Lean into the Discomfort: Two Perspectives on Agile Teams

It’s always interesting how individuals respond to the introduction of new ways of working. In the case of adopting Agile, it can really challenge ingrained approaches, and often brings a new sense of perspective, new skills and revived purpose. Here are a couple of viewpoints from transformation work we have recently been involved in.

Karen Christoforou, Change Lead, World-Changing Glasgow Transformation

“I’ve always been immensely proud to be a University of Glasgow employee and joining a new team, challenged with shaping the future of the University, was a life-changing opportunity I leapt at. This would challenge every piece of self-doubt I had kept hidden but also had the promise to unlock all the potential I thought I had. Was I brave enough to re-invent myself?

Attributes I brought included heaps of enthusiasm and the ability to throw myself into everything asked of me. Nevertheless, for all the enthusiasm I had, I also struggled with layers of self-doubt and imposter syndrome. Could I stand up in front of a large audience and maintain a presence? Or independently run a series of workshops? Not to mention the challenge of creating and developing a Change Network – the first of its kind at the University. Argh! Scary stuff!

It turns out, after two years, that YES, I can do all these things and I now truly believe it. Within our supportive and innovative team, the message has always been, “it’s ok to get things wrong and next time we’ll do it better”.

I’ve learned so many new skills. Overcoming my phobia of public speaking and attaining professional accreditations whilst thriving as part of an Agile team. I realise there is a long (exciting) road still to travel but I’ve got this far, and if I can do it, then so can anyone. I’m a naturally positive person and believe if you give people an opportunity to shine, they will repay ten-fold through energy, creativity and productivity.

If like me, you may have those moments of doubt, some things I like to remind myself:

  • Give yourself the ten second rule – if you’ve been asked to do something new, take a deep breath and believe in yourself. You can do it!
  • Don’t be shy to speak up - whether you’re in a meeting room or on a Zoom call! Your voice is as important as anyone else and you might have the most valid point out of all the ‘experts’ there.
  • Meet your fears head on! Don’t shy away from that one thing that holds you back when faced with change.
  • Challenge yourself to learn from everyone! We all have capacity to learn something new and it’s not always found in the most obvious of places.

And if all else fails, ask yourself…what’s the worst that can happen?”

Julie Arbuthnott, Change Lead, World-Changing Glasgow Transformation and AAB Consulting.

“It’s trepidatious – meeting a team for the first time. Knowing you are the one to bring the motley crew together and make something amazing. And, as Forest says, “Life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get”.

Many operating frameworks and entrenched business models have an emotionally abstract way of referring to employees. They are FTEs (full-time equivalents), resources, capabilities. Boiled down to a single descriptor for its handy referential purpose.

But as Agile team members they are human. Humans with subtleties of character, varieties of homelife, lived experiences. Traditional organisational hierarchies and ways of working use the glue of silo descriptors or departmental habit and lore to push out performance and compliance.

Agile says this isn’t good enough. Agile asks where is the value? Agile challenges this approach with devolved decision-making,

Before I became engaged with agile-driven transformation, I spent 20-odd years in marketing and communications, with a background in Psychology. My approach has always been to put people first.

There’s no magic wand that will create a high performing team.

But when it happens, the team sings and swings like a beautiful orchestral piece, instruments of all types and quirks operating synchronously, harmoniously with no awkward breaks or stutters. A strong rhythm underpins their pace. Joy is shared, hurdles are overcome, output is celebrated.

To finish off with another movie analogy, like the characters in the Breakfast Club, you all get there together. Even if individually you are a brain, an athlete, a princess or even… a criminal!”

Julie  Arbuthnott profile photo

Julie Arbuthnott

Principal Consultant and Service Design Specialist

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