Bart Krawczyk Learning how to build beautiful products without burning myself out (again). Writing about what I discovered along the way.

10 ways to inspire and motivate your agile team

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10 Ways To Keep Agile Teams Engaged And Inspired

There’s a dramatic difference between a team that is engaged and inspired and one that isn’t.

Inspired, self-organizing teams easily breeze through challenges and obstacles. They’re ready to figure out a solution for every problem. Uninspired teams usually require top-to-bottom direction.

In reality, your team can solve most of your problems, whether product- or process-related, as long as they are inspired and engaged.

That is to say, if you take care of your team, it pays off in the long run.

Here are 10 ways to help you keep people on your team motivated, fulfilled, and focused:

  1. Set clear goals
  2. Give people space
  3. Trust over explanations
  4. Build relationships
  5. Facilitate killer retrospectives
  6. Keep cameras on
  7. Recognize small acts of greatness
  8. Mix big bets with small wins
  9. Build a strong feedback culture
  10. Challenge people

1. Set clear goals

Nothing demotivates people more than running in circles without clear goals and objectives. Even if people aren’t 100 percent on board with a given direction, having one is still better than ambiguity.

Make sure an objective is always there — ideally, both long-term and short-term. The long-term goal serves as a north star and helps the team see the bigger picture. Short-term objectives give the team something tangible they can self-organize around.

And don’t forget to celebrate milestones.

2. Give people space

A micromanaged team will be disengaged, period. And why would you even try to micromanage people? At the end of the day, nothing beats a team’s collective wisdom and expertise.

I believe, most of the time, micromanagement doesn’t come from bad intentions or a lack of trust. It comes from impatience.

It takes time — and I’m talking months, not days — for a members of team to truly get to know each other, develop a sense of ownership, and understand the scope of their work. Too often, managers tend to be impatient and jump into “temporary” micromanagement to get things moving while the team gains speed.

But it also teaches the team that the manager comes with tasks and solutions, so it never actually matures as a team. This leads to more micromanagement and, eventually, you end up with a disengaged feature factory.

There are no shortcuts here; you must give the team time and coaching if you want an engaged and autonomous team. Pay the price early or pay interest in the long run.

3. Trust over explanations

One of the signs of a team that trusts each other is that people don’t need explanations from each other. Why would you?

If someone has to leave earlier today, that’s fine. Need to take an unplanned day off on Friday? Fine with me. Do you have to skip daily tomorrow? That’s okay.

Ask for an explanation only when you really need for the team to perform better. If someone is late with a task, it’s okay to dig deeper for the reasons — maybe someone will be able to help with the problem — but don’t grill people just for the sake of micromanaging them.

If someone comes to me with the information — e.g., they’ll need an additional day to complete something — I trust them as professionals and take their word that did their best to achieve our goals. If they didn’t manage to do so, there’s a valid reason behind it. There’s rarely a need for further explanation.

4. Build relationships

A team that bonds together works better together. The dynamics are just so different when you work with a group of close colleagues, or maybe even friends, versus just random people. Disappointing teammates is one thing, but disappointing friends is another.

Invest time in fostering relationships between people. This can include big activities, like regular offsites and workations, as well as smaller gestures, like celebrating birthdays or having a virtual coffee every week.

5. Facilitate killer retrospectives

A retrospective can be a game-changing ceremony that helps the team reach a new level — if facilitated well.

If facilitated poorly, it can be a wasted time. Or, worse, a meeting in which everyone leaves annoyed and angry with each other.

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Retrospectives have a significant impact on the whole team. If you use every single one of them right, you’ll have a great-performing team in no time. But it does require some effort.

Read about various retrospective formats, prepare before facilitating one, gather feedback, and improve continuously. Don’t treat the retro as a meeting where you come to ask, “What went well and wrong?” Treat it as a potentially game-changing workshop that deserves effort and preparation.

6. Keep cameras on

The remote work trend forces us to see each other less and less. In the past, we used to see each other daily. Now, our face-to-face interactions happen mostly on video calls.

Don’t diminish these opportunities even further by turning cameras off.

Cameras help us see one another as humans. Plus, they keep us more focused on a meeting. This additional focus leads to more active and fruitful discussions.

If you need to multitask or zone out during a meeting, the problem is the meeting itself, not the camera.

7. Recognize small acts of greatness

Whenever someone does something good, recognize it immediately. Don’t wait until the performance review, and don’t neglect small things.

Ultimately, it’s these regular, small acts of greatness that matter, not occasional heroic actions, that help us reach our goals.

If you see someone acting in a way you’d like the team to follow (e.g., taking initiative, raising a problem and bringing solutions, etc.), recognize it and praise the person publicly.

It’ll both reinforce the desired behavior and communicate to the rest of the team what type of behavior is expected.

8. Mix big bets with small wins

Big bets give the team a sense that they’re working on something complex and truly meaningful. Small wins let them drive quick results and get a sense of achievement.

You need both. When planning the roadmap with the team, make sure to include both small wins and big bets.

Mixing Big Bets And Small Wins

If you focus only on big bets, a lack of immediate results and things to celebrate might be demotivating. On the other hand, if you focus only on small wins, the team might start feeling that they are running in circles over-optimizing the product.

Give the team the energy and motivation to seize big bets by making sure they regularly achieve and celebrate some smaller victories. Don’t overfocus on one of the two.

9. Build a strong feedback culture

A strong feedback culture is essential for the team to perform at its best. It serves two purposes.

First, it allows everyone to be heard, share their thoughts, and contribute to the team’s future. People are more likely to challenge the status quo and bring feedback when they see it makes an actual impact.

It also helps people grow. When they receive meaningful feedback constantly, they develop as professionals. And the more people grow, the more engaged they tend to be.

Strive to build a culture where feedback is the bread and butter of the team. It requires:

  • The right mindset toward giving and receiving feedback
  • A sense of safety within the team
  • Feedback loops and processes that make giving and receiving feedback easy

Implement these in a team, and you’ll see results.

10. Challenge people

Make sure everyone on your team can work on something slightly above their current skill level.

When people are challenged, they grow more. And people that develop a lot in their day-to-day work are usually more engaged and motivated than people who stagnate.

Always make sure to put the bar just slightly out of reach. If the bar is too low, there’s no motivation to engage. On the other hand, if the bar is too high and seemingly out of reach, it might be more demotivating than motivating.

Featured image source: IconScout

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Bart Krawczyk Learning how to build beautiful products without burning myself out (again). Writing about what I discovered along the way.

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