Maintaining team agility post a sudden shift to remote working


Agile teams are one of the greatest assets of an organization, providing it a sharp competitive edge. They help companies in addressing and adapting to shape-shifting business priorities, especially when dealing with a multitude of disruptions unleashed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Before the pandemic struck, such teams would typically work from the same location, sometimes the same room facilitating quick team collaboration, simplifying problem solving and enabling speedy decision-making. However, the abrupt shift to remote working framework due to Covid-19 has broken the team rhythm, making way for inefficiency and reduced cohesion.

In a Harvard Business Review survey, 80% respondents felt their team relations would be better with more frequent team communications, while 84% said that work-related challenges took longer to get resolved after the hasty shift to remote setup. Thus, organizations must adopt a new approach of team management, to maintain the same level of agility as pre-Covid times.

Instilling the culture of a remote agile team

Co-located teams are used to direct access to team-mates at all times, which propagates camaraderie and trust. Virtual interaction using videoconferencing tools and virtual whiteboards is the key to maintaining the unified one-ness of the team while working remotely.

New ground rules must be set about conducting virtual meetings so that everyone is given an equal chance to participate. In agile teams everyone is responsible for capturing spontaneous ideas and hence extra effort must be made to capture collective view on virtual whiteboards. Learning to use virtual collaboration tools effectively, should be a priority for the whole team. And, most importantly teams must be respectful of the individual members’ personal choices.

While working remotely, teams must consciously strive to be social, precise, polite and tactful. An environment of empathy, mutual respect and courage must be encouraged. Misunderstandings should be discussed and cleared immediately and a team attitude of taking all comments in a positive light must be inculcated. Personal interaction between team-mates beyond work is an important aspect of forming powerful team bonds. A weekly virtual coffee session via video chat is an excellent way to promote it.

Recalibrating agile processes for remote working

Trying to replicate the processes followed in the co-location setup is a trap best avoided. An easy solution would be working backward – starting with the desired outcome achieved in office and modifying the scrum ceremonies appropriately. The emphasis should be on adapting and not sticking to previous norms. To maintain team agility new ceremonies for keeping the team aligned to company objectives might be needed. Eventually as the team gets used to working remotely, organic conversations would reduce the load of the ceremonies.

Establish a single source of truth

Impromptu team huddles drive agile teams in office spaces. Similar informal virtual meetings can be done when working remotely. However, new documentation practices should be implemented so that the gist of all such meets are recorded in a single place, accessible to all team members.

Utilize asynchronous collaboration

Asynchronous communication tools like team chat platforms and messaging boards where individual members post their comments and share updates, can also be used to keep the whole team in sync. This saves time while keeping everybody well-informed. However, such tools must be used judiciously as they might inculcate the feeling of isolation and adversely affect trust between team members.

Adapting leadership approach

Essentially the leadership responsibilities remain same when working in office and remotely. But in order to make up for the face-to-face interactions, leaders need to be more careful when engaging with teams. Agile team leaders should be closer to and more proactive at – guiding the individual team members. They must be more purposeful at engaging with external stakeholders. Agile leaders should be transparent and reassuring when communicating team performance and objectives. They must show through their tone and approach that all the members are in it together as a team.

Agility is a trait that might suffer a setback due to sudden change of framework but will bounce back eventually as the new norms redefine the processes. Organizations must work towards restoring the right environment and agile teams will show a surge in productivity soon enough.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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