Teams like cooking is about people.

We use Scrum or any of the team-based agile methods for many reasons. Working as a team with an agile mindset:

  • Provides an understanding of how what we are doing fits into the bigger picture.
  • Furnishes the transparency needed to keep track of work with less overhead.
  • Focuses work on deliverables.
  • Avoids the peril of being interrupt-driven (and its nefarious sibling, multitasking).

There are many other positive benefits to the agile team. The value of teams is so overwhelming that it is easy to fall into the trap of saying you are an agile team before behavior catches up, BUT it should be the other way around. The Agile Alliance defines an agile team as:

A “team” in the Agile sense is a small group of people, assigned to the same project or effort, nearly all of them on a full-time basis.

Teams are an important mechanism for getting work done in most environments. Teams can be co-located or distributed — proximity might change the degree of difficulty is not a requirement for establishing a team. The following simple checklist is a useful tool for deciding whether a group of people are a team or something else which provides a platform for action.

Simple Checklist

Purpose:

___   Members share a common team purpose and goal(s).

___   Members are mutually committed to the common goal(s) and to each other

___   Members are jointly accountable for delivering the goal(s).

___   The output delivered by the unit has business value in its own right.

The goal of these questions is to test whether there is a reason for the group of people to form bonds and become a cohesive unit. An answer of yes is required for all four of these questions. When I tested these questions one of the common problems I found was that many people in what purported to be a team often had individual goals that were only loosely related. In those circumstances, it was difficult to see commitment or joint accountability.  

Structure

___   A large majority of the members are working full-time towards the goal(s).

___   The team possesses the necessary competencies to deliver its goals.

___   The unit is composed of 3 – 9 people, all of which know and can name each other.

The structure is a supporting element for indicating whether a group is or can be a team. An overriding purpose can wash away many sins, however, when the fervency of purpose dies down structural issues will become problematic. For example, I recently participated in establishing a TMMi Chapter in the United States. Everyone on the team was doing this on top of their daytime job, as the process dragged on a few members left the team. The loose cohesion of the part-time membership could not hold part of the team together when progress dragged (just try registering a non-profit and you will learn what dragging really means).  An answer of yes to all three questions is expected, a “meh” on one might be ok for a with an overriding purpose. 

Note – At no point in the question set is anyone asked if they are a team.  Behaviors and relationships are far more important than whether a group calls itself a team.

Next: Are distributed teams different?