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High performing agile teams need good communication

There are many contributing factors to a high-performing agile team, says Lio le Boiteux, and right at the top of the list of critical factors is team communication.

There are many contributing factors to a high-performing agile team, says Lio le Boiteux, and right at the top of the list of critical factors is team communication.

Group of people sitting on a round table having a meeting



26th October 2016

Tom Stinton

Author: Lio le Boiteux

There are many contributing factors to a high performing Agile team. Obviously a good understanding of the Agile manifesto and the principles they put forward, is a good starting point. But right at the top of the list critical factors is team communication.

We value individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Agile relies on a lot of interaction between team members and with the team’s customer, with a preference for face to face. To ensure the communication is efficient, the person communicating should adapt to the audience and deliver the message in the preferred communication style of the listener.

Choosing the right amount of information to provide, the right tone, and even the right moment to start a conversation will make a big difference to how the message is received. Knowing when and how to deliver information will help make the best possible impact.

Communication styles

Different people have different styles that they use and prefer to receive information in. Knowing how best to package the information will help you get your message across more efficiently.

Communication styles tend to match certain character traits in people.

People who are result orientated will want to have the information delivered in the most concise manner possible. To them, any details that are not strictly necessary will appear as a waste of time; a six second conversation in the corridor is generally enough for them.

People who look for accuracy will, however, want to know the tiniest details to ensure they have the fullest possible picture. They will favour a conversation that isn’t rushed, in a quiet environment and a settled tone.

Some people thrive on energy and positivity. They will greatly prefer face-to-face interaction with multiple participants, ideally in a meeting format. They will enjoy the socialising and the collegial atmosphere.

Some people will value stability and predictability, and will go out of their way to ensure conflicts are avoided. Any new information should be provided to them in a well-established recurring forum where they feel comfortable.

A mature Scrum team that has figured out the various communication styles present in the team will benefit from better-managed ceremonies and avoid conflicts or misunderstandings within the group. With everybody in sync and communicating effectively, the team is able to pull all together with increased performance.

The distributed team

For a distributed team we have a whole new level of communication needs. The multi-location setup places extra emphasis on making sure the communication hits the right spot with the recipient first time around.

When a team is split across multiple sites, separate parts of the team participate in local water cooler conversations. This can create a challenge within the overall team, as the water cooler or hallway conversations can be very important as communication vehicles and relationship building experiences.  Since cross-site communication typically happens only when there is a deliberate link, an ambiguous statement can lead to a misunderstanding which might not be picked up until several hours, or even days, later.

This is why effective use of new communication tools are a necessity for distributed teams.

The tools of the trade

Nowadays, relying simply on face to face is a luxury that few of us have. Distributed teams are a reality most of us have to deal with. Fortunately there are a multitude of tools to help us with our communication needs.

Email was great in the 90s. Then we got Instant Messaging which filled a gap where, as the name suggests, we needed instant interaction without having to keep pressing the send/receive button. Then Google Hangouts and Skype moved the bar a notch higher by providing video for our conversations.

We now live in the era of the social network. The latest trends in team communication harness the power of tools built for social apps. Tools like HipChat and Slack have come to the rescue of people who suffer under the sheer weight of email.

Also, by fully integrating backlog tools like Jira and other development tools, there is implicit participate in the communication between team members as they work. They ensure everyone is notified when a build fails, a deployment is ongoing, or a production server is running out of disk space.

Communication is at the heart of a good scrum. It is important that everyone actively participates in the sharing of information and doesn’t simply rely on the Scrum Master to pass it along. When something needs to be shared it is important to tailor the message to the audience and use the optimal forum. Face-to-face is the format of predilection for the Agile Evangelist, but doesn’t quite work as well for distributed teams.

I am looking forward to progress in virtual reality technology to solve our communication conundrums. Maybe.

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