How to Boost Team Communication and Trust in an Agile Environment

on April 24, 2017

Agile development has tight and frequent deadlines – especially with a Mendix project where the deadlines are usually 1-2 week sprints. When companies choosing to do agile development after being focused on waterfall or other restrictive development methodologies, it requires a complete shift in mindset. Change is challenging and has a lot of learning pains. However, change is totally worth it when you get the return on investment. Everyone wants to know that the work they do has impact. With agile development it is possible to have a product out the door and make an impact rapidly within weeks or months – rather than years or decades.

The best way to handle the challenges of tight deadlines and multiple stakeholders is to communicate effectively across all team members. Here are five ways I have found to be helpful in improving team communication and building trust:

1. Define Roles and Goals at the Beginning

A lot of miscommunication starts at the very beginning of a project. Each project should have a clear kick-off with roles and goals defined. During the kick-off, it is important to discuss what the various roles will be and what the expectations for and from team members are. There should be an escalation overview highlighting how to resolve problems when they arise. The kick-off should serve as a guidance for the team, but should not be rigid or set in stone. Changes are bound to happen and the team should be agile and adjust to change.

2. Encourage Questions

Always encourage the team to ask questions. Never dismiss a question or make someone feel inadequate for asking questions. Questions lead to clarifications, discovery, and sometimes process improvements. It is therefore important to encourage the team to ask questions and clarifications. Remember, it’s okay to not have the answers and discover them along the way.

3. Make Mistakes

People who have never done agile before, or are just learning the development tools, are expected to make mistakes. Mistakes should be encouraged and openly discussed – especially at the beginning of a project. Mistakes force us to learn and become better. However, I see a lot of people afraid of making mistakes. I’ve even seen teams brushing mistakes under the rug and hoping no one notices. In agile development, small mistakes that could be fixed in a couple of minutes or a day, turn into mountains that delay release dates by weeks or months. Whatever you do, do not brush mistakes under the rug. How the team handles mistakes could be a golden opportunity to bring the team closer together.

4. Intro-Retrospectives

Retrospective meetings are critical to opening up communication channels. During the introspective meeting, the team should focus on what went right and (most importantly!) what went wrong. The goal is to be productive and not spend the whole time pointing fingers or complaining about things. Here is a helpful toolbox on how to have effective retrospective meetings. Come up with solutions and suggestions on how to improve and constantly iterate on it. Check out these additional tips on how to reward agile ceremonies.

5. Feedback

Feedback is the best thing to give and receive. Therefore, start by giving feedback often and to everyone. Did someone handle something well? Give them the positive feedback on what they did and the impact it had. Did they miss a deadline? Why? Give them feedback on how to improve. If it’s feedback on how people can improve, literally state “my goal is to help you improve, and I’ve noticed [what the problem is], here is what we can do [suggestions on improvements].” In addition, I recommend checking out these helpful coaching videos. Not all feedback will work the same with everyone. However, it is a must in order to improve; do not shy away from giving or receiving it.

Follow the tips as a team and you will have a stronger and better functioning team. Agile does not have to be scary, and is all about improving your process and team. Check out this great and helpful post from one of our customers on how they changed their companies culture.