‘Agile’ at its heart is a mindset based on four values and 12 principles. Although originally created with software development in mind, it’s been adopted for the delivery of products and services that are radically different in form, scale, and intent. It's utilised across many industries, from education and marketing through to manufacturing and engineering and construction.

The frameworks created to translate concepts into delivery methodologies have spawned a multitude of processes and tools. When things aren’t going well, or improvements are sought, it’s tools and processes that tend to get the most air time. These are important to get the work done, but it’s the people who make the magic happen. The people component is where the biggest gains are to be had. How people interact with each other, what they believe in, and how they’re supported is the key to the culture of the business. But it's one thing to talk about improving people and culture, and another thing to enact lasting positive change. How do you do that? Here are a couple of areas to explore.


A great culture is one of those things that can happen by accident and is easier to steer in a smaller business where behaviours are more visible and can be corrected faster. In a larger business, it takes more dedication.

Management consultant and writer Peter Drucker said, “Only three things happen naturally in organisations: friction, confusion, and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership.” Great leadership puts as much focus on the business culture as it does on strategy, structure, road maps, tools, and processes. Course correcting a business culture is a topic in itself, and there are frameworks that may help, for example, Gartner's Culture PRISM to Change Culture.

Forming great teams

Recognising the value that individual teams bring to a business, and investing in their progress, is ultimately an investment in delivery. Teams that are humming produce great outcomes — not just volume, but quality, innovation, and a reduction in people costs. Being part of a high-performing team in a business that has a great culture is a great place to be. People tend to want to stay and there are a whole lot of downstream benefits: reduction in the cost of recruiting and onboarding new people, sharing of knowledge and learnings, and even less illness.

That’s because people who understand their ‘why’, and are collectively delivering a shared outcome, leverage the best from each other and the team has a happy buzz.

A high-performing team takes a while to set up. If Scrum is the operating process, I generally bank on about six sprints (periods of time), which works out to be three months if using two-weekly sprints, before the outputs stabilise. After that, they start to improve, and a high-performing team is in the making (assuming they have the correct support through coaching, mentoring, and training).

As the beautiful Māori proverb says, He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata (What is the most important thing in the world? It is the people, it is the people, it is the people).

Good teams are to be supported, nurtured, and preserved. Look after them.

Susan is an agile coach, Scrum master, IT project manager, and business change manager with more than 20 years' experience in both New Zealand and the UK.

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