What’s Your Agile Team Ikigai?

Juan Luis Jimeno
Juan Luis Jimeno
What’s Your Agile Team Ikigai?
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In order to explain what Ikigai means, we must travel to Japan – a country which, as you might know, has one of the longest life expectancies in the world. In fact, the Island of Okinawa has the world’s largest centennial population (people over the age of 100). Some may think that it is to be expected, since they only consume what the sea and land provide them, or even that their daily activity and exposure to nature provides greater physical balance.

However, recent publications have revealed that all these centenarians have something in common. When asked what their secret is, they all say one word: Ikigai.

What Does Ikigai Mean?

Ikigai is a Japanese term that means “the reason for being” or “the reason to live”. According to Japanese culture, all people have their Ikigai, a reason to get up every morning and be happy.

What Does This Have to Do with Agile Teams?

During one of our recent Growth Talks, we had a debate on an unpleasant topic: How exactly is it that an organization that has been immersed in an agile transformation for years has still not achieved a common message, a feeling of experiencing a shared mission, a purpose to all that they’re doing?

When we define what an agile team should be like, there are hundreds of lines of text that explain what their values ​​should be, how they should communicate, what would be the best way to organize, etc. But let me ask: how much time do we dedicate to building a shared vision with our teams?

Without this shared vision, without clearly understanding the “why” and the “role of the team” in a transformation, we will continue to build this skyscraper taller and taller, despite its fragile foundation.

Without an Ikigai, teams will be utilizing a practice that isn’t anchored in shared values, a philosophy, or a way of understanding what we do and why. Teams risk moving forward when some team members aren’t even headed in the same direction.

What Can Ikigai Bring to Your Teams?

Ikigai is a tool of self-discovery that allows your teams to reflect on important aspects such as:

  • What they are passionate about?
  • What is their true mission?
  • Are they really following their vocation?
  • What is their true profession (beyond the definition of their jobs)?

The sum of all this (what they are passionate about, the mission they have in hand and how to respond to it from their vocation and their profession) will help the teams to develop their Ikigai. That is, their reason for being – a shared vision that aligns with the organizational strategy and a definition of HOW the team will accomplish its objectives.

Facilitate an Ikigai Session with Your Team

There are considerations that I want to point out when organizing a session to determine your Ikigai.

When is a good time to use it?

agile team ikigia
Tuckman Development Model

An important step in the use of Ikigai is determining your team’s maturity level. If we take Tuckman’s team development model as a reference, we find that teams in the “Forming” stage are often just a group of people with the name of “team”, but aren’t actually working together yet.

For purposes of this article, we will focus especially on the Forming stage of team creation. However, this tool can still be used in teams with a more advanced level of development (norming, performing) to consolidate their self-knowledge as a team.

In this initial stage, the dimension of individualism prevails. Each member should be expected to bring their expectations, knowledge, and a backpack full of good and bad experiences.

One of the keys to Forming is that all members will develop connections as they identify how each member complements and enhances the team. This is the time to figure out what motivates them, what they are good at (from their point of view, and yours), what does their T-shape look like, etc. It will also help you better understand who you are going to be on the team.

What do I Need to Organize an Ikigai Session?

The basic requirements are:

  • A room with furniture that can be configured to facilitate teamwork
  • Canvases with the Ikigai diagram (shown below) for each team member
  • Larger canvas (A1) to work in groups
  • Post-its
  • Markers

What are the mechanics of the session?

  1. Each team member will fill in his or her personal Ikigai canvas. Come prepared with pre-printed canvases as mentioned above. Have them write their answers on post-its so they can easily be moved as needed. To help team members complete the exercise without restriction or thinking too much about their answers (we look for sincerity, not made-up answers), I recommend time boxing this activity into 7-minute phases. One phase for each of the four circles, or a total of approximately 28-30 minutes.
agile team ikigia
Source: Forbes
  • Have each team member review their individual answers and allow them to re-position them on the diagram. One answer might better fit in a circle they didn’t first consider. Allow 5 minutes or until everyone has completed the exercise.
  • Reflection time! Each member shares how he/she felt while filling out their canvas. Was there something that made them think? Was one circle more difficult that another? Although it may seem too simple, you will be amazed at the type of reflections that can bubble up. This should take approximately 15 minutes.
  • The team now comes together to place their post-its on the larger template. As they are doing so, allow each member to share what they have analyzed about themselves.
  • Review the completed template with everyone’s responses as a team. What do you have in common? What differences do you have? What drives and motivates you? By understanding everyone individually and together as a whole, you can more easily identify your Ikigai.
  • Keep this up on the wall in your work space so the team can reference back to it as they develop in their maturity.
  • After some time passes, it is always interesting to reflect on this activity as a group. Which aspects really helped build the shared vision as a team? Was it the richness of the diversity on the team, the power of having points of view, the skills that were highlighted?

And after that?

After using Ikigai and as the team’s maturity grows, there are other tools that will allow us to move forward. Take a look at our Enterprise Agility services for more ways we can help with your transformation, from the team to organization level!

– Juan Luis

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