The Softer Side of Agile

Far too often when issues arise within our teams, we default to blaming the current methodology or tools we are using and propose a new process or tool to use instead. Many times, after another process or tool change, our teams are still dealing with the same issues. This is when, I suggest, that we all take a step back and ask ourselves “why” (_I recommend using the 5 Whys - Root Cause Analysis_). More often than not, these issues are less about process and tools and usually related to communication, empathy, feedback, or motivation issues within the team; things that are referred to as “Soft Skills.”

What is a “soft skill?” Soft skills are personality traits and behaviors, such as teamwork, leadership, collaboration, communication, and creativity. Unlike technical skills or β€œhard skills,” soft skills are not about the knowledge you possess but rather the behaviors you display in different situations. Research conducted by Harvard University found that 85% of job success comes from having well-developed soft skills and people skills, and only 15% of job success from technical skills and knowledge. In addition to this, as our companies become more dynamic, interconnected, automated, and flexible we naturally assume that technical skills will be in the highest demand. But, as revealed in a recent report from the World Economic Forum (WEF) the more digital we become the greater the demand surges for social and emotional abilities, such as adaptability, creative thinking, persuasion, relationship mastery, the ability to deal with complexity, and time management. Though someone might possess excellent technical, job-specific skills, if they can’t manage their time or work within a team, it is unlikely that they will excel in their position.

So, what can we be doing, both on an individual level as well as on a team level, to improve our soft skills on a daily basis? Below I have three very simple and straightforward ways we can continue to work on improving our softskills both at work and at home each and every day.

Ask Fun Questions!

Take the time to ask your co-workers and team members fun questions about themselves. What are their favorite hobbies, tv shows, favorite cereal when they were younger, or even their favorite Christmas song (can’t go wrong with “All I want for Christmas” from Mariah Carey!). If you really want to get crazy, ask each of your coworkers what animal they think represents them most, and why they think that. For example, my entire family has always referred to be as a hummingbird: energetic & enthusiastic, always on the move, but also quiet and reserved at times. What animal are you?! Though these questions may seem simple and goofy they oftentimes lead to larger conversations, and even some laughs! Which in turn, improves communication, trust, and empathy. So instead of trying to catch up on other work, or scrolling through social media while you wait for the meeting to start, ask your coworkers what they are up to for the weekend!

Learn and Discuss your Strengths

If someone asked you to define your strengths, what would your answer be? Strengths are inherent potentials that influence our thoughts, emotions, and actions. They define who we are and determine our uniqueness and research has found that individuals who can identify their strengths and use them in their daily lives are happier and more content. Here are some easy ways we can identify our strengths:

Ask yourself questions such as: - What am I good at? - What have others complimented me about? - What have others had to help me with on more than one occasion? - Which projects have I spent hours on without getting tired? - What are my hobbies, and why do I like doing them?

Interestingly enough, perhaps others know you better than you know yourself. So ask! - Ask trusted friends and/or coworkers to name three of your strengths. - Look to collate feedback and look for common patterns and themes. Don’t stop at one source. - Compare and combine these with the strengths you have identified for yourself to come up with your list of strengths.

In addition to these simple ways of identify your strengths, there are many great assessments available, such as emotional intelligence assessment, strengths finder assessment, and Insights Discovery. I recently took the Redbull Wingfinder assesment and really enjoyed it. They even have you answer questions as if you are the team manager of an olympic ski team! There are also a ton of great books out there to help you hone your skills and acquire new ones. To find out more, check out this list of books.

Once you have identified your strengths, take the time to discuss your strengths with your team and how they apply to your current role on a regular basis. Doing so can help with collaboration, team work and performance for yourself and for your team.

Listen, Listen, Listen

Put your phones down, turn off your social media and listen to your coworkers! Listening is more than just listening with our ears. Research by Prof. Albert Mehrabian of the University of California in Los Angeles shows that more than half of communications’ impact is nonverbal! Meaning, if you are looking at your phone or another screen on your computer during a meeting you are missing out on those cues and opportunities to make an outcome of the meeting go from pointless to successful.

And though we may think we are good listeners, many of us have room to improve our listening skills and are guilty of the common mistakes we make when listening. This article outlines a few examples of how you can improve your listening skills.

By making improvements to our listening skills as individuals and as a team, we can improve efficiency within our meetings, improve the content of our feedback and increase team morale (because it feels good to know others are listening to you!!).

So as you continue to grow in your career and hone your technical skills remember the importance of also improving your soft skills and the simple things you can do to help make these improvements every day!

Kendra Gapinski Lymburn

SPS Technology @spstech