Why Managers Need to Care About Agile Teams’ Happiness

Here's how Agile team leaders can elevate their teams’ happiness levels and reap the benefits.

Happy teams perform better. Research by Pryce-Jones and iOpener found happier employees are 50 percent more productive than their unhappy peers. But when you look around at the faces during a scrum, how can you tell if your Agile team is content – and what can you do to increase their happiness?

Randall Ward, CEO and co-founder of Appfire, shares his perspective on how Agile team leads can elevate their teams’ happiness levels and reap the benefits.

Whose responsibility is it to ensure Agile team happiness?

Ward: Agile is designed to combat micromanagement and wasted time, and while each team member has a role to play, a strong leader needs to moderate that process. Agile teams should be democratic and have the freedom to self-organize in order to solve problems faster and with fewer roadblocks.

The team lead is responsible for facilitating these conditions. Note: this team member is not the “boss” of the squad but the person responsible for overall team happiness and productivity.

Removing barriers to success, facilitating discussion, and making sure the team has the resources they need are all common responsibilities of the team lead. Each of these elements factors into Agile’s signature happiness metric and has a direct impact on team output.

Why is Agile team sentiment important to the business?

Ward: Often, companies put their focus on what they do while mistakenly de-prioritizing who is doing it. Both traditional and distributed workplaces operate at a lightning-fast pace, so it can be easy to overlook individual contributions to a team project. A positive work environment where employees feel supported, encouraged, and have adequate opportunities to upskill will only benefit the overall business.

Additionally, legacy leadership strategies can help track team morale and sentiment, and the savviest IT managers also know how to leverage Agile to monitor teams and drastically enhance results. In today’s economy, worker turnover has become a problem across industries, so employee retention has proven to be crucial in maintaining business growth.

How might Agile team sentiment impact the team overall?

Ward: Happiness is an important metric for an Agile team and should be prioritized to keep the team calm under pressure, prepared for unexpected shifts in focus, and ready for potential roadblocks. Teams may encounter not-so-fun projects and will have to operate under unclear guidelines from stakeholders, which can make certain activities stressful.

However, sentiment – good or bad – is contagious, and can produce a domino effect from one team member to another. Being mindful of team sentiment, addressing bumps in the road, and proactively steering the team towards a more harmonious, prepared structure, are critical for any leader. To ensure sentiment flows in the right direction, the team lead can use meetings as a way to break the ice. And don’t forget to celebrate the wins, large and small.

What questions should leadership ask when evaluating Agile team happiness?

Ward: Agile teams will reach multiple points of tension over the course of a build. When bandwidth is low, it’s best to ask them to periodically rate their happiness, as well as to ask what would increase their happiness. It would also be helpful for leadership to explore what kind of support their team needs to feel happier, whether it be more context or even more training.

Armed with these insights, a team lead can better align the team around a singular, common goal that is also in touch with individual team members’ needs.

Breaking down silos and rallying the team together can have a significant impact on morale, brings clarity to planning and execution, and keeps projects going at a steady, productive pace.

When should leadership look into Agile team happiness? Is it ever too late to do so? 

Ward: Checking in on Agile team happiness is not something that has to be done daily, or even weekly, but should at least be a monthly priority for any team lead. This allows ample time for the team to breathe and evaluate their emotions between check-ins, while still allowing time for leadership to thoroughly identify and alleviate pain points to dissolve conflicts before they escalate.

One thing that I want to stress is that it’s never too late to look into Agile team happiness. Happier teams are more productive and better at creating an environment where everyone succeeds. A great team lead will find creative ways to spread positivity and heighten morale, even when projects are off track.