Military Agility

What does it mean to be a cross-functional team player?

Military insights to building resilient teams.

It takes a strong team or group of people working together to accomplish anything – we need a common goal, a purpose and maybe even a common enemy!

We need to train, practise and learn, in order to build up both our team strength and individual skill-set. By focusing on uplifting our capability we are committing to improving ourselves and becoming more cross-functional team members.

What does that mean? To be cross-functional and a team player?

Let’s look at the Australian Defence Force. The full time members of the ADF make up a small and quite nimble…dare I say – agile – military. When you compare it to other Defence Forces, it’s tiny, with approximately 30k full time members (US = 15million / France = 356K). Therefore, the ability (or affordability) to specialise is impossible – one ADF member must be able to do many things, in fact the saying goes, “you’re a soldier first.” This means that although you may be employed as a signalman, medic, engineer, photographer or cook, when it boils down to getting the job done, you are part of the team and you contribute to the overall goal or vision of the mission. Every soldier knows how to administer first-aid, handle multiple weapons, navigate, plan, have a level of fitness, use a military radio and how to speak-up to be heard. I believe it’s because of this that Australian Defence members are so highly regarded around the world by other Defence organisations – ADF members are able to ask questions, take control and make things happen, which is something I’ve been privileged to see first-hand working with many other military teams from around the world.

Military and Enterprise teams are no different when it comes to applying an agile framework. In both, you train, learn, practise and improve. It’s the team or squad that is responsible for its outcomes. Like the soldier analogy, you too must have a level of understanding of each other’s roles and jobs in order to be able to help the team complete commitments and achieve the goal. You have to move past your biases and learn to deliver work…not as defined by your title – Developer, Engineer, Tester, Business Analyst, etc…but as a team member, one who understands and accepts the fact that, “you are a Squad Member first” and an “insert title here” second.

This type of growth and change takes time – you can’t just immerse yourself in a ten week bootcamp in Kapooka or a two years at Duntroon – but you can start slow and small. Learn a little about everything your team does so that you can contribute fully over time.

Here is a list of six things you can do to become a more well rounded team member.

  • Learn – When you finish a story and there are many still left in the team backlog, even if they might be outside your discipline – grab one of them and have a go!
  • Train – Pair-up with someone in a story to learn how to deliver it.
  • Try – Stay engaged in Backlog Refinement to have a good understanding of what work is being done in your team.
  • Help – Assist with the Metrics (burn-up / burn-down charts) and see if you can spot trends to raise with the team to improve.
  • Do – Smash blockers.
  • Step-up – Ask for some guidance and support for learning something new (there are heaps of free or cheap online learning opportunities).

I’m confident that if you and your teams learn to be cross-functional you will be the most revered teams in your organisation. You will move the needle from ‘doing’ to ‘being’ agile and become a performing, long running team! Don’t give up and work together to achieve your goals.

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