Inclusify Agile Teams to Boost Performance, Innovation and Engagement

Inclusify Agile Teams to Boost Performance, Innovation and Engagement

There’s no foolproof formula for putting together an efficient, effective team. An individual can have the academics, background and aptitude for a position, but that’s no guarantee they’ll be a good fit. Yet, differing perspectives can go a long way toward cohesion.

One strategy to reduce bias and introduce creativity is the “inclusify” concept, introduced by Dr. Stefanie K. Johnson in her book, Inclusify: The Power of Uniqueness and Belonging to Build Innovative Teams. Inclusify means to live and lead in a way that celebrates unique and dissenting perspectives. At the same time, the concept creates a collaborative and open-minded working environment where team members feel they truly belong.

For Agile software development teams, inclusify means seeing, listening and responding respectfully to all team members. This creates a highly engaged, fully empowered, exceptionally innovative, and productive work team.

Agile principles encourage self-governing teams of diverse people who work together seamlessly. Inclusify goes a step further, beyond diversifying team members. Rather, inclusifying capitalizes on all team members' unique experiences and perspectives to increase innovation and productivity. As Johnson writes, “Unlike diversifying or including, inclusifying implies a continuous, sustained effort toward helping diverse teams feel engaged, empowered, accepted, and valued.“

Let’s cover how Agile development teams can benefit from the inclusify concept to generate innovation, improve productivity, boost efficiency, and become a team where all members feel respected and valued.

Get started with inclusify

How do you develop inclusified Agile teams? How do you deal with everyone’s opinions of the work, each other, and the company?

Start by discussing the difference between the diversity programs you have in place, and true inclusion. For example, discuss unconscious bias within the team — it’s there, everyone knows it is. Discuss this topic in a manner where team members can safely determine where their personal unconscious bias exists. Keep in mind that unconscious bias is not intentional discrimination; it’s literally something you think and act on without realizing it.

Everyone has unconscious bias — it’s part of human nature and a survival mechanism, especially in the workplace. For example, consider the typical perceptions in a software development team, including that most developers are male, QA testers are less technical than developers, and Scrum Masters know nothing about development.

Work first to discuss, then:

  • admit bias exists

  • block bias in business processes

  • count bias when it occurs.

First, admit unconscious bias exists because your employees are human.

Block unconscious bias by creating processes that attempt to eliminate team members acting on bias. For example, when hiring or selecting team members, anonymize their skills by removing names, gender, and other identifying features. Assemble the team or hire the person who matches the skills desired without any interfering bias.

Count bias by using data to analyze where in your team dynamics or business processes systemic bias exists. Does your organization pay equally for each job title, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, or race of the person performing the work? Are all team members equally considered for promotions or special team projects? Do teams exist as clusters of the same types of people with similar backgrounds and experiences?

To inclusify, embrace different perspectives, opinions, and backgrounds. Get input on team decisions and make it aggressively transparent — don’t just send a generic memo or email. Make team members look at the solution, read the solution over again, and acknowledge it. Team members lose trust when decisions are hidden, especially regarding hiring, pay, and promotions.

Transparency in decision-making builds trust, as team members come to understand how business decisions are made, and why. The more transparent and open the business processes become, the more trust grows.

Improve team innovation

It’s not easy to develop a successful Agile team, which often consists of developers, QA testers, product managers, and Scrum Masters. It’s easier to create teams that are homogenous, where the team tends to agree on the approach to design, coding, and functionality. The problem is, these types of teams lean toward the same answer, meaning less innovation occurs.

When a team is more diverse, it tends not to always agree, and a greater amount of discussion ensues. Granted, it can take more time to hammer out details, but new, fresh ideas can emerge. According to Johnson, diverse and inclusive groups are 147% more innovative, because team members don’t necessarily blend culturally, geographically, or by race or gender. Inclusifying teams brings about unique ideas and strategies.

For example, a football team made up of all quarterbacks would never win.. Most QBs are believed to be team leaders, thinkers, and rulers — and the sport heavily prioritizes and protects that position. Yet, a winning football team needs diverse player roles, experiences, and abilities.

Similarly, in a software development team, a team of only developers fails — no matter how specialized their skills, or how much these professionals are valued. Software development teams need the skills of software testers, product managers, and Scrum Masters. It’s the shared experiences and abilities that create a successful team.

Stress empathy for differing life paths and experiences on the team. Listen — truly listen, and actively consider differing opinions. Create open and respectful communication to increase process transparency and build trust.

Many Agile teams create a set of behavioral operating rules similar to this concept, including:

  • Don’t interrupt a person who is talking.

  • Contribute new ideas freely without fear of humiliation.

  • Learn and teach.

  • Lift team members up, don’t carry them. Support is not the same as carrying.

  • Define the exact steps to perform if inappropriate behavior occurs.

  • Distribute equity across the team regardless of role.

  • Use the round table approach to empower all team members.

Increase engagement, productivity and efficiency

Employee engagement is a critical, but tricky team management concern. Engaged employees perform better and are more productive because they bond to the team and the workplace. But how do team members become or stay engaged for peak productivity?

It’s simple: engaged team members can be themselves within the team, and they trust the business.

Most employees have an individual personality, a social personality, and a work personality — that’s three people in one. As humans we give up parts of ourselves to be included in a group. Imagine being unable to be yourself at work, or pretending to be someone you’re not to fit in. Splitting your personality to succeed creates tension, stress, and anxiety — and it does nothing to build trust or engagement. Notice and celebrate the uniqueness of each team member. Don’t pretend or ignore differences. Acknowledge differences to build trust, which grows into employee engagement.

Here’s a simplified example that occurs in software development teams. QA testers or associate-level developers often feel invisible because their job roles are diminished. It’s dehumanizing to be ignored or, worse, talked down to. Dehumanizing behaviors include being talked over during meetings or not being invited to team discussions. Sometimes, team members will be invited and get the chance to speak, but their ideas are dismissed without consideration.

When a team practices inclusifying, team members feel valued. These individuals are more likely to become and stay engaged in the team and the business.

Focus on training, hiring and QA

Moving toward inclusifying is the key to innovation, growth, and continued business success, according to Johnson.

Focus employee training and hiring on creating teams with diverse types of individuals using multiple factors. Hire based on skill set, not the gender or ethnicity a name on a resume implies or the college attended. What are the precise skill sets you’re looking for? Consider adding assessment tests to fairly gauge potential employees’ skills. Focus on the skills rather than the person to build diverse teams.

Do you have specific roles that are less diverse or might benefit from a wider view of the world? Perhaps the QA testing team needs more diversity or fresh eyes added to find hidden defects in the product.

Supplementing your team by inclusifying with Applause, which boasts the world’s largest community of digital experts. Applause testers come from everywhere around the globe, and they offer an endless variety of experiences and cultural differences — not to mention a vast array of devices, networks and payment instruments. Inclusify your QA team to build its skills, experience, and abilities, and learn from each other.

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Amy Reichert
Amy Reichert
QA SME for Devmountain
Reading time: 8 min

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