Fundamentals for Functional Agile Teams

Sep 6, 2022 | Cara Steffen

“Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much.” – Helen Keller


With the technology afforded to us today, it’s easy to assume we are more connected, effective, and productive – yet so many product teams are floundering, drowning in busy work while rapid growth widens the chasms for dysfunction to flood in. By focusing on the basics and core team fundamentals, we can combat critical information gaps and destructive “us-vs-them” thinking that may plague a team’s effectiveness.


Look back at some of the great teams throughout history or in your own life. What made them great? Was it a great coach? Individual talent? Dedication to a shared goal? Maybe it was how well the team functioned together, anticipating moves and leveraging one another’s strengths. 


“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” – Michael Jordan


Technology teams aren’t so different. The secret isn’t in hiring the perfect members but in developing them and focusing on the fundamentals for a functional team. Let’s go over a few noted characteristics of healthy, productive, functional teams.


Fundamental #1: Define success! What is the vision? The value you are delivering? Do you have an idea for how to measure your success or what success looks like? Similar to a blueprint in crafting a house, a team needs vision, goals and clarity of their purpose to be engaged in the work. Culture displays people do things for their own reasons so take the time to communicate and share the vision so your team can buy-in and be inspired to achieve those goals for their own reasons whether it be intrinsically or extrinsically motivated.


Fundamental #2: Structure! We’ve all heard the saying “it takes a village to raise a child.” Well, it takes structure and support to develop individual team members, too. Be clear in your expectations so everyone has a good understanding of what they believe their role is, the responsibility they have, and the value they bring. When left unspoken and unmet, expectations may breed toxicity in the workplace, however, with roles clearly identified, team members are free to focus their collective brain power towards solutions and how to best leverage each other’s strengths in order to meet the business and team goals. This brings us to our next fundamental building block.


Fundamental #3: Trust! Consider the trust you have in your car. Without much conscious thought, you trust it will get you safely to the grocery store, leaving you the freedom and autonomy on the best route to take. For healthy collaboration in an agile team environment, it’s critical to know that everyone has a strength and vital seat at the table. What gift or strengths do you offer your team? Share them; they benefit everyone! There’s great value and importance fostering an environment of mutual respect. This is best developed through human interaction and welcoming diversity in thought, skill and perspectives, which in agile circles, is often referred to as a balanced team


Fundamental #4: Effectively communicate! Shared knowledge is the bedrock of effective team collaboration. Consider how valuable a dead battery in a smoke detector is. Similarly, information has little value if it isn’t shared and intentionally withholding information is a form of manipulative control and will erode the trust critical to team success. Effectively communicating with your team may take extra discipline in the form of writing a quick recap and posting a video link for members who were unable to be at a meeting. It may look like a 15-min daily stand-up or a repository to submit and search for questions. Each team will be different, but by establishing the forum(s) and how the team will communicate and organize their collaborative notes helps reduce the risk of siloed knowledge-bases. 


Fundamental #5: Collaborate, Build Community! Shared experience helps create relationships and relationships develop trust, arguably the most essential component for teamwork collaboration. Take the time to invest in each other after all, these are the individuals whom you spend the majority of your waking hours with. Take a few minutes for a silly icebreaker during an all team meeting, it lightens the mood and helps to get to know each other beyond work. Be intentional about professional and personal development goals and intermix a happy hour or team bonding event during work hours from time to time. Reported benefits of effective teamwork include:

  • A sense of community
  • Improved employee morale
  • Increased productivity
  • Enhanced creativity in problem solving
  • Faster execution of ideas
  • Personal and professional development

With a great leader, a clear common goal, trust and belief in each other, ordinary individuals can together produce extraordinary, creative and inspiring solutions. 

When a team outgrows individual performance and learns team confidence, excellence becomes a reality.” – Joe P.

Focusing on these fundamentals is a great recipe for building an effective team from scratch. But even if you inherit an existing team, you can set the stage for its success by focusing on the above fundamentals. How does your team measure up? Is there a clear compelling vision, structure to grow, trust and appreciation for each other? Have you found ways to effectively communicate and build community?

What do you think is the most critical fundamental and benefit of an Agile team?