Agile HR

The Agile HR Scrum Team

Posted by Colin Tan on May 8, 2020

One of the things that first attracted me to Agile ways of working was the power of the Agile Team. The way they came together to deliver their vision, the freedom they had to innovate and the breath of contribution they could make. These teams were far from the traditional, hierarchical teams I was used to. They don’t necessarily report to the same leader, they don’t even belong to the same function and/or business unit and it’s their team KPIs and objectives they work towards, not their own personal objectives.

This blog explores the power of the Agile Team and how HR can adopt this approach in their Agile journey. As with my previous blog What is Agile HR? I will be using Scrum as the Agile framework.

Here are some of the unique characteristics of an Agile team:

  • The size of the team is determined by the two-pizza rule Jeff Bezos’s two-pizza rule can be used to guide team size, making their meetings highly interactive without unnecessary communication overhead. With this rule in mind, Agile teams can be made up of more than 3 people, but less than 9 people.
  • The roles talk to responsibility, not seniority – Unlike traditional teams, where one’s role gives us an indication of their hierarchical position within the team (for example, HR Coordinator, HR Manager, HR Director etc.), roles within an Agile team are there to describe what the role is responsible for, not where they sit in terms of seniority. Every Scrum team has 2 key individual roles:
    • The Scrum Master – this role is focused on the people, the process, and how they can best work together. Scrum Masters are there to help the team learn and apply Scrum and to remove any obstacles or impediments which get in the team’s way.
    • The Product Owner – owns the vision/product/initiative that the team is working to achieve. They are focused on maximising the value and do this by translating the vision to the team, setting the direction, compiling, prioritising and refining what needs to be achieved.
  • The team is cross-functional and multi-disciplinary to fit the purpose – Now this doesn’t necessarily mean you need someone from every function across the business to make up the team. What it does mean, is that the team has all the necessary knowledge and expertise to deliver that particular vision/initiative – that they are multi-disciplinary. Whilst they each bring their unique skills and experience, when they do come together as a team, there are no fixed specialist titles and no hierarchical ranks. Each member is there to work together to contribute to the achievement of the vision/initiative in whichever way they can.
  • The team is self-organising because they are the ones who know best – They know what they need to achieve, they have the right skills and expertise to do it and they have Scrum’s artefacts and processes to guide them. With this, teams self-organise – meaning they decide how much work can be achieved in each Sprint and how to best complete the work. This is up to the team to decide, not the Scrum Master or Product Owner!

So, what does this mean for HR. How can we adopt and apply these characteristics to help set up an Agile team to deliver our next HR initiative? Here are my top 5 tips to help you:

  1. Pick your team members carefully to suit the vision/initiative – Your team needs to have the right skills, experience and capacity to achieve the goal/vision.  For example, if your vision is to design a new onboarding program, then your team may need members from the following areas:
    • HR COE (Centres of Excellence)
    • Talent Acquisition 
    • HR Services 
    • IT (every new team needs their technology!)
  2. Cross-functional won’t always mean outside of HR – Inviting people from other functions across the business to help use, design and deliver value-add initiatives won’t always be possible due to capacity constraints or beneficial (depending on what you are trying to achieve). So, don’t assume cross-functional will always mean outside of HR. Consider cross-functionality with the subtle silos that can sometimes exist within our very own HR operating model. For example, business partnering / HR generalists versus centre of excellence / specialist roles. This not only invites in different skills and experiences, but also provides an opportunity for growth and development whilst strengthening relationships across the broader HR function.
  3. Stakeholders can help co-design without being part of the Agile team – We need to remember to invite stakeholders in to help co-design the initiative/product. Through Sprint Reviews, stakeholders will have the opportunity to provide feedback and give input to help maximise the value of the initiative/product. So with that, pick your stakeholders carefully, just as you would pick your team. For example, if your team is implementing a new HRIS system, your stakeholders should extend to a variety of end users – from a manager who needs to approve leave, through to individual contributors who need to update their personal details. Don’t just assume that your stakeholders are the ones who are funding the system. 
  4. Consider renaming the key roles to reflect your vision and organisational culture – The 2 key individual roles of Scrum Master and Product Owner are titles which may confuse your team or not align to your organisational culture. Many teams have looked to alternative titles which speak the language of their organisation whilst staying true to their core responsibilities. For example:
    • Scrum Master – Agile Team Coach, Agile Lead, Process Owner
    • Product Owner – Initiative Owner, Outcome Owner
  5. Educate, Inspect and Adapt – your Scrum artefacts and activities continuously. Because a lot of this will be new to the team, you need to make sure you spend time educating them on the Scrum artefacts and activities (e.g. Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog, Sprint Reviews, Retrospectives etc) and then inspect and adapt these to drive continuous improvements and further increase their value and the performance and productivity within the team.

I hope these 5 tips challenge you to think differently about the set up of your Agile HR Team. If you and your team are keen to find out more about Agile ways of working for HR please reach out to us at

Stay tuned for my next blog which will look to explain each of the Scrum activities and how they are used to drive team engagement, productivity and alignment.

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