Seven traits I look for in #Agile teammates

There are seven traits that I have seen in the great number of teammates on Agile projects that I now look for when I am asked to recruit or add to Agile project teams. Most of these could also apply to traditional project teams, but I have found their absence seems to affect  Agile teams even more. I thought it would make for a good post to share those items. Please let me know your thoughts on my list, I am sure there are other items I have not mentioned:

Without further ado:

1. Profound Empathy for the client

It is become common for people to state they are ‘client-focused’ in resumes and discussions with other people, but I am talking about a client empathy that is much more profound. I have seen ‘client-focused’ individuals just state ‘oh well’ or state reasons when a requirement is missed or a defect introduced that has caused much pain to the client. The type of Profound Empathy I have seen in awesome Agile teammates are ones where the teammates build a friendship with the clients and feel a true relationship to the client. (the client is not different from them) The best ones even have feeling of remorse as issues arise. You don’t want these feelings to be all-consuming for teammates, but when teammates go from exclaiming ‘oh well’ to ‘lets figure out not to have this happen again to Murray’ we are definitely on the right track.

2. Lack of an Ego

In an Agile project, we are frequently going to change our roles and duties based upon what is needed. It is much harder to have teammates who are only Project Managers or Developers or Business Analysts. I have heard some people state ‘I just write what the specs say’, ‘I just write down what the client says’, and ‘I just assign the tasks’. I refer to this as Ego as I think the people have identified more with their roles than the client, problem, or solution. We need people to do whatever it takes to get to end of job. That mean an experienced Project Manager may need to learn a new testing framework and implement it or an experienced architect may need to write basic reports because that is what is required.

No work is beneath anyone, and people really enjoy working on whatever helps to move the project forward.

The important distinction here is that people sometimes will work on other tasks but then be unhappy about. People without Ego honestly love to work on whatever is needed to move the project forward.

Why is this? Because they….

3. Desire to learn and try new things

Have a real desire to learn and try new things. They don’t want to learn a skill and rinse and repeat for the rest of their careers. When they are asked to learn a new skill and operate in a new role they are excited for the opportunity to learn and expand their skills. They read up on topics they enjoy in their spare time, they tinker with new technologies and methods, and are eager to then try to apply what they have learned.

4. Are collaborative in problem solving and decision-making

One of the interview questions I love to ask is:

‘What is the toughest problem you have solved and how did you arrive at the solution?”

I find you get a good read on a person’s problem solving skills and their collaborative tendencies to solve problems and make decisions. I have been on many projects where individuals sought input from teammates not because it was required, but because they honestly wanted that feedback as an opportunity to learn and improve. They really understood that every single person has a set of experiences and expertise that can offer something.

Now the important distinction is that they are not afraid to make a decision, they are just collaborative in gathering the information to facilitate that decision. They still may have to make a decision that not everyone agrees with.  It is really about collaboration and not consensus.

5. Desire and ability to help grow the team

Not everyone is going to have a wealth of experience. You need the teammates who welcome lesser experienced individuals and relish the opportunity to share their experiences with them. It is about all of us getting better. It really is discouraging when I hear people mention that someone is going to slow them down or may place the project at risk because of their inexperience.

I absolutely love teammates who look for opportunities to help to grow their teammates. They understand that the project is only a short-term situation and building awesome teammates will help us all in the long run. And even more profoundly, they honestly like to teach and help people reach their full potential. That is awesome.

6. Problem Solving Talent/ Talent with a diverse set of skills

One item I don’t see mentioned a lot on these lists is talent. Even if someone has the five traits previously mentioned, they still need to have the talent and skills in the roles that are required. Usually I find that the people who have been great teammates are all great problem solvers and they have a primary expertise with the ability to have secondary or tertiary expertise. (Or the ability to gain this expertise rather quickly) This could be in development, analysis, testing, database design, project management (eek!) or a multitude of others.

The important thing is that beside the great teammate traits listed above, each teammate has to bring talent to the project to contribute. (at whatever level is appropriate)

7. Initiative

And the last item is initiative. I’m not calling it leadership as that term I feel sometimes goes against the concept of self-organizing teams. (Does a self-organized team really need to be led?) I like initiative as it captures the sentiment that every team member should feel comfortable showing initiative and contributing at the appropriate points in a project.

The important thing is you want everyone on the project to contribute ideas and not just feel that ideas are someone else’s responsibility. Of course it is the responsibility of the entire team to create the environment where people feel comfortable proposing ideas. But that is a topic for another post…


Author: Terry Bunio

Terry Bunio is passionate about his work as the Manager of the Project Management Office at the University of Manitoba. Terry oversees the governance on Information Technology projects to make sure the most important projects are being worked on in a consistent and effective way. Terry also provides leadership on the customized Project Methodology that is followed. The Project Methodology is a equal mix of Prince2, Agile, Traditional, and Business Value. Terry strives to bring Brutal Visibility, Eliminating Information islands, Right Sizing Documentation, Promoting Collaboration and Role-Based Non-Consensus, and short Feedback Loops to Minimize Inventory to the Agile Project Management Office. As a fan of pragmatic Agile, Terry always tries to determine if we can deliver value as soon as possible through iterations. As a practical Project Manager, Terry is known to challenge assumptions and strive to strike the balance between the theoretical and real world approaches for both Traditional and Agile approaches. Terry is a fan of AWE (Agile With Estimates), the Green Bay Packers, Winnipeg Jets, and asking why?

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