Joshua L. Roberts

Agile / Lean Enterprise Transformation Coach

Week Five – Psychology of Agile Teams

By Josh Roberts | July 6, 2014 | 0 Comment

“So, when did you become a psychologist?” The person asking this question had worked with me in the past and it caught me by surprise. In just five years, had I really changed that much? At first, I didn’t have a good answer, but they were right… my leadership style had definitely changed. I had become a leader of Agile Teams; a Servant Leader.

Agile practices place the emphasis back on people over a pure process-driven approach to management. Not instead of process, but over process. In fact, Agile processes take a high degree of discipline to follow; perhaps even more so than traditional delivery processes. The key difference is that Agile processes are owned by the Agile Team, not management. Bottom-up vs. top-down.

As a leader of self-organizing, empowered teams, you find yourself coaching people versus purely managing to a process. And, to be a good coach, you really must understand people and their motivations. I guess that’s where the psychology comes in.


It is not easy to define empowerment, however, one key aspect is the authority to make decisions. It is giving individuals more accountability and responsibility. On a RACI chart it means shifting some of the (A)ccountable and (R)esponsible activities away from traditional management roles and moving them down into the team.

However, to empower an Agile Team requires that we operate/manage in a different way. We must provide the team with new information/inputs (e.g. business value, priorities, and vision) such that they can align with organizational goals through self-management. Serving work to the team in a different way can be hard work and takes much discipline. This is one way in which we as leaders must “serve” our Agile Teams.

Given the right inputs, environment, and coaching (i.e. culture), it is a fact that cross-functional teams outperform their silo’d counterparts. When truly empowered, people tend to hold themselves and their team members to higher standards than those imposed by management. After all, according to Dan Pink, people are motivated by purpose, mastery, and autonomy.


We are currently using Kanban, at the portfolio level, as a transition management strategy. As expected, the visualization of work and daily cadence is allowing the teams to engage with each other in new and collaborative ways. They are focusing on moving value across “their” board with support from their leadership to remove impediments. In the first week, they are already uncovering bottlenecks and questioning the “readiness” of work (prioritization, decomposition, etc) prior to reaching them.

The next step will be to engage with the business in a new and collaborative way.  Where it makes sense, we will evaluate the use of Agile Team practices, such as Scrum. The focus will be on moving to team-based delivery vs. individuals assigned to projects, independent features vs. bundled requirements, ongoing customer engagement vs. at the beginning and end of a project. To ensure organizational alignment and discipline, Scrum prescribes new practices, roles, and responsibilities. It is far more prescriptive than Kanban and will require a more rigorous approach to coaching and training.

By running our Agile/Lean transformation in a Scrum-like fashion, we will model the behaviors we expect of our Agile Teams and business partners. In the process, transforming the IT leadership team into the coaches that will make our future Agile Teams successful. We are raising the bar for all roles in the organization and this will take leadership from everyone.



Josh Roberts

Agile / Lean Transformation Coach - Passionate About Delivering Value!


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