Optimizing HR Support For Agile (Team) Management

Today’s highly competitive business world necessitates that most companies excel in innovation, continuous improvement (do more with less), and continuously exceeding the customer’s expectations in an effort to rapidly, efficiently and effectively respond to ever-changing market needs.

This business necessity has evolved into an ancillary activity of management wherein teams of employees, typically from a cross-section of functions, departments, and levels, are selected by management to analyze and solve a particular product, service or process problem in which the customer’s representatives play an active role throughout the entire process.  The teams are encouraged to institute change and given great responsibility and authority to do so while emphasizing a rapid response to the problem.  This enhanced management activity is called agile (team) management [AG] and it typically bypasses and/or supplements the more formal management organization structure of command and control.  The team activity provides many positive advantages to the company’s business while providing much greater engagement by the employees from almost all departments and levels into the practical realities of operating the business.

The most popular team applications tend to be:  achieving certain product design and/or service goals, achieving certain financial or operational goals, and meeting specific customer needs.  In doing so, the company achieves many of its critical business objectives that improve profitability, operational effectiveness, and shareholder value, while the employees become more engaged in the business itself while advancing their own job/career aspirations and skills development.  In turn, these team efforts act as a motivational force that can inspire other employees to want to participate in future team projects.

The use of agile management is still in its infancy for most companies.  Some companies are becoming more advanced in its use, such as IBM, GE, Capital One, Apple, Google, Adobe, Cisco, among others.  These team-related projects have become a widespread management activity for many companies as a pragmatic means to achieve many of its more complex financial, operating and strategic business objectives.  This is especially true in industries that need to speed their critical product/service innovations to market as quickly as possible, such as high tech, aeronautics, space, telecommunications, medical products, financial services, among others.

Whether a company is advanced in its use of AG or simply utilizes sporadic team projects when needed, HR leaders should ensure that it is utilizing the best possible HR practices that will enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of AG and all team projects.  In doing so, a key issue typically deals with changing the mindset of some employees who, in the past, might have resisted a change that has now become a business necessity.  With the following HR practices in place, a company will have a far greater chance of greatly reducing that resistance.

Hopefully, this article will serve as a practical and actionable guide for supporting AG and all team projects.  The following HR practices will outline the critical aspects of what is needed to provide an optimum amount of HR support for any team project in a proactive effort to preclude any legitimate concern or problem from occurring.


All team-related projects are built upon the foundation of the company’s corporate culture.  The phrase “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is an axiom.

  1. Everything in a company’s corporate culture statement evolves from the CEO and line executive’s actions (strategies, decisions, plans, responses to competitive challenges; and so on); not just their words regarding management style, interpersonal skills and business values (items the company wants to be known for related to its business). If any executive action is inconsistent or counter to the words used in the statement, you are better off excluding it.
  2. Though you can get input from other companies and outside sources, the input from your CEO and line executives is the most crucial aspect of having an authentic and actionable statement.
  3. Without top management buy-in of the statement; it is doomed. If the actions of the CEO or top management are inconsistent with any one item in it, employees will quickly conclude that the entire statement is a sham.
  4. To test the critically-important authenticity of any item, you should be able to cite two or three practical examples of how it was illustrated by actual management actions.  Such examples should be incorporated into any employee training or documents that include the company’s culture statement.
  5. The final corporate culture statement should be published throughout the company by any and all means at least once every year.
  6. Here are some typical AG or team-related items that should be considered.


  1. Benefits should be designed to meet the needs of the employees in the key team-related positions.
  2. The company should possess, at a minimum, a competitive amount of retirement, medical insurance, employee assistance, emotional health and disability insurance, and workers compensation insurance that are typically considered important by the employees in such positions.
  3. To the extent possible, employees should be given the opportunity to select the specific benefits that are most important to their personal lives and work/life balance.  For example, if the company can attach a specific cost/price to each benefit, employees could select which benefits are most important to their personal life situation, up to a specific total dollar amount.  In doing so, the company’s overall costs remain the same while the employees select only those benefits that are important to them.
  4. Utilizing competitive HR policies that support a sound work/life balance are Important to employees in these positions, such as flexible work schedules, work-at-home, compensatory time off, child care, family leave, and others.
  5. Giving employees a choice wherever possible is always a good thing for such employees, especially regarding where you work, how you complete your work, vacation time off, employee well-being, and so on.


Teams typically must concentrate on quality, cost, speed, innovative change and on-schedule performance.  Therefore, it requires team-related employees who want to quickly and effectively implement meaningful business change.  To do so, these employees must possess the required set of qualifications: technical/functional skills, problem-solving skills, interpersonal skills including trust, open communications, the ability to collaborate, avoiding and resolving conflicts, and other relevant skills.  Here are the steps HR should implement to ensure a thorough and accurate selection.

  1. All applicants must understand and agree that most team projects are a matter of business necessity and they are responsible for the viability of their recommendations while also assisting in their implementation.
  2. With line management, HR should identify the key team-related positions, by job title, that are typically found on team projects based on an analysis of team projects over the past two or three years. From that data, identify which recruiting sources have been the most successful and cost-effective in providing highly qualified candidates who have achieved high levels of job performance, retention, and potential.
  3. Update the team-related qualifications for each position with line management.
  4. Upgrade the interview process itself for such positions. Have the applicants and/or employees interviewed by the hiring department manager AND at least two other line managers who work in related departments, along with the appropriate HR managers.  Have the person return for a second interview with the hiring manager to resolve any questions or issues uncovered in the first set of interviews, while being ready to make an offer on the spot if all issues are resolved satisfactorily.
  5. Line managers should concentrate on the applicant’s functional/technical expertise, problem-solving skills, and team-related accomplishments while differentiating between accomplishments achieved by the team versus those achieved by the individual’s personal efforts. This should be accomplished through deep-dive technical/functional interviews in which all relevant qualifications are probed in great detail.
  6. HR manager(s) should concentrate on the applicant’s interpersonal skills and business values listed in the corporate culture statement through the use of questions that elicit the applicant’s reactions and responses to relevant team-related questions and work situations. If possible, the use of company-validated behavioral questions would be very helpful.
  7. Evaluate an applicant’s overall ability by utilizing a weighted mix of his/her team-related technical/functional skills, problem-solving skills, interpersonal skills and business values in relation to the team project’s business objectives.

Jack Bucalo
Jack Bucalo
JACK has led the Global HR function for a Fortune 500 and 1000 international company and several other large international companies. With four years of line experience complementing his HR experience, he believes that the CHRO or HR Leader should play a more direct role in helping the CEO to achieve the company's business objectives and strategic goals, while effectively implementing its administrative duties. In doing so successfully, the CHRO or HR Leader can become an equal business partner with his/her line management peers while becoming more directly involved in the company's operational mainstream, rather than being just an administrative afterthought. As a pragmatic practitioner, Jack publishes detailed and actionable articles on a wide variety on critically-important HR issues on BIZCATALYST 360°. He is also on the advisory board for other web sites. Jack's over 20 years of executive-level HR experience for which he was responsible for company, executive and Board-related matters, form the basis for most of viewpoints.




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