Conversations about Forming an Agile Team: Part III

In Part II, we discussed how we measure people impacts the dynamic of the team. We channeled some W. Edwards Deming and recognized the fact that we need to establish measurements that optimize the whole and discourage individual success at the expense of the success of the entire team.

The idea sounds great in principle but when we sit down to write objectives twice a year or have mid-year and end of year performance conversations or discuss compensation and short term incentives we do so on an individual basis.

I saw the above meme on LinkedIn the other day and had a good chuckle. We’ve all been there and maybe we’ve play different roles in our primary school or collegiate careers. I know, when I was a college freshman I started off doe eyed and eager, trusting all of my fellow students to be just as motivated and just as ambitious to receive high marks. Gradually after being worn down by unmet expectations I found myself playing other roles whether it be out of cynicism or disenchantment. I was successfully taught that the group project was just a game of chicken with all parties racing towards mutual destruction until someone changes course and does the work. The one that did ended up being that guy that did 99% of the work and everybody else sighed a big sigh of relief.

The key thing to remember is that this meme is about schoolwork not professional knowledge workers. When I left college, this all changed. I was surrounded by people that were motivated and inspired to do great work. This is called engagement. The big difference? I propose that it comes down to the difference in motivation when you are doing something of your choosing versus something that was assigned to you.

Lack of engagement isn’t unique to college coeds. This type of cynicism raises its ugly head in any company where centralized decision making (and other forces of micromanagement) crush the creativity and motivational forces of knowledge workers. In companies where there is a high level of autonomy amongst team, management steps back and let’s the teams self-manage, removing impediments along the way, we see higher engagement. This is the best antidote to the dysphoria we see in this meme.

But how do we, in practical terms, set objectives and measure them so that we can answer compensation and incentive questions each year? If we want our team working together towards one common goal what better thing to do than to give them all the same objectives? Naturally, there should be individually goals for personal development but they should be aligned and secondary to the team’s goals. We should capture frequent feedback from every possible source, including subordinates, peers and supervisor reviews.

One of the greatest things about agile is that it breeds transparency. When there is transparency its hard for low performers to hide and its hard for high performers not to be noticed. If transparency is embraced it will not be difficult to stack rank within a team.

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