Each time a new team is formed and directed to “be agile,” or each time an existing team is asked to transform itself to “be agile,” I remember Marshall Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn.
As a child, I was enthralled by the character as played by John Wayne in 1969. The aging marshal presented an iconic salty and reluctant hero who only dug in deeper the tougher things got. The version of this Western genre hero played by Jeff Bridges in the 2010 remake, though darker, shared this “right stuff,” or grit.
Grit is an great word itself. Often it is a particle of sand or stone, usually causing friction or irritation. Elsewhere, it is courage, strength of character or resolve and even unrelenting grip. In all cases it represents something that does not bend under pressure. So how is that about “agile?”
We hear that agile is about frictionless delivery; that agile is flexible, adaptable and accepting of change. All true. However, agility is also about unrelenting drive to goals; about commitments being met under all circumstances and in the face of unexpected obstacles.
I see teams struggle with this duality of nature – pliable and flowing methods while holding rock-hard resolutions towards goals. The wisdom and duality of agility is not new. Centuries ago Confucius captured this essence saying:
“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.”-Confucius
This is the best one-sentence summary of what an Agile Scrum sprint commitment should be – by all means necessary delivery on the goals. That is grit.
The successful teams I’ve been lucky to work with have had grit. It’s not moving fast. It’s not a lot of pomp and circumstance. Grit in a team is exhibited by an unrelenting and confident, collaborative will to succeed.
So the next time you are starting up a team or about to overhaul an existing one ask yourself if the team has the necessary grit. If they do not, they are not likely to excel and you may need to go in search of a few gritty marshalls to get the job done.
To explore more about “grit” and what it means to team performance, enjoy this six minute presentation by Angela Lee Duckworth. I stumbled on this and it resonated deeply with my experience on low and high performing teams.