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Are You a Good Agile Team Member?

As an agile practitioner, I have spent my career on teams. Technically, we all work on teams unless we are solopreneurs. Agile teams, when properly formed, are special. Because they are empowered, fully functional and at least somewhat autonomous; they have a lot more responsibility to each other than teams who rely on lots of outside support and guidance on a daily basis.

Why, then, are there so few articles written about what it takes to be a good agile team member? If I’m being honest, there are LOTS of articles written about what it takes to be a good team member, but they are all written as guidance for leaders.

One of the biggest challenges I have had as an agile coach is convincing team members that they are ALL leaders. You may be saying, “wait, Tom! Not everyone on the team is a leader. Some people may be brand new and still working towards fulfilling an operational role.”

I hear you!

It is actually one of my bigger challenges as an agile coach convincing these folks that they are indeed leaders on the team. Every member of the team has something unique to bring to the team and in that, they are the leader. If nothing else, a new team member brings their newness to the team. How does that make them a leader, you may ask?

Being new brings a perspective that can never be recreated by people who have been on the team for some time. We all get acclimated to our environment and learn to accept certain practices and behaviors without question. If I can convince new team members to own the leadership of newness, they are more likely to speak up and ask questions about our ways. This self-examination is invaluable. I cannot tell you how many times someone has questioned a practice that had gone unexamined until they brought it up.

Once a new team member is up to speed and fully integrated into the team, they will likely have established some aspect of the work that they either (or both) excel at or are passionate about. This will be their area of leadership. Other members of the team may be the only one with some particular area of expertise. Often there’s only one product owner/manager, one quality person, and one UX designer. These people know what area they lead in. There may be more than one engineer on the team, but that doesn’t make any of them less of a leader.

Typically, a team has a lead engineer and that person expects to lead. Other engineers may need encouragement to lead. Why would you want to do this? To answer this, let’s look at some of the qualities of a great leader.

Great leaders:

  1. Have a clear understanding of the mission, vision, and goals of their organization

  2. Support and inspire others first

  3. Are great communicators (empathetic listeners)

  4. Have a preference for action over long debates

  5. Are flexible and adaptable

  6. Have great personal integrity (honesty, accountability, responsibility, etc.)

Who wouldn’t want a teammate like that! Imagine a whole team of people with these qualities. Go ahead, I’ll wait…pretty awesome, yes?

On a non-agile team, operational employees with this behavior set would soon be squashed and made to feel like they overstepped their bounds. This is what makes great agile teams different. These behaviors are welcomed and appreciated.

So, if you want to be a great agile team member, study servant leadership and learn how to be a good one. It doesn’t matter what role you have, these behaviors are going to make you a better team member.

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