And seven strategies for how it reduces stress.
By Pam Boney, Founder of Tilt365.com
Everyone is talking about “agile.” Agile culture. Agile executive. Agile organization. Now that it’s
reached popularity in the masses, the term has become muddled, overused, and distorted into “something we’re
doing” without understanding what it means. Yet, it is crucial to a team’s ability to move quickly and innovate
to drive competitive relevance. Most leaders don’t know that it's much more than “flexible” or “adaptive,” words
often used as interchangeable for agile.
What it requires of the people who drive agile behaviors is even more essential. Our research has demonstrated that strong internal
character is the central ingredient of an agile culture where innovation is likely to occur. Way beyond “soft
skills,” being agile means showing up focused, influential, and driven towards a common goal. Specifically, it
means operating from wisdom, courage, resilience, and humanity all at once. That’s no small feat.
Agile leaders with strong internal character are often the primary source of organizational courage and catalyze
change with ease and grace. They use plain language, practice respectful honesty, and bring out the best in
those around them. We’ve found evidence for twelve
character strengths that drive generative culture and innovation. Here are some of the strategies we’ve
employed that keep our great team culture agile and fast.
Seven strategies for building an agile team culture:
We’ve found that the best approach to keeping our team balanced and healthy is about monitoring the team’s mood
and then coaching immediately to remove blocks. It’s also essential to set up the workflow to help everyone
understand how to succeed in an agile environment. For this, we borrow from the agile method used by technology
teams. Following are a few of the tenets of agile that are immediately useful:
- Transparency: One of the leader’s most important jobs is to remove obstacles from the
workflow and provide resources quickly. We’ve used the
Kanban version of the agile method supported by software that ensures teammates or leaders do not
block workflow. (we use Trello). This method enables real-time
communication and full transparency, so the leader can ensure that team members’ work is unblocked and
resourced just in time for workflow continuation. This transparency enhances accountability among team
members who might not be comfortable communicating with candor one-to-one.
- Clear Expectations: Another valuable component of this method is that complex projects,
chunked down into tasks that can be accomplished in the current sprint (two weeks). By time-blocking work in
this way and keeping all other ideas and projects in the backlog, your team will feel their work is more
doable. Approving the feasibility of the current workload weekly also serves you as the leader, so your
expectations are clearly stated and satisfied. Everyone is clear about how to succeed each week.
- Radical Candor: The first two mentions above also help teams learn to speak more directly
and resolve differences with the support of all perspectives, including the leader in a weekly review called
a Scrum. For example, if someone’s progress on work is
blocked because they are waiting for a teammate or vendor to get back to them, it is clear that there is an
obstacle the leader can help remove. This clarity allows relationships to stay positive and productive too.
- Remote work: Some of the best agile teams are remote workers and love it. We’ve been
“remote” for a decade and would never go back. People are social beings and, when presented with social
distractions during work hours, will often choose to jump into watercooler-talk, gossip, speculation, and
more. Ten years ago, we leased office space for one year and saw a massive drop in productivity. That’s
because we are acutely aware of the unconscious activity of ego-games, an awareness that most teams don’t
understand. That’s what we do. We help teams become aware of this
phenomenon and reduce it significantly to grow a culture where people love to work.
- Trust & Responsibility: Sadly, many leaders still operate from an old paradigm that
people will slack off and not be productive if they work remotely. Our view is that hiring the right people
makes all the difference. If you employ responsible, self-initiating achievers, then it is also appropriate
to trust them. We use real-time software (Slack) to connect throughout the day, which helps me as a leader
stay tuned into the workflow. When people need uninterrupted time to concentrate and focus, they go offline
and let each other know they don’t want to be disturbed. If we hire mature adults, we should also treat them
- Limited Meetings: We only have one meeting a week about workflow. And concise meetings for
sub-teams to discuss specific topics and workstreams. That ego-game drama mentioned in #4 above is what
happens when people are in meetings all day. The ego is quickly lured into drama and unconsciously seeking
approval, attention, recognition, power, and status. These strivings are not bad in themselves in
moderation, but when you are sitting alone with your work, you’re more likely to be productive and creative.
- Social Connection: Lastly, because we all want to feel part of a strong team, we use the
first 10 minutes of every weekly scrum to connect and check-in on our personal lives and news. As a remote
team, this employee engagement is an integral part of how we show our humanity and connect personally. We
sympathize with tough news, laugh about mishaps, and celebrate good news. As a leader, I’m also scanning for
signs of stress and make mental notes to follow up with those who need further discussion or laser
coaching sessions to alleviate symptoms or shift to a more positive mindset.
Agile strategies serve to reduce stress in both the leader and the team because individuals have time to reflect,
concentrate, and work without as much interruption every day. We’ve found that we can be exponentially more
productive and creative because of the extra space. Working remotely also enables us to mix work and life
responsibilities with ease. Because we are all trustworthy, responsible, and dedicated, we also trust one
The most crucial thing you should do right now
Since culture sets the overarching tone of how we interact, building a team culture is the most vital strategy to
reduce stress. Having stated values for how your team agrees to work with one another is crucial. It’s also
essential to have a cadence of regular team building, educational growth, and planning meetings in person (or
for now, virtually). The most important lever we’ve learned has also become the core product we offer on our
mission to help team leaders build a culture where people love to work.
Our personality and development assessments teach everyone how to recognize and help colleagues when their
stress reaction kicks in. Once the four Tilting patterns become part of a common language, everyone can quickly
lend a helping hand when someone falls into stress instead of judging them, which creates divisiveness. Above
all, this team-building tool helps each member of the team show up at their best more of the time.