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Joy in Agile-Land

JOY — Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

This is part 3 of our Agile article series. Read part 1: The only problem with Agile and part 2: All about Agile Transformation. All articles can be read independently.

Why are so many Scrum Masters, Agile Coaches, Engineers, Product/Project Managers unhappy?

Why is it that one of the fastest growing, well-paying, least regulated, and most forgiving industries in the world is full of unhappy adults? I’m talking about the Software Industry.

The Agile Manifesto got many things right, but so many of us continued to violate it and in such ways as to make each other miserable. That is not the fault of the manifesto or its writers, but of us as a collective.

I cringe when I see Agilists badmouthing project managers, engineers dissing bad customers, and product managers fighting marketeers. I feel sad every time someone says “they don’t get it”.

To be honest the Agile Manifesto never said it was about building software companies or businesses. It never proclaimed to have found a new way of life. It was about better ways of developing software.

Better ways of developing software assumes that the people building those software will also have better ways of communicating with each other. Turns out we don’t.

Our underlying mental model at work is still that of lazy workers who need management or machines who are bad at following the instructions. So we need to keep an eye on “them”, and tweak “them” every so often — except we’re just people, not machines.

If we treat each other like machines, we will create an environment for machines. And as it stands machines haven’t discovered joy yet, while human beings thrive on it, and whither without it.

Human joy comes from connections, from belonging, and the nature and quality of our relationships. In the context of work, especially collaborative work, plenty of research has shown that good relationships, a sense of purpose, freedom to choose one’s working conditions, and a drive towards demonstrable mastery contribute to a higher sense of satisfaction and joy.

These are elements that were not directly mentioned in the Agile Manifesto, but every Agile Coach that I have worked with implicitly tries to bring it into the picture, because to some extent, we as human beings know these to be our needs and feel a sense of loss every time we lose any of these.

It is time to talk about Joy at work, and how agile coaches in particular can facilitate it.

In preparation for this article, I asked on Linkedin what brought joy to people at work. Here’s are some of their answers (as well as offline responses):

I get joy from seeing my colleagues have fun in their job. I get joy from seeing colleagues see things from each other’s viewpoint and empathize. I get joy from someone taking the time to explain something calmly and clearly, even several times, so that their colleague gets it. I get joy from achieving something together. I get joy from everyone being able to be themselves, taking our job seriously but ourselves not too seriously. I get joy from showing and seeing gratitude.

Making complicated things simple.

Not making simple things complicated 😄

As agile coach, joy for me is when teams are confident to say NO to work politics and do the right thing together as team

Leadership is the art of connection! It’s about building relationships to bring out the best in others. And that is pure joy for me!

When we all know exactly where we’re heading as a group and our top priority is helping each other to get there, constantly making key things better.

When ppl suffer less from being involved in complex product development

When we finish things, together as a team.

When I’ve been useful to someone. When I was able to ask a good question. When I see joy about a new insight in the other’s eye.

As a coach: Letting team members choose a “sprint-partner” to pair up with and work on specific user stories (strictly) together. Therefore learn that working in pairs is always more fun, lead to better results and increases flexibility in the team in the long run too :)

Make things better than they’ve been a moment ago. It’s hard to see (even big) changes over long time. Something that is useful immediately helps boost my mood all the time.

Being able to achieve something.. Knowing that my work matters..

Empowering people, lift them up when they feel down, encourage them and help when they are in need.

Let’s pause for a moment, think about the last three companies you have worked at. How much of the above comments have you seen in action there?

And more importantly, if you had all of these things present in those companies, would you still have left?

Joy, contentment, happiness, pleasure, ease, peace — call it whatever you want — it’s something we all seek, and lack of it is what leads to broken relationships at work and outside of it. It is time to reclaim joy at work.

If one or more of the above sentiments resonate with you, but you do not experience them often enough, know that you’re not alone, and more importantly you will have people in your current team that would agree.. Maybe you just need to muster up the courage to ask them, and then work with them to make it undeniably visible.

It is not by asking, waiting, and receiving, but only by fully committing to it that we can make this happen.

I know I’m asking for change, and change is never easy. But over the years, there are a few things that have made change a whole lot easier for me and I want to share those.

  • We often act according to perceived boundaries, so make a habit of questioning if that boundary is really there. You’ll be surprised at what you‘ll find.
  • If you feel a certain way, whether unhappy or elated, see if you’re alone in that feeling, or whether there are other people around you who feel the same. These are your allies.
  • Taking the first step is a risk, but for most things, taking the first step firmly establishes you as a courageous leader, who others can follow. Do it for them.
  • Joy starts with the simplest of things. Say hello. Be honest. Be vulnerable in small things so you won’t have to fake your way through difficult things. An honest moment of vulnerability often leads to large quantities of joy.
  • Be kind often. Offer a helping hand. Wait for others to finish, or to catch up. Make a habit of doing something together.
  • Listen to people. Be curious. People have fascinating stories and perspectives. Listening alone is half the work in a positive relationship.
  • If nothing else, appreciate the good when you see it, no matter how small it may be. Say “Thank you!”. You might just make someone’s day.

Now it’s your turn. If you like this, share it. If you have your own way, practice it and share that. If you want to add something to this, please add. Joy starts with you!

Let’s transform workplaces from drab target chasing machines to lively places where people thrive.

Show up fully, and show up with joy.

Photo by Taylor Heery on Unsplash



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Founder of https://epekworks.com — passionate about products and people, and helping them live meaningfully and well.