Teams are more than names on paper!

Teams are to agile as the atom is to classic physics. In our article, “Simple Checklist: Are They A Team?”, we began exploring what makes a bunch of people into a team by establishing seven basic questions that need to be asked about behavior and organization. Once we have established that a group of people are a team, it is important to establish what predicts whether a team will be a good team. In order to avoid my cognitive biases, I asked 10 Scrum Masters, managers of Scrum Masters, successful entrepreneurs and Released Train Engineers; that is, people that are highly skilled at working with teams.  Four categories of attributes that emerged (in descending order) are:

  1. Members actively support each other so the team succeeds as a whole.
    Kyle Alexander Siemens, CEO of Brightest, boiled his feedback down to “supporting each other.” When I train agile concepts, I often talk about swarming to a problem or volunteering to help during a Daily Scrum.  The success of the team has to be paramount. 
  2. Teams actively interact and communicate.
    Communication could have been the most important category. Without good communication team members wouldn’t easily know that a person or a work item is in trouble. Steve Tendon, co-author of Tame Your Workflow and consultant, stated that team members had to have the “courage to openly articulate their own individual deep self-interest(s).”
  3. The team has a common goal.
    I will return to this topic in the near future to explore the great comments Robert Day made on the Simple Checklist essay.  That said, the practitioners I asked for comments suggested that a common goal was a predictor of a good team. Mellisa Greller, Hyland Software, stated “team purpose over individual agenda” was a strong predictor.
  4. The system
    The system, how work is organized, is the largest single contributor to overall performance, therefore a good system to work within is a predictor of a good team. I do not know how many times I have seen what should have been great teams fail because the system (process and culture) colluded to keep them from being great.  Daniel Doiron, co-author of Tame your Workflow and consultant stated “Deming says that a poor system will be a single person anytime. Now Imagine a team with a good system.”

If we understand the attributes that predict a good team the question becomes whether we as coaches or leaders can influence those attributes.  Also, in our pandemic world, are these attributes possible for a distributed team? 

We will seek to answer those questions and return to Robert Day’s comments about a common goal (they are a great read — read them and weigh in).