Scrum Club, Day 4: The Power Of Teams

Agile, scrumclub

"What a great team!" - exclaimed my friend and jumped from the sofa in excitement when we were watching an FC Barcelona game back in 2011. "They know in a split second where their teammates will move without even looking." I am always fascinated by sports because in sports we can observe the power of teams. I often felt sad that I could not find such a parallel in software development. The industry felt too competitive and individual. However lately, with the rise of agile development methods the value of cooperation, communication and collaboration became higher in this industry more than anywhere else. I started to observe Teams. Teams, with big capital "T", where great individuals are united by a common goal or challenge and self-organize to achieve them. When companies hire people they want team players first, rather than single supermen, samurais or ninjas.

Team player wanted!
How do a bunch of individuals become a team? At least three things make it so: shared goals, goals that are achievable only by group effort, and goals that are challenging enough to inspire. There are a couple of models that describe different phases of team development. One popular way to classify teams is Tuckman's team development model. In 1965 Bruce Tuckman defined the Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing model of group development where these phases are necessary and inevitable in order for the team to grow, to face up to challenges, to tackle problems, to find solutions, to plan work, and to deliver results. In forming teams, individuals act according to their individual desires and motivations. In storming teams individuals already have shared goals which they want to achieve with passion, which could lead to disagreements and competition for consideration. The storming stage could be unpleasant and even painful to members of the team, but it is necessary for a team to grow; however some teams might never leave this stage. In norming teams its members already take team responsibility and have the ambition to work for the success of the team's goals. In performing teams we observe autonomy and high individual value output. In Futurice’s monthly Scrum Club we have analyzed what conditions are necessary for teams to move forward from one stage to another. When can we say that the team has completed its forming? When team members share a goal, know each other, they are safe and trusted in their commitments, and have sufficient means to reach that goal. What is necessary for a team to move from the storming state to norming? Such team must be already focused on value, ability/willingness to agree, commitment to group decisions with some healthy disagreement allowed. When could we say that a team starts performing? When it self-organizes around new challenges, wants to continuously improve and healthy disagreement drives innovative approaches. Finally, for a team to stay in the performing state there must be a constant feed of sky level challenges in order to maintain drive with an ability to keep all distractions away.
Conditions for a team to move between states
Teams can go from one state to another during their lifecycle. For example, adding a new person to the team always slows down team's engine as it goes back to the forming stage. Higher performing teams can go back to their previous higher state more quickly. Adding too many new members to the team at once may leave the team drifting between forming and storming stages forever. Note that in reality performing teams are an extremely rare catch. It could take three years or more for a team of the same setup to operate in order to move to performing state. Then, in order to keep being on a high-performing level, teams need to be constantly challenged. Even dream teams like FC Barcelona lose performance after winning several trophies in a row. The job of the coach is to constantly find new sources of motivation by helping teams establish new more challenging goals. In software projects, ScrumMaster is such a coach, the director behind creating high performing teams. In order to get to the norming state, ScrumMaster helps the team understand value, ensure challenges, stresses the importance of shared goals, trains group decision making and facilitates disagreement resolution. To make a performing team, ScrumMaster’s focus shifts on feeding new challenges, protecting the team, continuous self-education in order to stay ahead of the game, short feedback cycles and extra focus on environment and stakeholders. What makes a performing team rise are new challenges and ideas. Like a football coach ScrumMaster does not score goals but stands to the side and observes. And so new high performing teams get born.