Three Agile Tools to create winning teams

Do you want to create winning teams?  Or improve already effective teams?  Agile can help – regardless of what department you are in.  As background, Agile is a software development methodology that uses practical tools and concepts to empower people to be more productive. Here are three tools that you can start using immediately to enhance teamwork and trust in your organization.

Working Agreement

What is it?

winningteams1A working agreement is a document of the values and behaviors that your team defines for how they will work together. It is powerful because it is crafted by the team, for the team (not by management).  It facilitates great discussion about what will work for all team members. It could address topics such as after-hours availability, meeting etiquette, team member attitudes on interruptions, philosophical positions on accountability and more.

How to get started:

The easiest way to introduce a working agreement at the office is before a long meeting. The meeting could be a few hours or a few days, but long durations tend to bring out the worst in all of us. Ask for five minutes at the start of the meeting to document a working agreement. Ask everyone to define the appropriate behaviors for the meeting. You may have to prompt the group with provocative questions like “Are smartphones allowed? Who is taking meeting minutes? When are break times? If everyone is not back after a break, does the meeting commence, or do we wait?” With a little prompting, a healthy discussion should take place. Write down the results of the discussion and keep the working agreement displayed throughout the meeting.  If anyone violates a tenet of the working agreement, any team member can gently point out the discrepancy and the meeting can continue. This simple introduction to working agreements will allow people to become familiar with the practice and then you can apply it more broadly to project teams.

Definition of Done

What is it?

The definition of done is a document that clarifies what constitutes completion. When individuals or whole teams are handing off work to another party, the definition of done is used to describe the hand-off. Does “done” mean an email follow-up or a powerpoint presentation? Does “done” mean training is completed? By having agreed-upon parameters, both the sender and receiver know exactly what they are giving and getting.

How to get started:

The next time you are assigned a task (or assign one, if you are the manager), talk about what would be a satisfying deliverable. Make sure both parties agree on what is defined.  When the task is finished, review the definition of done to make sure the task was completed as described. If it wasn’t, you have a simple document to reference so improvements can be made. This can apply to small one-person tasks or big project hand-offs departments. By creating the definition of done in advance, it reduces the opportunity for misunderstandings and holds people accountable in a positive way.

Fist of Five

What is it?

Fist of five is a voting mechanism used in Agile to ensure everyone is aligned and every voice is heard. Voting is based on the number of fingers displayed when the meeting moderator calls for a vote on a proposal. Five means you are all-in and think it is a great idea; Four means you are enthusiastic about the proposal; Three means you have reservations, but will support it; Two means you have questions and need further discussion; and One means you cannot support the proposal. The power of fist of five is that the feedback is immediate and highly visible. The whole team sees how each participant votes and the whole room must be a 3 or higher for a proposal to be deemed accepted.  If anyone in the room is a 1 or a 2, then discussion must continue. Once everyone is a 3 or higher, the proposal is ratified and everyone present has indicated their support.

How to get started:

Fist of five can be a bit complex the workplace because some people want to reserve the right to complain after the fact. Fist of five removes this option and that can cause discomfort. Therefore, the best way to get started is to use it for smaller things. For example, “The proposal is that we will work on authentication before reporting.” Or “The proposal is we will work the support ticket for Company A before the ticket for Company B.” These smaller decisions acclimate people to the process, which leads to more productive conversations about bigger things. One word of caution: The workplace is not a democracy, so do not use fist of five in areas where everyone’s voice is not equal. For example, not everyone gets to weigh in on the corporate attendance policy so using fist of five may not be appropriate. We don’t want to frustrate our team members by asking for their opinion and then dismissing it.


Agile creates an environment of trust and transparency which leads to better teamwork. Working on a highly effective team is an incredibly rewarding experience.  Each of these Agile tools – Working Agreements, Definition of Done and Fist of Five – will help to maximize team performance and productivity.  To learn more, please reference the book Change, Inc.: An Agile Fable of Transformation available on




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