The Covid-19 pandemic killed collocation, so dear to agilists. If it remains my preference, the hybrid becomes the norm. Whether it’s because team members work remotely and are not all together on site at the same time, or because some team members are completely relocated off or near-shore.
Working in hybrid Agile mode is new learning. Dandy People also released a poster on the subject of the Agile hybrid team at the end of 2022, which I enjoyed translating in French.
So we need to figure out how to continue to create value, working remotely and how to lead these hybrid teams to keep them performing.
The main obstacles to the loss of collocation and how to fix them
Collaboration and communication
Collocation enables fast and seamless collaboration and communication between members of an Agile team. If we start with a hybrid format, it is important that the team works to put in place mechanisms that will allow this fluidity to be regained.
- It can be chat using messaging tools like Teams or Slack.
- It could be opening an online meeting and letting members come and go in that call, when they are OK to chat with others.
- Or, to organize informal meetings such as virtual coffees.
The idea here is to ask ourselves: how can we contact each other easily, as if we were in the same room?
As the diagram proposed by Alistair Cockburn indicates, face-to-face discussions with visual aids are the most effective. It is therefore for hybrid Agile teams and their leaders to find new ways to recreate the richness of these exchanges.
For example, a video discussion time, with a virtual whiteboard or a visual management tool such as a Kanban board.
Another advantage of co-location is that discussions are shared among everyone, as well as the indicators on the walls. One of the advantages is that if a person hears a conversation between two members and thinks he can add value to it, he can easily do so, or he can benefit from this information for the tasks at hand.
Another advantage is that transparency helps create more trust: everyone knows where the team is at, what the objectives are, the vision and any blockages.
The leader of a hybrid Agile team must be able to access this information, in the same way as the team, not in order to control it, but in order to help them overcome their challenges.
Questions the Agile Hybrid team can ask themselves are: How can we share important information with everyone who needs it in our context? What is this information? How will they be made available?
Key success factors for a hybrid Agile team
To increase its effectiveness, the hybrid Agile team can work together, with their leaders, on different aspects:
- Improve proximity and connection between team members: ensure that connection times are planned to get to know each other better. You can use icebreaker activities at the start of meetings. You can also propose, on a regular basis, that one of the team meetings is not about work and allows each member to talk about something else and to discover each other.
- Take the time necessary to welcome and form the team: the distance implies that the members of the team and their leaders will spend more time creating links than if they were co-located. We must therefore take this time into account and prepare the start well: make sure that everyone is well equipped, agree on the tools, the rules of operation of the team, and test them to improve them little little by little, until you find the right cruising speed. A tool like the Team Canvas can be very useful in this process.
- Make sure the team has a clear vision and objectives: as the leader of a hybrid Agile team, it is crucial to share and animate the team vision. Work with team members on clear and shared objectives, the progress of which you follow together thanks to visual management and the necessary transparency. These objectives must be aligned with the vision, the product strategy, the company, and it must be shared and communicated often, so that everyone has it in mind and knows where he or she is going. They are also a factor of motivation and creation of meaning for the team, which should not be neglected.
- Create trust: trust is essential in Agile, and perhaps even more so in hybrid mode. Rather than controlling what the team does, use transparency and visual tracking tools to identify with them the performance and pace they will be able to achieve collectively. Also put in place a system to identify blockages as early as possible. In Scrum, for example, the Daily Scrum is a good forum for this type of alert, even if everyone should be able to indicate a blockage at any time during the day.
- Continuous improvement: this is what Agile teams are all about and a good hybrid team will also follow this principle. Improving, not only the product, but also the way it works, over time. As I pointed out above, setting up a hybrid Agile team takes longer than a collocated team. It is therefore necessary to set up rituals of inspection and adaptation, so that this mode of operation can create just as much value.
Let’s now see how to develop these key success factors, as an Agile leader.
How to help a hybrid team, as an Agile leader?
It is said: a good Agile leader is a servant leader. It is therefore a question of putting oneself in a position of support, of helping the team, so that it can deliver all its value, at a sustained and sustainable pace.
- The Agile leader must put himself in a posture of active listening, to become aware of the problems of his team and to help them to solve them in the long term: to activate on the root causes rather than to put bandages for example , although sometimes it is useful temporarily. He must help the team develop their skills, through training or other mechanisms such as peer-to-peer programming.
- The Agile leader will also make sure to work on the alignment necessary so that the team can have a clear and shared vision of what needs to be done. He will have discussions, sometimes courageous, with the different stakeholders, to manage the priorities between different parties. And sometimes it’s complicated!
- The Agile leader will act as a coach for the team: ask open-ended questions, which allow members to find their own solutions and resources. Pay attention to the “why”, very useful for identifying root causes, it can be perceived as making you feel guilty in certain circumstances.
- The Agile leader encourages collective intelligence: he encourages collaboration and a safe climate, so that new solutions can emerge, even when the team is remote. He promotes collective workshops such as liberating structures, retrospectives, etc. He makes sure everyone is talking in remote meetings.
Remote work has come to be a game changer in the world of Agile teams. However, there are many tools and mechanisms to create hybrid Agile teams that are just as efficient and cohesive as co-located teams. It is up to the leader to instill the vision and the intention, and it is up to each member of the team to actively contribute to this successful implementation.