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Episode 256: Agile Practices - The Key to Building High Performing Teams (Free)

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Episode 256: Agile Practices - The Key to Building High Performing Teams (Free)This interview with Alicia McLain was recorded at the Southland Technology Conference 2013 in Long Beach.

High performing teams don’t happen "auto-magically". Instead, Alicia McLain ( says that it takes a nuanced leadership style, consistency, persistence, patience, a structured approach and support to create the team culture necessary to bring the most out of people.

In this interview Alicia takes us on the journey through the steps to building high performing teams. We also discuss the important elements that contribute to building and sustaining high performing teams.

Episode Transcript

Below are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.


Podcast Introduction

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello everyone! We are still at the Southland Technology Conference 2013, also known as SOTEC 2013 and I'm sitting here with Alicia McLain.

Podcast Interview

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello Alicia!

Alicia McLain: Hi Cornelius. How are you doing?

Cornelius Fichtner: I'm doing very well, thank you. How is your conference going so far?

Alicia McLain: It's going very well. Yeah, I'm impressed.

Cornelius Fichtner: Alright! And it will become even better tomorrow when you will be presenting on the topic of Agile practices: The Key to Building High Performing Teams. Let me try and translate that title here. So you are saying that Agile practices are the key to developing high-performing teams, is that right? Did I understand that correctly?

Alicia McLain: You know what? People oftentimes ask me this. And what I like to do is when I look at an environment, I'd like to use the right tool for the environment. So I'll say that it is a way to build a high-performing teams and in my experience, it has been a very effective way to build high-performing teams.

Cornelius Fichtner: Alright! In the abstract for your presentation, the first sentence reads high-performing teams don't happen automatically. Now, why is that? Why doesn’t it happen automatically or auto-matically?

Alicia McLain: Well the reason why I say automatically is because I think people think that they just bring a group of people together and all of a sudden things are going to start to happen because people are working in a group. Well if you look at the history of teams over the last 30 years, we moved from what was essentially called work groups to now this concept of teams. And in working with teams, there is a lot of interdependencies and people work very differently than they did 30 years ago.

So we can't just assume that because we bring a group of people together that everything is just going to happen automatically. We have to lead. We have to create the right structures. Make sure that they have the right opportunities and in the right events and artifacts and role clarity to make sure that these things happen.

Cornelius Fichtner: How do you support people in your organization to do that?

Alicia McLain: The way that I support my teams are, it really starts with training first. So first, identifying the strategy and the approach that we're going with and in our case, we're using a variety of Agile methods or Agile practices if you will.

So we start with the definition of that and then we make sure that everyone's trained so that we're all speaking the same language and we're all on the same page. And then in terms of the leaders that report to me, they understand that it takes the discipline to make sure that the activities, events, artifacts and roles happen or are clarified so that we can be successful.

Cornelius Fichtner: Do you have support from above?

Alicia McLain: We do in this instance but in the last company that I worked for where I led an implementation of Scrum, we did not have higher level support. So it was grassroots and it was still effective.

Cornelius Fichtner: You told me before the interview started here that you consider yourself to be an internal consultant?

Alicia McLain: Yes.

Cornelius Fichtner: How is that?

Alicia McLain: Well, I am an employee for CareFusion. I am the Manager of Project Management in our hosted solutions area. So what I bring to that from a consulting perspective is all of my experience in Agile. So the certifications, as a certified Scrum Master, Certified Product Owner and then having led now two organizational enterprisewide implementations, I bring that background to my role.

Cornelius Fichtner: Alright! How do power tools fit into all of these and do I need an 8 or a 9 or 18-volt battery for them?

Alicia McLain: It's a great question and let me explain the concept of power tools. Oftentimes, people look at the skills necessary to be effective and work well with others. They oftentimes refer to them as soft skills. And soft skills if you even mention that in a room of technology people, there's eye rolling. There is sighing. There's this whole idea that soft skills really aren't that important. And so I've reframed those and I call them power tools because it's truly what the leader needs and if we talk about this idea of emerging leaders in a team, these are the skills that you need to be able to be highly effective at your job.

And so I have a list of things here that I've referred to as power tools and I'll just go through a couple of them here: The ability to influence without authority, any project manager that has been around for any amount of time knows that because oftentimes, that people that you work with whether or not direct report to you being a great motivator, a diplomatic liason, adaptive leader, change agent, having passion, you know there are a lot of things that it builds the package to help people lead and power tools are defined as those skills that a really solid leader can use to help build a high-performing team.

Cornelius Fichtner: And you can't learn those by reading a book or going to a classroom, right?

Alicia McLain: It's a great question. Because leadership can be learned and an effective leadership can be learned and so can these power tools. I think it first takes awareness that these are effective tools to help you build high-performing teams as a leader, and then an understanding in the use of these skills. So you can learn them. You can read them in a book. You can take them in a class. But you have to put it into practice. You have to be willing to try it out and keep trying it out and perfecting it overtime.

Cornelius Fichtner: What did the people who report to you tell you about the power tools?


Above are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete PDF transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

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Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, CSM, is the host and the author at The Project Management Podcast. He has welcomed hundreds of guests and project management experts to the podcast and has helped over 60,0000 students prepare for their PMP® Exam. He has authored dozens of articles on and PM World 360. He speaks at conferences around the world about project management, agile methodology, PMOs, and Project Business. Follow him on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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