Initial situation – an agile team in consulting

The case study illustrates a “networked and agile team”. A workshop with the responsible team leader was conducted for the creation.

The team provides consulting services for an automobile manufacturer and consists of 5 employees. Due to permanently changing projects and a high dynamic in customer wishes, the team leader decided to position the team more agilely and to network the employees more closely. The team itself is very heterogeneous. This means that it consists of different experts, who are distinguished by different disciplines and interests. The main task was to link the interests of the team with those of the customer and to ensure a high level of customer satisfaction.

The case study is divided into 5 sections, which have been examined with the team leader. These can be found in the following figure. The sections represent in the abstract the sub-areas and influencing factors on the team.

agile team
Figure 1: Structure of the case study. Appendix to these criteria is described the agile and networked team

Recruiting employees

An important point of the team is the staff. To this end, the recruiting of the team was examined in more detail. The team leader notes that almost all employees have been hired exclusively through recommendations or special events. The classic recruitment or job advertisement applications did not appeal to the right target group of applicants.

An important recruitment criterion was the minimum set of the applicant as well as the “team fit”. This was established through a conversation with the team leader. Each candidate should bring a “USP” to the team and fit into the team’s frame. Also in this conversation, it was precisely determined whether the potential projects of the client could fit the current interests of the applicant.

Leadership of the team

According to the team leader, the leadership of the team is characterized by a positive human image. This means that leadership helps the employee achieve goals. For this, a manager must show humility and not seek to profile himself. According to the team leader, managers must not be “envious” of their own employees, but act as “enablers”. Achieving this self-realization, however, is not an easy process and is only achieved after three phases. Not all goals of the employee can be achieved, as this must always be done in accordance with the customer’s processes and framework conditions.

agile teams
Guided tour to Appelo (embedded in Flickr)

In the first phase (Directing) there are often new employees or consultants who dive into new departments or subject areas of the customer. At this stage, the responsibility of the manager is to adapt the employee to the environment. This means understanding the customer and his habit and knowing the framework conditions of the team. The team leader speaks of the “socialization” of the employee to the customer and the team.

Phase 2 (Protecting) often does not change direct behavior. However, the motivation of control changes. The employee’s work is reviewed by other team members before handing over to the customer, but with the motivation to protect the employee and the team. Through an open error culture, the employee learns from his team members what they can improve in the future to meet customer requirements. The team leader is sure that every employee acts to the best of his knowledge, but that he cannot know all the formalities of the customer at the beginning of a project assignment. For this reason, an executive must protect the employee from complaints of this kind through this type of quality assurance. However, at this stage, the checks are only carried out on a random basis.

Phase 3 (Developing) significantly changes the management behaviour. The employee now performs self-organized tasks and knows the customer’s requirements. Based on his knowledge, he can now define realistic goals, which he can name the manager. The task now is to help the employee achieve these goals.

Culture of the team

“In order to achieve the networked and agile team, an appreciative culture is necessary,” says the team leader. She also cited openness, respect and the values of scrum. The team’s ultimate goal, which is to network the team and swap tasks among themselves, also means “leaving the comfort zone” because you always learn something new from each other. A “culture of failure” was also allowed. However, this was not lived in front of the customer, but tried out in internal projects. Employees should also change roles in the team. For example, some projects required classic implementers and others required the designer and consultant. In summary, the team leader noted that the projects and requirements of the customer are often fixed and especially the classic implementers are required and new topics as well as future topics require the role of a designer.

Customers of the team

“Working with the customer and their satisfaction is at the heart of the team and is its purpose,” says the team leader. In consulting, there is often also a human connection between client and consultant. Unlike a product where the customer can complain to IT support, the team leader notes that if they are dissatisfied with the consultant, they are often simply no longer assigned.

Thus, direct feedback in the cooperation with a consultant is often difficult to obtain, because there is a lack of neutrality. The team leader therefore recommends proactively to obtain feedback on the projects from the customer and to pass it on to the consultants in regular feedback loops and, in critical cases, to work together as a mediator with the customer to create solution scenarios for future collaboration.

Partner of the team

Partners are also required to meet the customer’s requirements. This, too, has required a high degree of agility. The same selection process is chosen as for new employees. Existing contacts are often used to better assess these. If there is no contact with a particular topic, the team leader uses portals such as Kununu to find out the employee satisfaction of the partner and also tries to get to know the service provider better through targeted questions in conversation in order to find out whether the same value system is being pursued.

Summary

The case study shows a networked and agile team in a consulting environment. To increase customer satisfaction, the team leader of the team took an agile approach.

This approach required a new way of recruiting through networks and employee recommendations that suited the team. The important point was that applicants could bring a “USP” to the team and the goals were compatible with those of the customer. In order to integrate these employees, a three-stage management culture was necessary, which first “socialized”, protects the employee and ultimately leads to self-organization. The culture of the team was characterized by respect, openness and the values of Scrum. The purpose of the team is customer satisfaction, which is constantly questioned by “proactive” feedback loops with customers. The same requirements apply in the selection of partners as in the recruitment of employees.

Overall, this example shows an approach to such a networked and agile team. The following theories arise:

  1. An agile team has employees with the same mindset and each employee has an individual focus.
  2. An agile team is ready to leave the comfort zone, to get involved in new topics and to question the existing approach.
  3. Leading an agile team has 3 tasks: Directing, Protecting and Developing.
  4. An agile team also has agile partners and adapts to the customer’s general conditions.

A deeper evaluation of this case study is carried out in the 2nd Roundtable on Agility. Here, this is precisely evaluated with the participants and compared with further examples of agile and networked teams.

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Verwendete Quellen anzeigen

Appelo, J. (2010). Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders. Boston: Addison-Wesley Professional.

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I blog about the impact of digitalization on our working environment. For this purpose, I present content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday work. I am a manager in an SME myself and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the chair of IT Management.

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