Overcoming Barriers to Effective Communications in Agile Teams

TestRail, Agile Teams, Communication

This is a guest post by Nishi Grover Garg.

Communication is the foundation of success for an agile team. Agile teams need to set up effective communication channels and have a culture of constant communication for complete transparency.

However, there are often several challenges that act as barriers to productive communication and may lead to people problems as well as delayed or failed projects. Here are some of the most common barriers to effective communication for agile teams, as well as how you can overcome them.

Physical Barriers

Talking about barriers, physical ones may be the first to come to mind, in the form of distance or distribution. Teams separated from each other due to different office spaces or areas of the building, or even distributed across different cities or countries, are bound to face some barriers in their communication due to different time zones or work hours.

Although lack of a physical presence cannot really be compensated for easily, these teams might benefit by having some good communication channels in place, like chat spaces for messaging, voice calls, screen sharing, and meeting tools for setting up conferences and recording their discussions. Teams should establish some overlap time for team members who work remotely so that there is time available for such communication on a daily basis. All team members also should be involved in discussions like standup meetings, reviews, and retrospectives, even if they are remote.

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Cultural and Language Barriers

Most teams nowadays have individuals from different countries, regions, and religions working together. This is great from a diversity and inclusion point of view, but it may sometimes lead to barriers due to cultural differences. Teams should be trained and sensitized to understand, acknowledge and appreciate their differences, and to learn from each other constantly.

We may also face barriers in communication due to languages. All team members may not be fluent in the same language, especially in distributed teams. In such cases, teams must not avoid or shorten their communication just because it is tougher to get their point across. Instead, they must be taught to be patient, become better listeners and be persistent with repeating the same point if needed. We can also organize language training opportunities to help team members understand each other.

Emotional Barriers

Emotional barriers are when fear and mistrust cause team members to refrain from communicating effectively with each other. It may also be that the hierarchy in the organization forbids people from direct interactions.

The organization must eliminate these barriers as a first step to adopting an agile mindset. We need to let go of unnecessary hierarchy and have a flat structure to the team, with each member being given the same platform and voice. The team needs to be aware of the different possible channels of communication within as well as outside of the team. They should be encouraged to communicate with business people as well as other Scrum teams, be given a platform to speak, and be heard at all team meetings and retrospectives. Any fear or mistrust would lead to missing out on their opinions, ideas, and problems, which will be detrimental to everyone’s success.

Perceptual Barriers

The differences in people’s opinions and their varied perceptions about the world, the product or the features they are working on may give rise to a need for better communication.

Perception ties in with cultural differences, because what may seem like a terse reply in one language may actually just be a normal, simple response in another. Understanding differences in culture, language and personalities may help people work with each other better.

The best way to overcome these challenges may be face-to-face communication. However much we talk over calls or email, nothing can replace the actual presence of the other person. When it comes to team bonding, there’s no substitute.

The ideal plan is to have team members meet each other, work together, and have an outing or dinner, all of which will open up their minds and perceptions. We can plan such meetings periodically, letting team members visit each other’s locations. If that truly isn’t possible, we can at least switch out some of our phone meetings for video meetings. These interactions put a face to the name we hear every day and let us get to know the person behind that name a little more.

Agile teams require constant communication, so it immensely benefits the team to recognize their barriers to effective communication and take some measures to overcome these barriers. Every step taken in this regard leads the team farther down their path to true agility.

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Nishi is a corporate trainer, an agile enthusiast and a tester at heart! With 11+ years of industry experience, she currently works with Sahi Pro as an Evangelist and Trainings Head. She is passionate about training, organizing testing community events and meetups, and has been a speaker at numerous testing events and conferences. Check out her blog where she writes about the latest topics in Agile and Testing domains.

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