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Adopt the 4 foundations of Agile collaboration

Foster a positive team environment and culture to accomplish the collaboration goals of Agile. Here's how to synchronize teams and boost efficiency, as well as tools that help.

Collaboration might be the most important factor in the success or failure of an Agile team. The Agile Manifesto espouses only four values, two of which pertain to collaboration.

The first value, "Individuals and interactions over processes and tools," emphasizes communication and collaboration as foundations of the process. The third value, "Customer collaboration over contract negotiation," stresses that an application should meet user needs by the end of the development process. Yet, even though it carries a lot of weight in Agile, collaboration is difficult to get right.

Let's delve into how to collaborate within Agile teams to get developers, testers, stakeholders and customers synchronized. IT organizations must first embrace these four tenets of Agile collaboration.

1. Share key information

Shared understanding is critical to collaboration in Agile. All team members must understand their responsibility to provide relevant information and data for the rest of the team. Store all relevant information, such as the backlog, epics, user stories, defects and test results, in one tool or integrated tools, and give all team members access to it.

Collaboration tools like Atlassian Confluence and Jira, Asana and Trello (an Atlassian subsidiary) help foster transparency. Testers aren't left out of the sharing -- they can use tools such as QMetry, TestRail and qTest, which integrate with Jira for cross-team collaboration.

2. Open lines of communication

Effective communication goes beyond including the entire team in Agile discussions and documenting notes in collaboration tools; it means that you get to know team members as individuals and understand their perspectives.

Take time to play games together, have team lunches and organize friendly competitions to facilitate camaraderie. Help team members become comfortable with each other. Sociability among team members encourages each person to express their ideas and opinions, even if it leads to disagreement.

Communication tools such as Slack, Microsoft Skype and Teams, and Trello can help connect workers and encourage collaboration in Agile, especially among distributed teams.

3. Agree to disagree

A team that is always in agreement does not necessarily communicate well. On the contrary, when team members agree with little discussion and no challenge, they might exhibit the effects of groupthink. Groupthink is the tendency of people working together to minimize conflict and reach consensus without fully analyzing all aspects of their ideas. Agile teams are especially susceptible to groupthink, as some tenets like self-organization and physical insulation can be a double-edged sword -- both helpful and isolating.

To prevent groupthink, team members should regard disagreement as a means to collaborate and innovate -- not a roadblock to it.

4. Foster psychological safety

Psychological safety, a term coined by Harvard Business School professor of leadership and management Amy Edmondson, is the feeling of freedom team members have to be vulnerable in front of their colleagues and take risks. In a study, she found that the most effective teams spend more time discussing and learning from their mistakes. More importantly, they create an environment in which all team members feel comfortable and confident enough to actively and honestly participate in these discussions. Google also did a study of its own team effectiveness; it found that psychological safety was the defining factor in team effectiveness.

Leadership must lead the charge to create an environment of psychological safety. Senior executives should lead by example, admit to their own mistakes and foster opportunities to learn. Encourage team members to ask difficult questions when necessary and reward them for it.

As much as a group's leadership forges an environment of psychological safety, it is incumbent upon the individual team members to promote such a culture as well. Be open with each other to build trust and develop relationships.

The relationships among these four Agile collaboration tenets is strong, and they are critical puzzle pieces in the push toward team effectiveness.

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