Team motivation and Agile Coaching

I was born and raised in Samarkand – city in southeastern Uzbekistan – one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Central Asia. Seeking opportunities and freedom, my family left everything behind and moved to New York City in November of 1994, when I was only 13 years old. My younger sister Victoria always looked up to me as her role model – there was no time to go through the tantrums teenagers usually go through at that age. I had to be self-motivated since my parents didn’t have time to provide direction or micro-manage their daughters as they had to build a life from scratch for the family. Not knowing any English when I came to the U.S., I was thrown into the NYC school system to learn to fish on my own. Immigrating to another country was a journey to say the least, yet I was motivated to be self-organized and self-sufficient – and I thank my parents for instilling those qualities in me from an early age. I myself was motivated and learned how to be a mentor to my sister to motivate her to study. I knew then that my successes and achievements of goals in my life journey would only be possible with self-motivation and self-organization. Today, I apply these same values and principles to my teams.

            Starting to work with agile teams and seeing their growth are what inspires me to continuously focus on personal, and teams’ advancement and maturity. Working with leadership to address organizational impediments, protecting a team’s interests and the positive response in their happiness and high customer satisfaction result is why I do what I do every single day!

            I enjoy building new teams and taking them through their agile journey, onboarding them across their siloed disciplines, and then from Sprint to Sprint taking them through their personal journey of self-reflection, inspection and adaptation, towards self-realization that it’s in their best interests as a team to achieve that cross-functional aspect and embrace being a T-shaped team – thus becoming a truly self-organizing team. At first, some team members look towards their direct manager, a previous Tech Lead and/or most senior team member to provide direction towards what would be the best next step or provide them direction. Yet, I encourage the Scrum Masters I coach to leverage some proven techniques to motivate the teams to be their best on their own.

The “magic wand” is a great tool – I give it to individuals and teams to explore what they would do on their own if they had that magic wand and had the power to do anything they want to do as a team putting any organizational issues aside. That’s where the magic happens – when, for example, team members, even the shy ones, leverage that magic wand and I see all the great ideas start flowing from the team as a whole! It is exciting to see that growth within a team member or even the whole team when they have that “aha” moment – that they are in control and they can try something – and it’s OK to fail if that doesn’t work – at least they had a chance to explore it on their own.

I used to love motivating teams, celebrating meeting or exceeding Sprint Goals by taking the Scrum team out for a team lunch after a successful Sprint Review where the ScrumMaster or Product Owner would “raise a toast” highlighting one growth area the team applied that Sprint. That would encourage the positive behavior and motivate the team to try new things. It was also a regular occurrence for several teams to meet and connect on a different level at our local bar on Thursday nights for Happy hour.

As an Agile Coach, I am a regular patron at a local donuts shop as it was easy to fill up the team rooms with free donuts, coffee, and sweets. During the COVID times, it’s not as easy to do that nowadays. There are challenges to stay motivated at times – as teams put in longer hours working from home. We are applying the regular practice of remote happy hours leveraging Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other collaboration platforms to connect teams on a personal level and support them through their personal challenges at home and at work. One team’s Scrum Master tried to deliver lunch to everyone’s home at the same time for a team’s lunch – food always is a great small token of appreciation that goes a long way. It is extremely motivating when leaders acknowledge their teams hard work, attends Sprint Reviews and also sends a quick note of support and acknowledgement of the hard work the team is achieving.

Motivation is directly related to team’s productivity. I am often asked “How do I motivate agile teams and create high performing teams?” My stance is to motivate teams by giving team members control over their work, providing opportunities for challenge and mastery, and aligning their work with a higher purpose:

  • Serve the Team’s Needs – The team may not need much but having the attitude and willingness to serve them sends a strong message. Be observant and look for needs that are not being met for the team and ways that you can meet them. Ask “What can I do to help?”.
  • Trust the Team to do Their Best Work – Positive regard is assuming that individuals are whole, competent, and have the ability to figure things out for themselves. All people are inherently good, and they have all the internal resources required to grow as individuals. Agile Coaches and Scrum Masters need to expect the team can perform at high levels and solve their own problems.
  • It’s not a Sprint, it’s a Journey – Continually Foster the Team to Become a High Performing Team – The managers, leaders, Scrum Masters, and Product Owners should expect high performance from the team and do all in their power to encourage it.

In the end, the inner, self-motivation is the Holy Grail to lead teams at their best. Having that kind of motivation, you can face any challenge leading your teams, grow with them, and inspire to achieve the excellency at work.  My inner motivation helps me to continue to grow towards and catch the best opportunity in everything I do.

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