3 Tips to Increase Collaboration and Cross-Training in Agile Teams

agile teamwork

Communication is at the cornerstone of agile methods’ success.   Teams communicate regularly in daily stand ups, work together on planning, and come together for demos.    However, this does not always lead to the level of knowledge sharing and cross-functional training that would be desired.   Sometimes teams are talking about projects, but working individually.   That is, a 5 person team will be working simultaneously on 5 areas, which just so happen to align with their areas of expertise.   When this happens, here are three tips to increase collaboration and ensure that team members step outside their comfort zones.

1.  Limit the number of focus areas for the team.    Ask the team to only work on x number of tasks, where x is fewer than the normal areas of expertise of the team.  The five person team from above could agree to only work on two areas of focus at a time.  That way team members must work together to accomplish tasks.

2.  Try Pair Programming.   Pair programming can be a power technique when used in conjunction with agile software development.   Encourage team members to pair up with those who have different technical backgrounds and work together on areas that are new to at least half of the pair.

3.    Emphasize that the performance team will not be judged while learning new areas.  Sometimes developers feel self conscious if they are taking the time to learn a new task.  Their velocity will likely decrease, bringing down the team velocity.  Over time. however, as tasks can be handled by more members of the team, the velocity will increase again (see the typical velocity pattern in the chart below).   Make sure as a manager/scrum master/PO that your team knows that a) you know this, and b) you are ok with the change.

agile cross training


Using these three techniques will help teams increase collaboration, encourage team members to learn new technical areas, and will build upon the strengths of each team agile team member.

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