The Togetherness of Agile

Sometimes, all you need to do is listen. Stop what you are doing for a couple of minutes and just listen. Can you hear it?

If you are striving to create a culture of agility, the sound you’re hearing just might be the sound of togetherness. It’s the sound of energy crackling inside an ecosystem breaking out of the status quo. It’s the sound of people building things with purpose and passion. It’s the sound of a “dead” organization coming back to life. It’s the sound of togetherness.

I find myself listening for this sound more and more these days and quite frequently I’m sure I end up with a Mr. Miyagi smile on my face. People must think I’m pretty strange when this happens.

While there is valid debate about just how productive working in an open space is, what isn’t up for debate is the levels of togetherness that can form when organizations fully embrace the hard work necessary to build and foster a culture with an incredible sense of connectedness – and it’s something you can see, hear and feel.

When I think about the work it takes to bring about togetherness I am reminded of my time in South Africa last year. While I was there, a team I was working with described their sense of connection using the word “ubuntu.”

Ubuntu is roughly translated as “I am, because of you.” You can read more about ubuntu here but it’s a feeling I will never forget. While I could never fully comprehend the true nature of ubuntu during my short time there, it has taught me a few valuable lessons I find myself applying and coaching every day.

Welcoming of strangers. The first day on a new team can be a bit nerve-racking for any of us. When new people join your team go beyond the obligatory “Nice to meet you.” Really greet them. Remember, for some, a sense of togetherness and high-collaboration may not be natural and for many, they are joining you from a previously toxic work environment. Start welcoming them the first minute they enter the room so they know this experience is going to be different.

The best way I have found to do this is to tell new people how much they are needed. This article titled “The New Kid” explains the value in creating a welcoming environment much better than I can.

So when I walked into that clubhouse, I was a total stranger.

Like I said: New kid in class.

But no sooner had I found my locker — there was my name, right there, in the same room as Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner — when Hunter Pence appeared at my side. He introduced himself, and shook my hand and congratulated me. “Hey man,” he said. “You have to go out there and compete. You have to be aggressive.”

And then he said something that floored me.

“We need you, man. Let’s go!’’

Putting This In Action: “We need you!” Are there more powerful words that can be spoken to a new person on your team? I think not. Trying saying these words to as many people as you can – including those who have been around awhile.

Giving generously. Creating an environment of generosity isn’t easy but the impact of one human (and then multiple humans) removing a bit of self-interest and focusing on others allows togetherness to form quicker than anything I have witnessed. This is hard and I struggle with this just as much as anyone else.

Not sure what to give? Knowledge, experiences, gratitude, and encouragement are a good place to start but more than anything an environment of togetherness requires the sacrifice of our most precious resource – time.

Putting This In Action: Block time on your calendar to give. Use this time to write hand-written thank notes, wander the floor and encourage as many people as you can, or check-in and see if there is anything you can do for someone. Start small (5 minutes) and slowly add time.

Forming long-lasting bonds. Long-term connections will often happen naturally by becoming someone who is sacrificially and generously giving. I believe these bonds are created the minute we have, as Robert Greenleaf states in his book Servant Leadership, unlimited liability for another person. This means we become responsible for the well-being of the fellow humans we interact with. Hard stuff but this is what long-lasting bonds are made of.

When these bonds form this often results in Agile teams and organizations developing a familial feel to it. And being a part of a family means we accept each other for who we are, warts and all. When they are no longer on the team (or on a lengthy vacation) it feels like a part of us is missing.

Putting This In Action: Be open. Be vulnerable. Be yourself. Work hard. Learn something new about someone else every day. Have a laugh. Have a cry. Have fun. Work a little harder. Celebrate.

Continuous vigilance and care. When this sense of togetherness begins to emerge the hard work isn’t over. In fact, it’s just begun.

The gravitational pull of old habits will continue to tug at any positive transformational gains. To keep old ways from returning requires a fresh commitment to keeping each other accountable to the values and principles of the change we are introducing. This is much easier with the existence of bonding relationships so we can have meaningful conversations when challenges arise.

Putting This In Action: Be “sharply awake” and constantly looking for small dysfunctions and emergent poor behaviors. Spend time rigorously hiring the right people for your culture and working with those struggling in your new environment. Remember, it only takes one.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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