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3 tips for keeping high-turnover agile teams energized

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Amy Reichert, QA Engineer, RxMxUSA

Software development businesses experience constant change, whether in management, development direction, or the composition of the team. Agile development professionals are in high demand, and constant staff turnover can be disruptive. So how do you cope with the need for constant change while still supporting and building a strong and productive agile team?

It's not easy. Constant change erodes confidence in the business and the team. Team members may disengage and look at their employment as temporary until they move on to the next job. Business changes, although sometimes necessary, can have a negative impact on an agile team's balance, energy, and effectiveness.

If constant disruption is hurting your agile teams, it's time to consider these effective methods to keep your teams interested and engaged.

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1. Eliminate redundant agile retrospective meetings

Free up team member schedules by greatly reducing or eliminating agile team retrospective meetings. During these meetings, each team member is expected to present two or more good things and two or more bad things that happened during the release period. Then the group discusses how to address any issues and generates a list of solutions, which everyone forgets about until the next meeting. In my experience, rarely is anything on the list a high enough priority for someone to resolve. Instead, the team simply moves on to the next meeting, adding the same issues to the list over and over again. The solution is to reduce the frequency of retrospective meetings, either by agreeing not to meet until the previous meeting's issues have been resolved or by skipping a cycle.

Teams dealing with rapid change and other distractions need to focus on creativity and development to stay engaged. Groups that truly work together as teams don't need retrospectives. They address issues as they arise, and they don't need a formal meeting. So give them a break. Skip a cycle or schedule the retrospective on a bimonthly or even quarterly basis.

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2. Create opportunities, don't assign them

There's nothing more annoying than management teams that are too lazy, lethargic, or lost in their own self interest to create opportunities for their team members. I'm not talking about new positions, promotions, or raises, as businesses undergoing constant change aren't typically in a position to offer those. I'm talking about creating opportunities not by assigning additional work but by asking for volunteers willing take on additional tasks.

Assigning work breeds resentment, feeds perceptions that some get favorable treatment, and doesn't help build your agile team. Ask for volunteers first, and then select from a list so that everyone is given an opportunity. Strong teams are built by sharing opportunities, and team members will remain engaged if given a chance to differentiate themselves.

Resist the temptation to take the easy route by assigning new project work to your favorite team members or to someone you can rely on who proves themselves day after day. Everyone should have the opportunity to take the wheel. You'll be surprised how much more engaged and interested team members will be if you spread that trust and accountability around.

3. Listen by hearing...and observing

Listening involves more than following along with words in a conversation. It's about actively observing a person's reactions, body language, and tone. Listen to what they say—and don't say. Most team members won't tell you exactly what they're thinking, so you'll need to learn how to read people.

The goal is to build trust so you can keep the team productive, interested, and engaged in creating the best possible software. Just because people are busy doesn't mean they aren't bored. Team members may feel disengaged or unchallenged while actively working. Even for your high performers, boredom can creep in if they feel overwhelmed by unrealistic workloads. Engage members by listening carefully, and hear what they actually say or say implicitly.

Simple, honest approaches work well in keeping agile teams focused and effective. You may not always be able to control change, but these back-to-basics techniques will help as you continue to grow your team's confidence and productivity.

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