Assessing capability of agile teams to either strive or stumble as remote virtual teams

As we move towards more working remotely as the “new normal”, how can we ensure teams remain focused and effective to minimise disruption to delivery and ensure clients get the vital services and products they need. This was a big concern for Executives of a large business transformation program as they were concerned that productivity would decrease when their agile teams started working remotely.

Transparency, empiricism, collaboration and working towards a common goal to meet deadlines and targets for delivery are essential elements for high performing teams. The concern is that with remote working, we lose visibility and transparency and may not identify a problem till later down the track when a release or delivery is at risk. Remote working may make it more difficult to get things to “done” and team members may revert to old patterns of working in silos which will add further handovers and delay delivery.

Agility and connectedness

Having an agile mindset and staying true to agile principles is even more important when working remotely as a virtual team. Many of the teams we had been working with had experience as distributed agile teams for a number of years and we have developed patterns and practices to ensure we keep the connectedness as a team. The difference now was the scale of distribution as, now everyone was working remotely for an extended period of time.

We had been doing assessment of agility with these teams using Agile IQ®  our tool that uses Evidence Based Management (EBM) and integrates it with the factors that highlight good agility – self organisation, agile values, continuous improvement and sprinting. It’s core algorithms are based on team psychology, behaviour, and organisational culture, and align with current international research on modern team effectiveness – like Google’s Project Aristotle and Amy Edmondson’s Psychological Safety. When used to support capability development it’s doubled teams’ productivity, improved quality, and halved their time to deliver.

We wondered whether we could use this to help assess the maturity and capability of teams and predict which ones were well placed for working remotely, and diagnose which ones  will need support to help them adjust to working not only as a distributed team but also a virtual team. So we ran an experiment…..

Factors for remote team performance

We did a multifactorial analysis of the Agile IQ® which showed a number of sub factors had a significant correlation to remote working success. These 6 sub factors included:

  • Clear structure – what are the rules by which they’re expected to deliver as a team?
  • Goal clarity – why is the work they’re doing valuable?
  • Dependability – can they depend on each other to deliver to the deadlines set by the Product Owner?
  • Shared purpose – are they in it together as a team, or are they merely a collection of individuals working as work group?
  • Connectedness – we’re all human beings and have social needs, if these aren’t taken care of then team productivity can suffer.

Identifying teams at risk

Using the baseline assessment of teams across the organisations, the Agile IQ® sub factor analysis highlighted the agility elements that helped forecast which team are more likely to be successful when moving to remote work and identify those at most at risk.

Using this analysis, we provided Executives with transparency of which teams we needed to target for coaching support and provide guidance to the scrum masters  to develop coaching plans highlighting areas to uplift the team’s ability to work remotely, remain cohesive as a team and deliver successfully.

The analysis showed which agile teams are more at risk (in red) which ones will need coaching support (amber) and importantly, which ones are well placed to succeed remotely as they have a good baseline of maturity on the sub factors for remote working. We validated this data with leadership and now have an assessment tool that has been proven to be leading indicators of team performance.

This helped allay concerns about productivity and delivery as we now had a predictive tool that would help us keep a finger on the pulse of teams’ agility and make agile culture and mindset transparent, view improvement trends and be forewarned about “going backwards”.

We were able to highlight the human factors that diagnoses teams ability to work remotely whilst maintaining team performance. It helped to:

  • Identify teams most at risk
  • Highlight distributed teams that need support to self-organise
  • Developed customised coaching plans to uplift their ability to self-organise and work cohesively as a team.

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