What Makes a Responsible Agile Team?

Anna Majowska
3 min readAug 2, 2017


There is a great true story of a ship captain, who realized his team were neither meeting their full capacity nor were as effective for the ship works as they could. Once each of the team was given full responsibility for what they did — their performance took a completely different turn, making the crew happier and more efficient, and making the ship a practical legend. Just one example of how an empowered team can make your organization thrive.
See what are the components of getting this to work right.

Team Empowerment

It’s not enough to hire a great set of people. In order to achieve and really care for the work they do, the team need to feel they have the power to do what is needed, rather than just obey orders, and have the will to do their best. The level of empowerment comes down to a very basic rule: the team feel as much (or little) empowerment as you assume for them. In other words — if you treat the team as if they were 10-year-olds they will behave as that. And likewise, if you leave the decision-making and power in their lap, they will have no other choice but to take it.

Trust is necessary to make this work, but this should be more than obvious. What matters here additionally, is leading by example. It’s demotivating for the team to know the boss isn’t showing up for work or/and has a light approach to his responsibilities, while expecting a serious one form them.

Commitment is Time-Saving

Had you ever tried recruitment of any kind, you won’t be surprised to know that it is far more effective to work with the people you’ve already got, educate, train and teach them — than to let them go and start looking for a replacement personnel. Of course, there will be the extreme cases of team members whose firing is an absolute blessing, but this is just statistics. For the most part, you’re better off re-educating and investing in the team, than with training new people.

The Big Picture

Paying attention to the big picture is often the key to understanding lack of responsibility and commitment among the team. Just as no man is an island, no employee is either. One person’s work has got to fit in and be reflected in the way the entire organization works. A single responsible, Agile worker will not make a company Agile, will they? Being able to spot the problems an employee is facing, appreciating what kind of reaction and support may be lacking from the rest of the team, is often the explanation of why the performance is low.

The Company Agility

When looking to find your team as Agile and responsible, it’s good to take an objective look at how the organization works as a whole. Way too often, Agile methods are only used on the surface, for instance in the way people share work and complete tasks — but what about the entire company policies and procedures? If it takes a month to even get to a discussion of an urgent subject, even if 100% of employees successfully use Scrum or Kanban, the company is nowhere near being Agile. The problem and the greatness of Agile together lie in the scalability of it — a scalability that is both recommended and necessary in order for the change planned to make any sense. There is a significant number of people giving the impression that it’s their view, that using Kanban means they are being Agile. The truth is, using Kanban means you’re using Agile methods, but it’s not synonymous with your company being Agile.

Taking these into account, a plan for making your team Agile, motivated and responsible for their actions should be this little bit easier. Best of luck!

This article was originally posted on the Kanban Tool Blog.