Agile teams thrive on their ability to adapt to change and foster innovation. While technical skills are crucial, the success of Agile teams heavily relies on the mastery of soft skills. These interpersonal and communication abilities enable teams to function cohesively, communicate effectively, and deliver exceptional results.
In this article, we will explore the significance of soft skills for Agile teams and provide insights into how teams can develop and apply these skills to enhance their overall performance.
What is the difference between hard skills and soft skills?
Compared to hard skills, soft skills refer to a set of personal qualities, attributes, and interpersonal abilities that enable effective communication, collaboration, and interaction with others. These skills are more difficult to measure and quantify, as they involve emotional intelligence, social skills, and behavioral traits. Soft skills are essential for building positive relationships, teamwork, and personal growth.
The key soft skills for teams
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another and is probably the most important set of soft skill of agile teams.
Empathy is required for effective collaboration within the team and outside the team. Teams have often divergent opinions and needs and sometimes these gaps leads to emotional conflicts. Feeling the frustrations of other team members is crucial for effective conflict resolution, because it enables the team members to respond appropriately in a emotional situation.
Following the agile principle of close customer collaboration, team members need to put themselves in the customer’s shoes to better understand their needs, preferences and pain points. In an agile team, everyone needs to have empathy for the customer, not just the product owner, as the team members participate in the requirement analysis and get direct feedback.
Empathy is a cognitive capability which is expressed and be trained with following behaviors:
- Putting aside own viewpoint
- Listening attentively
- Validating the other person’s perspective
- Asking other person’s viewpoint
As team members work collaboratively to solve complex problems, they must maintain clear and open communication to ensure everyone is on the same page.
Effective social skills, such as active listening, nonverbal communication interpretation, and concise expression reduce the risk of misunderstandings and miscommunication.
An open and honest communication is required, even when the information being conveyed might be difficult, uncomfortable, or unpopular. This skill goes beyond just telling the truth; it involves expressing thoughts, feedback, and opinions in a respectful and straightforward manner, regardless of the circumstances.
Agile teams must be ready to embrace change and adapt to evolving requirements. Soft skills like flexibility and resilience empower team members to navigate shifts in project scope, priorities, and goals.
Being flexible means also being able to give up ideas, concepts that one has invested in and defended. The ego may in that case an obstacle for change, therefore both self-acceptance and selflessness are key to be open to change.
The quality of open-mindedness is required to adopt new ideas which may be contradictory to his own opinions und beliefs.
Adaptability is also related to a positive attitude, as the team must be able to consider failures and problems as a potential for improvement.
Accountability is a fundamental concept in personal development and well-being. Individuals who take ownership of their choices and actions are often better equipped to set and achieve goals, manage stress, and cultivate healthy relationships.
Agile teams operate self-organized, requiring team members to take on accountability not only for their actions, but also the actions of the team. Each team member is partly accountable for the team outcomes and assumes part of its responsibility.
In psychology, accountability starts with the acknowledgment: Recognizing and acknowledging that one’s actions or decisions have had an impact, whether intended or unintended. Three studies demonstrated that affirming a positive aspect of the self can increase one’s willingness to acknowledge in-group responsibility for wrongdoing against others.
Creativity refers to the ability to generate novel and imaginative ideas, approaches, and solutions to problems. Agile teams must be creative to to solve complex problems with smart and innovative solutions.
Team members must be able to visualize possibilities beyond the present circumstances and envision new realities or future perfect. This is required in particular in the agile retrospectives, where teams have to brainstorm solutions for improvement.
How to develop soft skills in a team
Soft skills are developed naturally through experience at work or in the private life. Individual coaching may help individuals to define personal goals and associated challenges to develop these skills.
We propose here a list of effective and funny team workouts to improve soft skills.
Positive feedback shower
As seen previously, self-esteem is essential is the foundation for accountability and adaptability.
Sharing regularly positive feedback between team members is very important for the well being in team.
The positive feedback shower is a team workout where each team member receives one after the other positive feedback from his colleagues. It is a great experience that will accelerate the development of soft skills.
“Back-to-Back Drawing” is a communication and teamwork activity where two participants sit back-to-back. One person has a picture, and the other has a blank paper and a pen. The person with the picture describes it without revealing what it is, while the other person listens and tries to draw based on the description. The activity emphasizes clear communication, active listening, and collaboration to achieve an accurate representation. Afterward, the drawings are compared to highlight the importance of effective communication and understanding.
An empathy map is a visual tool used to understand and analyze the thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and experiences of a specific target audience or user. It is often employed in design thinking, marketing, and user experience (UX) design processes to gain deeper insights into the needs and perspectives of individuals.
An empathy map typically consists of four quadrants, each focusing on a different aspect of the user’s experience: What the user says, thinks, do or feel.
To train empathy within your team members you can propose you team fill empathy maps for the customer and for each team member.
In a typical active listening workshop participants are given some typical blames expressed during conflicts, and a team member must acknowledge the expressed emotions, paraphrase what has been said and guess the needs of the person behind the statement. You can prepare in advance a collection of cards containing statements and ask them to pick randomly one card. This is a great exercise to be done before a retro or a conflict resolution workshop.
Conflict resolution simulation
This is a group activity that highlights the dynamics of cooperation and competition within a team. It is often used to illustrate the concept of the “prisoner’s dilemma.”
In the game “Win As Much As You Can”, participants are divided into pairs and given the option to either cooperate or compete with their partner to earn points. The goal is to accumulate as many points as possible. Participants must decide whether to work together for the greater good (cooperation) or pursue individual gain (competition).
Through multiple rounds of decision-making and point accumulation, participants experience the tension between individual and collective interests. The game fosters discussions about trust, communication, and the benefits of collaboration versus the risks of selfishness.
“Win As Much As You Can” is a simple yet effective way to explore the dynamics of conflict resolution, negotiation, and decision-making within a structured and controlled setting.
Health Checks for agile teams contain agile excellence criteria including soft skills for agile teams. Each soft skills can be associated with a list of behaviors that can be observed within the team.
Teammeter provides an easy way to perform an health check survey to assess theses behaviors and do a retrospective based on it. The team get an overview of their improvement potential and concrete measure recommendations to improve their soft skills.
Key takeaways about soft skills
While technical expertise is essential for agile teams to execute their tasks, soft skills serve as the cornerstone for fostering collaboration and facilitating ongoing improvement within the team. These skills are intrinsic to individuals and can be honed through various methods throughout one’s professional journey.
Self-acceptance and emotional intelligence are the foundation for these soft skills, giving the psychological security to communicate honestly and be open to change.
The Agile way of working acts as a catalyst for nurturing soft skills, given the heightened need for intensive teamwork. Learning to be more agile not only enhances collaboration but also triggers a journey of self-discovery and personal growth.
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