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Using Human Hard-Wiring to Create a Strong Agile Experience

Rachel Rieck Rachel Rieck  |  
Aug 22, 2019
If you have experience on agile teams and are looking to tweak a few things or try something different, then this Trifecta of Greatness blog series is right for you. For more background on the strategies and tactics our Solutions Consulting Director learned from a pivotal agile journey, be sure to check out the first five installments.
In this blog, I’ve talked about the roles you need to create a high-performing team, the journey that I've gone through with Delta, and a rules and responsibilities activity to make sure everyone is on the same page. I’ve mentioned some characteristics of strong agile team members, how you want to have those passionate and vocal people, and how important it is to understand the habits of successful teams. But there's even more!

The Power of Vulnerability and Going Deep with Rachel Rieck

A while ago I got a recommendation for The Power of Vulnerability by a qualitative researcher named Brené Brown. When people highly recommend a book, I am happy to follow up on their suggestion, and I’m very glad I listened to this one.
She said that human beings all have a sense of belonging. We are hard-wired this way, and shame unravels that sense of belonging. Shame is a fear of disconnection. Thoughts like “I'm not good enough for this agile team” and similar negative talk aren’t helpful, but I found it very interesting that it directly affects our hardwiring as a human being.
Brown said that people with a strong sense of belonging have a few different characteristics. They have compassion (they’re kind to themselves and to others), their connections are authentic, and they embrace vulnerability. That is necessary for connection.

Why Does This Matter to Agile?

What was special about our team, and how does it tie into that book that I listened to? It's that, at the core of our hardwiring, agile teams are exposing our vulnerabilities.
Every single human being has a sense of belonging. Nobody wants to be disconnected. If people don't know what they're talking about in agile (for example), or they're new to it, they don't want to feel shame or feel disconnected. They might try to put up boundaries and won’t let themselves be vulnerable. But you want to foster vulnerability and openness. You help facilitate that through planting seeds of vulnerability (explored in more detail in the second blog of this series) so that the team knows that mistakes are okay. In contrast, in waterfall you have a very strict process. You're going to get something done by X date; you follow a task list, and then when you get those items done; then you check it off. It doesn't necessarily home in on you as an individual or get to the root core of what might be shameful for you. It doesn’t require the same sense of belonging.
But here's the key to agile: we need to play off our human pre-wired nature by supporting people and learning from mistakes, being kind and respectful to your teammates, building connections by having fun and playing together, and asking for help. It’s even okay to be a little silly at times.
Are there people on your team who have a strong sense of belonging and who bring compassion, connection and vulnerability to every standup? Those people who can embrace feelings of shame, vulnerability, and learning are the folks who are going to make your team high-performing.

Strong Teams Have a Sense of Belonging

I know this is deep, but this is exactly what was special about our high-performing team (Team Delta). Each member of the core Trifecta of Greatness (myself as Scrum Master, the Business Analyst and the Tech Lead) had a strong sense of belonging. It was easy for us to be vulnerable. We were able to use what was comfortable for us as human beings and bring that compassion, connection, and vulnerability to the process. Not everybody is comfortable with vulnerability, and I believe that openness is why we were successful (and why some other teams have a hard time). Many agile teams may not have a strong sense of belonging, which means they aren't getting the most out of that human hard-wired nature.
Ultimately, the team sense of belonging is what brings it all together. It's not the processes that you're running: a stand-up, a planning session, a retro, etc. That's only a limited framework. What's really driving success on your agile team is using our pre-existing and pre-wired nature to execute a job function – whether that’s building software or whatever your project is.
Having a core leadership team (a Trifecta of Greatness) that’s willing to plant those seeds of vulnerability and foster a sense of belonging can go a long way to making your agile team very successful.

Watch the Full Presentation

This blog is an excerpt of a 33-minute presentation on The Trifecta of Greatness: Creating and Capitalizing on a High-Performing Team. To get all the tips right now, watch our free video.
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