to get a project off the ground. But, when handled the right way, challenges can be valuable opportunities for group learning and team bonding. Your staff needs to know that roadblocks happen and that you have faith in them to find a solution.

Think of the IT achievement you’re most proud of. Chances are it involved confronting and resolving some sort of challenge along the way, and you came out the other side stronger and smarter as a result. Support your team in tackling difficulties, and you’ll find your team members even more confident and energized once they’ve cracked the code and found the fix.

5. Create a sense of purpose

No team can truly go above and beyond if it doesn’t have a sense of purpose. What’s the mission of IT at your company? What does success look like to you and your agile team, and how do you want to set yourselves apart within the company? While outlining clear goals on a project or task basis, it’s important to have an overarching sense of purpose—the “why” behind what you do—and communicate that to your team. Once your team becomes invested in your collaborative work, you’ll be surprised at just how much you can accomplish together.

With these focuses, your team will be able to create the agility and resiliency needed take on any project that comes its way, enjoying greater satisfaction and fulfillment in the process. So tell us: How are you leading your agile team to success, and what IT heights do you aim to achieve next?