First steps to creating an innovative-creative team
In this article I would like to explore key points in managing professional day to day life as a leader within an agile environment.
One of the things I’ve closely observed over the years in software development companies, small and large, is the organisational culture. I’d like to share the first steps us leaders can take in order to create our very own innovative-creative team. I can recommend working iteratively and establishing a Read-Practice-Apply-Repeat method in order to make this work. As this is not a norm, there are some behaviours I believe are unwanted and disruptive of a healthy creative work environment, just a few sentences below I will provide my suggested solutions. This article might be interesting for different levels of management including product managers, project managers and executives.
Disruption 1: Trust issues, segregation of information and pressure
Trust issues with managers is a slippery slope. If a manager feels worried or concerned when people ask them about their work, if they feel segregating information is a good thing within an agile methodology lead company, if they feel that when there’s high pressure things start falling apart — there are ways to solve most of these situations and bring them to an optimal state.
Imagine a world, where there’s a team of professionals building quality products in a friendly environment. An environment where professionals feel accepted, respected and are happy to challenge their thoughts. Where disagreements aren’t arguments, where speaking your mind and making mistakes without blame games is the norm. Where deadlines are met or failed together, as a team, and where we, as product, project or executive managers, are happy to put our neck on the line when things go sideways, because we know, our team will have our back.
No sarcasm, all of these are not part of some fictional world. As a leader might have noticed, making these ideas into reality is very much in his or her hands.
Choose stability and comfort
Like others, I’ve made creating such a pleasant, winning environment in my work place, part of a personal quest. As a department leader, I believe that enabling a stable, fun, comfortable work environment is first and foremost a thought driven process. It’s a decision made, work that is put into a certain direction and actions that represent them both. Making such a place of work involves a great deal of moving parts and navigating through difficult times while trying to keep head over water — this is not a simple task.
When shit hits the fan, our instincts might guide us (as individuals) to safety, but in this article, I’d like to challenge that thought process and offer an alternative. So please stay open as we go through this analysis journey together.
Where should we start?
I’m a big fan, more to say it’s part of my DNA, of open honest discussions. In theory this sounds so nice and fluffy. I can already imagine Snow white type of birds chirping and maybe a cute bunny or two. In reality, honesty might be brutal, seemed as rude or even aggressive.
So how can a team move from fear of being judged to embracing different opinions and how does management change the mindset from ‘ordering’ to asking?
I like the metaphor of a dancing ball, while we might be sitting and reading all these articles on agile working and flat hierarchies, we might get this feeling ‘everybody’ is working beautifully, and we’re stuck in our mundane routine. Getting back to the party, there’s one thing that won’t get you more popular in a dancing ball and that’s standing on the sides like a stick in the mud. Start dancing! You might not know the moves yet, but as we were all once taught- practice makes perfect. And although ‘perfect’ isn’t a goal I would personally aim for, practice on the other hand, does get you pretty damn close.
Put your right foot forward
So where should we start from? Well, that’s a very subjective question, it depends on your position within the team, the amount of influence you believe you have and the willingness of your colleagues to follow. If you’re familiar with Agile, you might know the retrospective method of Start doing, Stop doing, Continue doing. In line with that method I suggest the following steps:
1. Start with an internal house cleaning. Observe yourself and have some good-old self-reflection sessions. This can be done alone or with a person you feel is a good reflection partner.
2. Note behaviours that are appreciated and others you’d like to change with yourself. Make sure to note several situations where you have exhibited these behaviours.
3. Start smart, decide on a the single biggest or most painful behaviour you’d like to do more or less of, the ones you’d like to keep can be observed on longer term time frames.
4. Make the change- apply your learnings.
5. Start over with step 1.
I believe this is an ongoing process that should be repeated and taken in as something a manager does on a regular basis.
Here’s my advice for a first exercise. In the next standup meeting start the round with a question: Right now, on a scale from 1–10, how do you feel about the chances of finishing your work within the given time frame (deadline or sprint end).
Give everyone a chance to name a number without explanations.
Second question: Why? Is something blocking you? Was the sprint/deadline goal overambitious in the first place? Was there a factor that wasn’t taken into consideration?
Now give the team the opportunity to voice their thoughts freely.
!- Caution -! If you have a team with trust and other issues, this discussion might become toxic very fast. It’s our responsibility to lead the conversation to safe shores, and, it’s our responsibility to make our team members know and actively take part in an honest, comfortable discussion.
My name is Inbal Cohen, a seasoned multidisciplinary executive specialised in innovation, leading high-performance teams and creating healthy organisational cultures.
To excellence and beyond,