Team Dynamics

Team Dynamics

Teams are a common theme in the discussion of how Agile delivers value.  Teams are a collection of individuals that bring a range of capabilities.  Some people are specialists, others generalists and a very few are  renaissance people that are great at a wide range of activities.  Understanding the depth and breadth of capabilities in team members provides the team with the flexibility to dynamically allocate capabilities based on the technical context and business need (staff liquidity).  This is an incredibly powerful theory that only works if the team dynamics are conducive.  Team dynamics are an expression of how the team interacts with each other and those outside the team. When assessing the dynamics of a team there are many factors that are important; however, a few are more critical than others.

  1. Team Cohesiveness – Cohesiveness is a reflection of how well a team sticks to together to accomplish a goal.  Cohesive teams know each other’s capabilities and capacity.  Cohesiveness is one factor that leads to psychological safety. A feeling of safety  allows team members to take risks without causing insecurity or fear of embarrassment if everything does not work out.  The cohesiveness of the team can be intuited from the length of time a team stays together and how invested team members are in the success of the team.
  2. Roles and Norms. Even the most Agile team is composed of different people playing different roles. Team performs well when team members recognize the roles that a team needs and then serve in those roles and are comfortable shifting roles when needed by the team. Roles include technical tasks, as well as roles such as leader, researcher and reviewer.  Clarity of roles norms helps build trust within the team and outside the team.  Trust reinforces team cohesion.  Roles and norms can be best assessed by an outsider by observing the teamwork. Alternately, retrospectives can be used to surface discussions of potential role and norm problems.
  3. Conflict Resolution.  All teams will have conflict. Teams need to have a pallet of conflict resolution techniques.  Conflict resolutions techniques can include simple  talking, active listening, multi-voting, cost/benefit analysis or coaching. Teams need to prepare for inevitable conflict both by being aware of the signs of conflict and then have the wherewithal to deal  the conflict.  Observation can tell a coach a lot about a team’s ability deal with conflict. Alternately, one means to assess how a team will react is to give them a scenario and ask how they would solve the problem (this is a backdoor mechanism to teach resolution techniques).  Teams with a good capability for conflict resolution will tend to be more cohesive and struggle less with roles.
  4. Impactful Goals.  Work that the team believes is important both to the organization and team members is motivating.  Motivation provides teams with a well of energy that can be invested in delivering value, resolving conflict, playing the roles that are needed and working together. The simplest way to know whether a team believes the goal they are pursuing is impactful is to ask and then to listen to the emotion in the answer. If there is no emotion, the team does not perceive what they are doing as important.

The four most critical drivers of Agile team dynamics can be assessed by observing and talking with the team.  The right dynamics will unlock a team’s potential; however most can’t get there without a help.  Coaching based on interacting and observing the team is a very powerful tool to give teams the tools needed to become more effective.  When beginning an Agile effort, spend the time and effort needed to tune every team to the four critical factors of team dynamics so they have the best start possible.

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