Are Agile Teams Happier Than Traditional Teams?


Are Agile Teams Happier Than Traditional Teams?


I’ve had a big interest in positive psychology in the last few years, subscribing to a lot of newsletters and blogs that are centered on happiness-related topics. I even started my own blog about workplace happiness and I’m always pleased when I see articles about happiness being passed around in agile forums.

For example, I first read the article, “Positive Teams Are More Productive,” because it was shared on a LinkedIn Agile Coaching Group Discussion.

While I don’t think working in an agile environment is a guarantee of workplace happiness, there are certain ideas and leadership practices known to improve workplace happiness that are encouraged in agile teachings.

The Growth Mindset

I asked Michele Sliger, a well-respected agile coach who was speaking at the Boulder-area agile user group meeting if she felt agile and positive psychology were related. Her answer was that agile promotes more of a “growth mindset” versus a command and control type of environment, which would contribute to a happier workplace.

Autonomy

In Daniel Pink’s book, “Drive,” he lists autonomy, purpose and mastery as three primary intrinsic motivators for employees. With agile’s emphasis on servant-leadership and self-organizing teams, employees typically have much more autonomy than they get in traditional hierarchical organizations. Agile cultures also promote innovation and continuous improvement.

Individuals and Interactions

Perhaps the biggest contributor to happiness in the workplace has to do with our relationships with the people we work with. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools is a value statement in the Agile Manifesto, and if there is a strong culture of respect, kindness and caring in the workplace, people tend to be happier.

Sustainable Pace

One of the 12 principles of agile is: “Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.” Basically, this means that people should not be expected to work long hours, but rather that a healthy work-life balance will ultimately result in a happier, more productive employee.

According to the post, “What is Sustainable Pace?,” working too much is a regret many have at life’s end.

Sustainable Pace is not about taking it easy and going slow. It's just the opposite, you should expend energy vigorously, and regain strength by resting. In the long run, make sure you invest your energy wisely, and set your priorities taking into account the findings of happiness research.

My personal experience is that I’ve been both happy and unhappy on both traditional and agile teams. If I think back about the times when I’ve been unhappy at work, it’s because these principles and values were not actually practiced, even when the organization was using an agile methodology.

On the other hand, I’ve also been in traditional environments where I felt very respected by my peers and management and was given the autonomy I needed to feel happy.

Happiness is difficult to measure and even if we could measure it, it probably wouldn’t be that useful to conclude whether or not agile teams were happier than traditional teams.

The question really is: Are you and your team happy? If not, what can you do to help bring about positive change?

One thing we can always control is our own mind and attitude. Find the positive and be a change agent in your organization for creating a happier workplace.



 

Yvette Francino has more than 30 years in the software development industry, and is an independent consultant, experienced agile leader, coach, author and trainer in various methodologies including SAFe, Scrum, Kanban and large-scale custom methodologies.

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