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Błażej Cepil

Keeping people motivated in an agile environment

Everyone wants to deliver exceptional work, but experience and talent are a small part of it. Motivation is what keeps you going. So how do you make sure your teams stay motivated in an agile environment? How do you support your people – each with different needs – when projects and objectives can change instantly?

We’ve presented our answer on 5th Computerworld conference, February 2018, in Warsaw. Two of our stars talked about our approach:

  • Blazej Pietrzak – Tribe Master
  • Kalina Pasternak – Retain Lead

Blazej Pietrzak and Kalina Pasternak talking about motivation in agile teams

Have a place where you can experiment

We have a special Tribe inside Objectivity, where the dynamic aspect of agile organisation is especially seen. (If you want to know more about agile Tribes, see this article.) This Tribe is called Incubator and it’s a place where a lot of projects and client relationships start, and where we utilise the skill and expertise of people waiting on a bench (without a specific project to complete). The types of projects we run in Incubator:

  • Internal development
  • Discovery phase/analysis phase
  • MVP
  • PoC

The project landscape in Incubator is therefore quite dynamic and changing. Leaders change, teams change, technologies, roles, and tasks – they all change more often than in standard, longer projects. Only some people thrive in such environment. So how to keep the majority motivated? And – by extension – how do you protect your client’s interest? We tackle each changing aspect individually which gives us a comprehensive strategy for dealing with these problems.

When leaders change often, use an agile framework of support

First, every employee at Objectivity has a dedicated leader. Every 2-4 weeks they meet on 1 to 1 meetings to discuss project issues, personal problems and share feedback. This helps to keep people motivated and evolving in a day-to-day work, but when leaders change often, you need an additional layer of governance. This is what we do:

  • Leader’s handover – a new leader receives full information about a given employee: personal development plan, strengths, pain points
  • Every leader receives strong support from our HR, including:
    • Training programs – all leaders are trained in sharing feedback, motivating their teams, conducting effective 1 to 1 meetings
    • Situational leadership – we run a workshop dedicated to deepening the leadership-related knowledge. Leaders can learn there what Blanchard had to say about leadership and how to apply this knowledge in practice
    • Case study analysis – a group of leaders supported by an HR representative can discuss difficult cases to find a solution to given problem

When teams change often, make sure to preserve those that work well

In an agile environment, teams are created by people currently available. But we have found that some teams work exceptionally well together. When such a team is created in Incubator, we keep it intact and prepare it to work on a next project, this time directly for a certain client. Each new team creates its own good practices which are then shared further. We also make sure that when people or teams change in a project, they share full knowledge about their domain to protect the client’s interest.

When technologies change often, help people embrace the learning process

If you give your people enough space, they want to learn. This has a very positive impact on their motivation, but also allows your company to tackle new projects, because your people know how to handle given tool or programming language. Having a lot of short, dynamic projects gives you an excellent opportunity to create a learning hub. This is how we do it:

  • If we have an expert in a given technology, we make sure he/she is available and can teach people interested in this field
  • We give: Golden Cards – 6 days in a year just for learning purposes; hackathons – 2-3 days long intensive events where a clearly defined problem can be solved in any way; IDEAapp_ – an internal event where people build a solution of their choice (read more here)
  • To help people up-skill we also allow them to work on internal projects where a technology or skill of their interest is needed
  • Sometimes it’s impossible to have your cake and eat it too. From time to time we have projects that require us to involve people interested in working on something else. To make sure they are still motivated, we agree on short-term contracts – they give us 2-3 months of their time, and then they can move to a project they wish to work on

When roles change often, look for gaps and let people migrate

Usually, a team working on a fully matured client project consists of:

  • 2-6 developers
  • 1-3 testers
  • 1 technical architect
  • 1 business analyst
  • UX specialist, and UI developer
  • project manager

In Incubator, we often have small, incomplete teams (e.g. 2 developers and a business analyst). Sometimes circumstances require a developer to also play a role of a project manager, or a business analyst. We leverage this in two ways:

  • This helps our people to gain a wider understanding of a project’s lifecycle. When they move on, they communicate better with different roles and can fill in gaps in a project.
  • Our clients can decide whether they want to invest further in a project if new roles are crucial for success.

When tasks change often, use knowledge about your people to find best fits

You have a lot of different projects consisting of a multitude of unique tasks, and a lot of talented people with unique preferences. How do you find a best-fit? We do it like this:

  • We have a global skills matrix, where each technology/tool/skill has people assigned to it with an expertise level indication. This helps us to plan which people should work on which projects
  • Based on 1 to 1 meetings with leaders, we have a more personal knowledge about strengths and preferences of each employee
  • Gallup’s Strengths Finder allows us to create well-rounded teams
  • A mentoring program helps people performing new tasks to quickly find a solid ground
  • Extended induction – each new employee has 40 hours of company-wide and tribe-specific induction planned for the first 3 months of their work

To sum up, win-win for all

The tools mentioned above allow us to comprehensively take care of our client’s interest and our people’s motivation. Additionally, every employee can reach out to a Guild Master, a Team Leader, or an HR Business Partner for support. Using wide knowledge about our people, we can create high-performing teams, and ensure an environment for self-development.

If you would like to know what kind of work this allows us to do, visit our website.

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