Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

One of the core Agile Manifesto values is “individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” On the contrary, in day-to-day agile, we often talk about processes, tools, and rituals. Processes and tools are often important to our success as software professionals, however, people—and how those people interact—really drive innovation and high-quality products.

The most effective way to create value for your customer is to build your projects around motivated individuals. Generally speaking, two things motivate individuals on software teams: a belief that the product is worth building and a belief that the team can reasonably meet expectations. If individuals don’t feel like a product is worth their time to build or if the expectations placed on the team are unachievable, most people will check out.

Motivating individuals can often be challenging. Most people don’t get the opportunity to hire their own people or pick their own teams. A lot of the time, teams are selected before project assignment. Agile isn’t a silver bullet, and it won’t remove personnel problems. In fact, more than likely, agile will make personnel issues even more apparent. As an agile leader, that’s where you can step in. Ask your team and its individuals what gets in their way, what annoys them, and how you can help. Creating a healthy, working environment where they feel supported will help drive intrinsic motivation.

As you start to forge your generative culture, it’s crucial to consider the intellectual and emotional wellbeing of your team. People are at their best when they feel safe and supported. Physical safety is important but having psychological safety allows people to take risks, experiment, and innovate.

A psychologically safe culture isn’t always easy to create, however, there are some steps you can take to start facilitating generative behavior. Increasing communication, using failures as learning opportunities, and removing blockers are great ways to demonstrate to your team that they are safe to experiment, fail, improve, and try again.

If you aren’t sure if your environment is supportive there are a few signs things are going wrong. Are there punitive measures taken against teams who don’t meet their commitments? Commitments are important, but innovation only happens when teams have the ability to experiment and take risks. Teams that take reasonable risks in the spirit of delivering the highest quality product possible shouldn’t be punished if they occasionally fall short of the planned commitment. Is there a general lack of communication with and among the team? If product owners and team members don’t transparently communicate, there will be delays in delivery and customers probably won’t get what they are asking for. Does your team have a lot of turnover? If people are constantly leaving your team, there’s a reason for that and not feeling supported is towards the top of the list of possibilities.

People might also leave teams because they feel micromanaged or overly supervised. When individuals trust you and have the trust of their team and managers, they’re more willing to take chances, improve products, and deliver higher value to customers.

Allowing teams to experiment, having their backs when they fail, and helping them to improve creates a circle of trust, and trust breeds motivation.

I’d love to continue the conversation with you in the #agile channel on the TechWell Hub.

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