The Top 5 Reasons Teams Regress and Tips to Avoid Them
As an Agile Transformation Coach, I have seen my share of successful Agile teams. I have also seen teams plateau at some point struggling to move beyond the initial stages of transformation. A trend I would like to focus on is team regression, which is when an Agile team starts their journey, but along the way may slide back into old habits and processes.
This trend is not abnormal and is dependent on the environment an individual team finds itself in. Most expect Agile teams to be self-sufficient or well established. But, without the focus on improvement or the support to progress, teams tend to slip back to old ways of working, even if they are detrimental to the team’s health. Let’s talk about the top reasons a team may regress.
Reason #1: Lack of Leadership Support
One of the most common reasons an Agile team may regress is a lack of support from direct or indirect leadership. Teams truly desire autonomy and control over how they work, but this desire may not align with how leadership expects teams to behave. Many times, this is because of the lack of synergy between teams changing, while the rest of the organization maintains the status quo. There could be misalignment between leadership expectations vs what the team is actually doing, so the pressure begins to be applied to circumvent the team’s new way of working. Because of this pressure, teams can start to shift back to the old ways of working. Leadership may not see the benefits of Agile or do not want to change themselves to meet the needs of what the team is trying to accomplish.
Reason #2: Conflicting Workplace Culture
Along with leadership, culture can have a big impact on the success of an Agile team. Typically, I see pockets of Agile champions who are challenging the status quo, making ways for new practices, but also some still stuck in old ways resisting the transformation. This conflict between new and old ways of working is challenging for teams on the ground to maneuver through. The organization’s response may be slow, uncertain, and unexpected at times as the initial stages of any transformation are chaotic.
The culture of an organization can also influence how psychologically safe a team feels in changing their way of working. If an organization does not promote psychological safety as part of the culture, individuals and teams will not feel comfortable challenging the status quo and the likelihood of an Agile team thriving or even surviving is greatly impacted.
Reason #3: Unclear Organizational Goals
The focus of an organization can also influence how successful an Agile team becomes. The main goal of any organization is to please and delight their customers. For many, that means a focus on delivery, which can translate to chasing a timeline, which in many cases are not realistic or inclusive of opinions of people on the ground developing and testing. Spending time on innovation and learning may not support that delivery-focused mindset. Teams without a clear goal to work towards will often revert back to old ways of working when things get tough.
Reason #4: Inadequate Staffing of Roles
Another aspect which can cause teams to regress is not having experienced, empowered roles on the team. If an organization does not put effort into hiring or training quality Scrum Masters and Product Owners, the team can suffer. When an organization starts their Agile journey, they may not fully understand the roles needed for a successful Agile team. The organization may experiment with filling these roles before fully committing to adding these roles permanently. The organization may also utilize existing employees to fill these roles or have an employee wear multiple hats of responsibilities. These employees may not have the skillset or aptitude to perform these roles which can slow the ability of the team to mature.
Reason #5: Inability to Make Decisions
In many organizations, decisions are made in a vacuum without clearly communicating those decisions to all affected. Teams on the ground floor don’t know the reason behind the decision, the desired outcomes, or their role in supporting the decision. This leads to teams feeling like cogs in the machine, which reduces employee morale, and the desire to be innovative and think outside the box. By centralizing decision-making, an organization can reduce their ability to get products and services to market quickly. By decentralizing decision-making powers down to the people who know most about the work, more can be accomplished with quicker delivery.
How to Avoid These Traps and Build Successful Agile Teams
Organizations can avoid many of these pitfalls by being intentional about how they start their Agile journey. This would include understanding the outcomes it is trying to achieve, being transparent about what is trying to be accomplished, and communicating this information out to all affected. Organizations need to be more intentional about how they start their Agile journey, starting with:
- Right sizing the team
- The right roles and skills in each function
- Empower the team to make decentralized decisions
- Ensuring there is enough leadership support to sustain the strong foundations of an Agile team
- Break down organizational silos
- Communicate, communicate, communicate
The more intentional an organization is about how they start their Agile journey the higher the chances of success.
If you’d like to improve your organization’s ability to create successful Agile teams and operate with true agility, I’d love to chat. Learn about our team agility service, here.
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