Teams and Agile

by Derek Winter


The concept of teams will not be a new one to most of you. At some stage of our lives we all participated in team sports, playing in an orchestra or band, been required to deliver a project as a team and work within a team in our organisations.

Whether or not we 'feel' part of a team or identify as a team member vs. an employee is a different matter. Anyone that's been in management or leadership roles will have been exhorted to be a team leader.

One of the key drivers of this is because research shows that more gets achieved by a coherent team than gets achieved individually, so in organisational life it's worth figuring out how to make teams perform well and how to create a sense of 'team'. There's a big difference between a group of people working hard, being busy but being mis-aligned and the synergy that comes from the clarity a well oiled team has.

The first clause of the Agile Manifesto emphasises this saying that Individuals and interactions should be valued more than processes and tools and this is backed up with the following principle

"Build projects around motivated individuals. 
Give them the environment and support they need, 
and trust them to get the job done."

It doesn't matter what sort of business or pursuit you consider, this principle holds true. It's not rocket science and many people have espoused variations of the same concepts, but it's harder to do than it sounds.

In straightforward terms we're saying that in order to get things done, it's important to include people who are motivated by the goal, have the tools and knowledge they need to achieve it and the accountability & responsibility to get on with it.

How do we achieve this? No matter what the context is, I believe there are 4 keys:-

1. Create extraordinary clarity around the purpose of the team (What are we doing and why?)

2. Select motivated people for the team and give them the roles and tasks which allow them to make the most impact (and create extra-ordinary clarity around what those roles and tasks are!)

3. Ensure the physical, political and social environment is conducive to getting things done (and remove any roadblocks that crop up)

4. Support them zealously.

Lastly, once you've seen a team or department operating well, evaluate why, find out the specifics for your circumstances that made it work so well. In a recent Andy Stanley podcast I heard a great quote saying if you don't know why something is working well, you won't be able to fix it when it's not. So, use reviews, retrospectives, reflections to capture the essence of your success and this will strengthen your chances of replicating it.