Build better agile teams – Apply Non Violent Communication (NVC) principles

Individuals and Interactions over processes and tools, declares the manifesto. as of its key values. One of the key differentiators for the agile approach, this is also one of the hardest to inplement in it’s truest sense. Decades of taylorism have hard wired us to rely on processes much more than people. Given all the advancements that technology has brought to us, the process of creating that technology remains a very much creative process and so humans play a significant part in that (yet). A great team with mediocre tools will consistently outperform a mediocre team with great tools. This is simply because the smart team will figure out how to leverage the resources at their disposal and exploit them to the fullest.

Building and sustaining such high performing is not trivial though. A lot goes into building such teams and this is where some of the principles of start to make a lot of sense in building high performance agile teams.

NVC principles teach us to pay attention on level of our observations, feelings, needs and requests

A team is a team and not a group of disjointed individuals when they can act as one group. For this they need to feel connected to each other and to the group and they must feel this genuinely. NVC lays a lot of emphasis on this human connection and the right intent. Following NVC principles helps to create that safe space where the team is tuned to each other and the group’s needs.

They also feel free to express differences and agree to disagree when there will be conflicting opinions. The connections between them helps to have a genuine dialogue and resolve the differences to the team’s advantage. NVC lays a great emphasis on achieving satisfaction and not compromises. In a compromise one or more parties needs are not fully met and this sows the seeds of dissent. This is unhealthy in the long run. What we would rather prefer is arriving at solutions that are aligned and appreciated by everyone involved. This may or may not be the initial stand that a person may have begun in the conflict with. However towards the end it is the responsibility of the group to bring the person onboard towards the consensus solution.

While many of these aspects sound obvious, what NVC offers is a blueprint for teams starting agile to achieve that. It does so by providing practical guidance on aspects such as using positive language in communication, listening empathetically and formulating clear and explicit requests for what is needed.

Observing without evaluation is something that can boost retrospective effectiveness as people put down facts and discuss them and not their emotional interpretation of incidents or situations. Constant learning and ongoing improvement are the hallmarks of high performance teams

NVC focus on using motivation as a prime driver and not fear, coercion or other negative traits is great booster for facilitating collaboration in the team and focusing the team towards their goals. The motivations might differ for individual team members, for some it may be autonomy or mastery and for others it may be purpose that drives them. However the space high performance teams operate from is motivation and where team takes responsibility, personal accountability and genuinely collaborate.

NVC principles in their essence are nothing new. Probably they have been known for centuries and used by leaders through millennia to achieve great things. They are not trivial to follow and would require quite some practice to improve our ability to employ these principles in day to day professional life. However a conscious effort is sure to bring it’s rewards in terms of professional success and personal satisfaction.

In my formative years, I had a manager who was many a times tough on me resulting in me spending long nights at work. Recently I met another colleague from that era and when I fondly inquired about that manager, she was surprised. I told her that “Yes he was tough on me. But he gave me the most challenging assignments and always covered my back when I made mistakes. I could count on him.he made me feel good.”.

People are essentially human at heart. Over time, the details are forgotten, what people remember is how you made them feel. NVC definitely helps a lot in that direction.

Hrishikesh Karekar

Hrishikesh is an enterprise agile coach with interests in varied disciplines. Frequently writing on Agile and Lean related topics, he also occasionally ventures into other stuff like Artificial Intelligence as well..