Servant Leadership: 10 Characteristics of Successful Agile Teams

August 5, 2021

Have you ever wondered what makes some Agile teams more effective than others? While there is no perfect formula, a team who shares common values and embodies “we” rather than “me” mindset is an essential factor to building a rockstar Agile practice.

At Hylaine, understanding what makes an Agile team great is a topic of conversation we have regularly with our delivery services team and our clients. To help answer this question, we turned to the work of Larry Spears, Servant-Leadership Scholar at Gonzaga University and former CEO of the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership, who identified ten characteristics of a servant-leader. These characteristics translate wholly to the culture and methodologies of working with an Agile development team.

Here is a summary of those ten characteristics that we believe teammates embody in successful Agile teams:

1.   Listening: Having the ability and willingness to listen closely to the people on the team will assist in identifying ways to help one another. Conversely, listening to what’s not being said is important in order eliminate roadblocks. 

2.   Empathy: Building relationships among the scrum team is critical to project success. Empathizing with and hearing people on the team will allow for not only deeper understanding and relationship growth but trust building as well.

3. Healing: Learning to heal is a powerful force for transformation and integration. Agile teams are comprised of people from all walks of life who have had various experiences.  Servant leaders recognize that they have an opportunity to “help make whole” those who they come in contact with.

4. Awareness: General awareness, and especially self-awareness, strengthens the servant leader. Awareness aids one in understanding issues involving ethics and values. It lends itself to being able to view most situations from a more integrated, holistic position.  

5. Persuasion: Servant leaders primarily rely on persuasion, rather than using one’s positional authority, in making decisions within an organization. The servant leader seeks to convince others, rather than coerce compliance.

6. Conceptualization: Servant leaders seek to nurture their abilities to “dream great dreams.” The ability to look at a problem or organization from a conceptualizing perspective means that one must think beyond day-to-day realities. Where a traditional manager is focused on short-term operational goals, the servant leader must stretch their thinking to encompass a broader based conceptual thinking.  

7. Foresight: Agile teams seek to gain foresight with each sprint retrospective. By reviewing the team's work processes, progress, opportunities, and dynamics the team can continuously adapt and immediately apply lessons to improve the next iteration of development. 

8. Stewardship: A servant leader culture helps to identify the team's needs. Stewardship is about trust. Team members trust one another to notice the needs of individual team members and the project at large.

9. Commitment to the Growth of People: Servant leaders believe that people have intrinsic value beyond their tangible contributions as workers. As such, the servant leader is deeply committed to the growth of each individual within their organization  

10. Building Community: Servant leaders are bridge builders. Servant leadership suggests that true community can be created among those who work together. A sense of community allows for a tighter-knit and more resilient team.

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