Teams are more than statues!

Teams are more than statues!

Agile teams have a different structure (collaborative versus hierarchy structures) and organization (coach versus project manager) than those found in the typical hierarchical or matrix organization. Implementing Agile requires flattening the team structure and using mechanisms to manage the day-to-day activities of the team.  Mechanisms include stand-up meetings to plan and control work, and retrospectives to change behavior. At the same time, the standard human resource management functions are still required in corporate organizations (annual reviews, training plans and salary management). Managers, who are responsible for these HR functions, are external to the team. Failure to redesign teams structure and management creates conflicting goals and allegiances that make implementing Agile difficult. Picture the impact on an Agile implementation of a department manager visiting a team’s standup meeting and passing out daily assignments.  This would be the exact opposite of a team self-organizing and self-managing. Teams are impacted when there is role confusion, dynamic membership and no coaching to help get back on track.

Agile teams have three basic roles: product owner, Scrum Master (or coach) and the development team. The product owner provides business acumen, makes decisions and maintains the backlog.  The Scrum Master facilitates the team and ensures that Agile techniques are used effectively. The development team completes the work that the team committed to deliver.  While the boundaries between these roles may well be blurred on a day-to-day basis, they should not be confused or conflated with roles from other methods. For example, at no point should the Scrum Master act like a project manager. When roles are confused or roles from other frameworks are overlaid on the team, communication and interaction between team members will be impeded, thus reducing productivity.

Every time a team is altered, the chemistry of the team is changed. New members will need time to develop rapport and trust. This includes the potential for stable relationships to be disrupted as new communication patterns are generated. Actively changing team composition was a management style that was in vogue in the late 20th century called the dynamic team syndrome. [ARE YOU SURE, I CAN’T FIND ANY GOOGLE HITS FOR: ‘dynamic team syndrome’] It is reflective of deterministic view of knowledge work.  Dynamic teams are formed and reformed to meet specific needs.  In some organizations, teams were formed and reformed on a daily basis.  In these dynamic teams, managers generally assign work on a daily basis as they are the one role that has the big picture.  In many cases, tasks are assigned as new ideas or problems are discovered even if they are not related to the current project, usually without impacting the due date of the tasks that are being interrupted.  Agile is built on the assumption that teams will be stable and that membership and focus will not be changed during a sprint or iteration.  When the work a team is doing must change significantly, the sprint will be stopped and reset. Violating the basic assumptions about the composition and tenure of team members will disrupt the trust and effectiveness of the team. It will yield a group of vaguely related individuals, rather than an Agile team.

Teams learn by doing, making mistakes and getting feedback. Without the feedback loop portion of the cycle, it is easy for teams to wander off path.  When poor behavior is repeated habits are developed which makes getting back on track become more difficult. I was exposed to an organization a few years ago that had wandered away from going demonstrations and had begun to assign work to the teams (versus accepting work into the team).  Everyone involved indicated that there had not been a conscious choice; rather it just happened.  We had to build a feedback mechanism for the organization to get back on track. Without coaching it would have been easy to continue follow poor practices and perhaps wander further away from the Agile principles (and from process effectiveness). Agile coaches help teams and organizations embrace Agile and help maximize the delivery of business value.

Implementing Agile requires modifying team behaviors and structure. The changes help provide a basis for self-organizing and self-managing teams. At the same time managers need learn not to dynamically change team structure based whomever is yelling the loudest. Change of this type is not easy. A coach can provide an experienced, outside view to help keep the change on track until it becomes muscle memory.

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