In recent weeks, we have spoken with several HR developers and CEOs of agile companies. We have repeatedly circled the question of whether agile teams need something different than teams in classically structured organizations to work together successfully.

The following principles apply to cooperation in teams in hierarchically structured organisations:

  • Have a clear goal that is negotiable with a client.
  • Everyone knows his role and the tasks to perform in the team.
  • Develop rules of cooperation based on the company values and the personal values of the team and live them
  • Develop or use a standard method that ensures the necessary flow of information within the team or creates transparency about what the team is working on.
    • Work with defined decision routines (what may the team decide itself, what is determined by the superior, how are decisions made in the team?)
    • Negotiate and regularly review interface agreements with adjacent teams
    • Define and live escalation routines:
      When should the supervisor be involved? What happens in case of conflicts in the team? What happens in case of disputes with adjacent groups or with customers …
  • Active team development, in which the type of cooperation, the way we deal with each other is continuously reviewed and improvement measures are worked out and implemented, both about the team structure and the development of the members.

The following principles apply to collaboration in agile teams:

  • Have a clear mission as a team and know the purpose for which that team exists: The team must understand what it’s there for. Only then can the team make self-organized decisions.
  • Agile teams should be self-organized.
    To be able to do this, it needs:
    • a clear mandate, a defined and negotiated goal,
    • a method accepted by all, according to which work is done, whereby the iterative procedure is a fundamental building block in agile work. Common to all agile methods is that the teams spend little time on detailed planning but always concentrate on the next phase, focusing on the customer and the benefit to be generated for the customer.
    • defined decision-making routines
    • clear rules on how the team should proceed, both in “normal everyday life” and in the event of difficulties within the team or at the external borders
  • Agile teams have a high willingness to learn to improve continuously.

Every member is genuinely interested in learning. Human resources development plays a significant role in agile teams, and the willingness to learn is, therefore particularly crucial in these teams.

  • The customer is in focus

Everything that happens in agile teams is done for the customer. This means that the team members must be aware of who their customer is and what they need to be able to work in a self-organized manner. What is done and when is always subject to the question: What benefit does the topic provide for the desired goal? The benefit for the customer is one of the most important decision criteria.

I don’t think that there is a big difference between highly developed “classic teams” and agile teams when you look at the topic of collaboration in isolation. The questions that arise are very similar:

  • Who takes over which part?
  • Who is responsible for what?
  • Who can what?
  • How do you make decisions?
  • What happens if something does not work – in the team/at the external borders?

According to this, it is just as crucial for agile teams to build their cooperation skills, “method-free” so to speak, to be able to work together productively and meaningfully. No agile method is specifically designed to deal with disagreements within the team.

If it is not possible to develop an agile team in such a way that it can work in an indeed “self-organized” way, situations will arise again and again in which a manager suddenly has to intervene to save a project, even though the team setup would provide for entirely different processes.

We believe that these escalation situations can be avoided if, when building agile teams, more attention is paid to fostering a team’s collaboration skills before introducing them to agile methods. Once a team has arrived in “performing mode”, then switch to an agile process is likely to be relatively quick and easy.