Team-Performance

the way to more efficieny and a good work culture

Interview with Dr. Katharina Wirtz

Dr. Wirtz, as an experienced project coach and manager, where do you see the criteria that make a project difficult or even fail?

First and foremost, the problem lies in bad communication when a project is unsuccessful - be it at the higher level, in the team or with the customers or the contact persons. Too much need for coordination or lack of clarity about who can make the decisions inhibits the development of a project. But just as obstructive is the belief that all ambiguities must be clarified in advance. On the other hand, if a project is simply managed without defining the objective, nobody knows exactly where the journey is going to. The result: nobody can move. In my experience, it is seldom technology that causes a project to fail, but rather the lack of awareness of the management level for the different realities and communication problems of those involved in the project. Hidden, ego-driven agendas also prevent the success of a project.

SCRUM is the new hype for successful project work. Is the model alone really the solution?

No, SCRUM is just a framework that allows you to move forward step by step without getting lost in endless plans and analyzes. SCRUM regulates communication by keeping the units small and the hierarchies flat. If used properly, SCRUM defines a clear product for each team, with which the teams can work in an agile manner. Unfortunately there are implementations of SCRUM not respecting the underlying spirit and values of the concept. The terminology and the structures were adopted, but the values, self-organization, clear product idea, customer value  was missing. Not every SCRUM project really has the basic agile elements.

What experience have you had in practice with certified SCRUM masters?

I think certification is not needed. Above all, a SCRUM master needs social skills and experience that I cannot achieve with a certification. I myself have had good experiences with SCRUM masters when they wanted to grow with their tasks. A good SCRUM master has the task of making himself superfluous. It is counterproductive when a SCRUM master creates personal dependency. If a SCRUM master becomes a "mother hen", he blocks the team and slows down the success of the project. As a SCRUM master, I have to deal with my fears and my ego very much. It's not about myself, it's about the team.

Where do you see the fundamental keys to the success of a project?

On the one hand, in a tangible product idea that delivers value. Unfortunately, this does not exist in many projects. Too much is being developed that has no clear value. Successful product development therefore includes: an ongoing coordination with the customer to clarify the value and to reassess it. To do this, I need a functioning, self-organized team with flat hierarchies. The ability of the team to learn and innovate are important keys to advance the project.

Where do you see the greatest hurdles in motivating employees to adopt new ways of thinking?

One of the greatest hurdles is an individual's fear of losing their individual advantages and endangering their position. In order to overcome these hurdles, a secure work environment must be provided. An environment in which one can fail and in which the desire for something new is awakened. The fear of individual employees about a new direction is usually very great. It can only work in a team to get these employees to overcome their uncertainty. This also requires an understanding of more conservative thinking and less enthusiasm for innovation. Ultimately, however, this slowdown in the course of the project can also lead to more security and stability.

Does this mean that the role of the manager has to be redefined?

Good managers have always known how to keep their team agile and motivated. There is a lot of discussion whether a team lead is needed in a SCRUM team. I say yes! We always need charismatic leaders who are able to motivate. Let's ask ourselves what makes good leader: He or she needs to be close to the team and be able to assess and understand the team's performance. Only then will she be accepted as a leader. If, as an employee, I recognize that my leader aknowledge and understands what I am doing, I can accept praise, criticism and leader decisions. Some executives like to praise. That's nice and feels good. But it can be counterproductive if the team has the feeling that the leader doesn't really understand what she is talking about. An agile team needs a leader to be able to persistently pursuing their goals and to make the team aware what has been achieved and what is still missing. This is extremely important for a team and for the success of a project. For this role, I need someone with courage and experience, especially in larger structures.

An example: At Payback, I led a self-organized team and went on vacation calmly knowing that nobody would need me. When I got back, my staff were relieved that I was back. Why? Because there was no one who wanted to decide. This authority, which listens, understands and then says, now let's do it, was missing from the team. As a lead, I have to be aware that the solution is usually already in the team, but someone is needed who believes in the team, listens, asks long enough and makes them aware.

How do you demonstrate the value of team performance?

The most important tool is a regular retrospective, which must be well prepared. Where does the team come from and what have they already achieved? It's easy to lose track if you don't keep looking at the answers to these questions.

As a new manager in a team with high turnover and low motivation, I once did an exercise that initially seemed banal. We asked ourselves: What are the wishes of each individual for the team? We hung the result on a glass wall and left it there for a year.

After a year, we stood in front of the glass wall again for a meeting and experienced an astonishing mutual enthusiasm and motivation. Why? We could see what problems we had solved and what we had already achieved. We have achieved successes that we only dreamed of a year ago.

In our SCRUM cooking workshop you can also experience how effective a retrospective is. The first sprint is always a bit chaotic. But the second sprint already shows how quickly a team can be found and how much mutual reflection helps. This makes team performance tangible and tangible.

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