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If you suspect — or perhaps clearly know — that you’re on an underperforming agile team, then we have some good news and bad news.

The bad news is that you aren’t alone. For every high-performance agile team, there are several that aren’t achieving their full potential; and more than a few that are outright dysfunctional.

The good news is that you don’t have to brace for impact, and expect the worst. Instead, you can be proactive and get your agile team back on track. Here’s how:

1. Educate (or Re-Educate) External Stakeholders

One of the most common — and also the most costly — reasons why agile teams underwhelm instead of overachieve has to do with a lack of awareness; not among teams, but across external departments and divisions. They’re still flooding agile teams with ongoing requests and change orders, and getting frustrated when their stuff isn’t done “yesterday”. Helping these external stakeholders understand what agile is and how agile works — and especially what it’s not and how it doesn’t — benefits everyone.

2. Recalibrate Internal Team Members

Shifting from a conventional program and project management paradigm to an agile paradigm can be a culture shock for team members; especially if they’re used to being virtuosos who essentially work on their own, or if they expect seniority or rank to earn them a more influential voice around the decision-making table. It’s vital for these folks to understand that “team” is more important than “agile” — because either everyone makes it to the finish line at the same time, or nobody does. Ideally, this re-education can be achieved through positive conversations and coaching. But if this doesn’t work, then it’s necessary to vote chronically toxic team members — however skilled they may be — off of the agile team island.

3. Establish Both Layers of Visibility

Agile teams that punch below their weight class often believe that there is only one layer of visibility: team members seeing who’s doing what and when. Obviously, this is essential. But there’s another layer of visibility that is just as important: executives and the PMO seeing who’s doing what and when. Without this second layer, agile teams invariably find themselves with too much work, or not enough work. Either way is a recipe for dysfunction.

4. Customize the Work Experience 

Many agile teams get frustrated because they can’t replicate the success found in other enterprises (call it “agile envy”). However, this is often not a matter of effort or intent, but due to a lack of customization. Agile teams need to have the flexibility to personalize workflows to match their unique style. What works in one enterprise doesn’t necessarily work in another.

5. Remember to Have FUN!

This last bit of advice is as old school as it gets, but has the power to re-ignite and re-invent agile teams that are dragging on the ground instead of soaring through the air: remember to have FUN! This means taking time off as a group to see movies, go bowling, paint pottery — or anything else that has nothing to do with work, and which fosters a positive vibe. It also means taking time out during the hectic day to decompress and disconnect. Having a specially-designed “100% work-free” breakout space can help with this (especially if there’s a popcorn machine and bean bag chairs!).

The Bottom Line

Adopting the advice above will dramatically and sustainably improve how your agile team functions and feels. When this happens, achieving — or better yet, exceeding — the group’s full potential isn’t just possible: it’s inevitable.

Clarizen Go is a simple and secure enterprise-grade task management solution that helps rescue and revive underperforming agile teams by accelerating results, encouraging success, and increasing alignment across the entire organization. To learn more, watch this brief and fun video.


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