Dynamics Impacting Agile Teams, part-1

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Dynamics Impacting Agile Teams, part-1

We were talking in the Moose Herd the other morning and Cory Bryan brought up the topic of factors that influenced agile team maturity, performance, and health. We immediately discussed the obvious factor of team size. Chatting about how team cohesion and maturity could offset any negative aspects of the team is larger.  

Team distribution also came up, that is remote vs. onsite and geographic distribution. Again, we leaned into the idea that a more seasoned team could probably deliver “in spite of” the challenges of being distributed.

It was a really good topic to explore. And, as we explored it, I brainstormed in my journal and jotted down as many factors that I could think of that directly impact the formation, growth, dynamics, and ultimate success of any agile team.

I also tried to evaluate as to whether each factor was:

  1. Entirely within the team’s control

  2. Entirely an organizational factor

  3. Or something in between, 3- meaning towards Org and 3+ meaning towards the team.

I think this twist nuanced the list a bit. Anyway, I thought I’d share these thoughts with you…

1.     Organizational structure, hierarchy, and roles (2)

While structure certainly plays a strong role within the team and how the team interacts within its ecosystem, I’ve found that roles have a much bigger impact. To be more specific, role clarity or a lack thereof is the challenge. From my perspective, you can’t spend too much time clarifying the role shifts in an agile transformation.

2.     Psychological safety (3-)

While safety is largely a cultural dynamic, I do feel that the team can create (or not create) a sense of internal safety that is different from the organizational dynamics. While this might appear naïve on my part, I’m simply encouraging teams to work hard at creating as much internal safety as possible. 

3.     Size – Dunbar’s Number (2)

Strongly related to #1 and rarely influenced by the team, size does matter. The other challenging part of this factor is that organizations often ignore it, building teams as they have in the past and overloading them with more and more people in an effort to get more done.

Now there is some fair tension here when considering aspects of a cross-functional team and the depth/breadth of their technology stacks. The point being, that may drive some largeness.

4.     Geographically and physically skills (2)

This is one of the more “controllable” factors in building teams, but one where I find most organizations (and leaders) exhibiting a bit of laziness. There is a myriad of ways of forming teams that have (1) minimal time zone gaps and (2) members who are clustered together in order to make distributed working more effective.

The other emphasis should always be towards optimizing the team to get “closer” over time.

5.     Overall organizational culture (Netflix, Amazon, Menlo Innovations, Google) (2)

I’m thinking I have to pin 90% of this on the leadership team of a company. In my view, culture is very much a top-down construct. And an intentional thing on the part of the leaders. That being said, I think most leaders are somewhat clueless about the role they play in culture-shaping AND the responsibility they have for it. While teams can, and should, try to co-create their culture, they live in this leadership-driven ecosystem and are largely subject to its dynamics and constraints.

6.     Diversity – broad & deep (3-)

While certainly an organizational responsibility and focus, the team does play a part here by (1) demanding more diversity and then (2) embracing diversity. What I mean in the latter is the “inclusion” part of D&I, in that diverse candidates are welcomed and integrated wholly within their teams.

7.     Experience diversity (3-)

The majority of team experience is contributed by the work the organization is assigning to the team and the skills available within the organization. That being said, the team does have some control over how they develop their experience. For example, pairing can quickly accelerate that. Another factor is humility on the part of the more experienced team members in bringing their less experienced counterparts up to speed by active mentoring.

8.     Ability to withstand disruption (3-)

There are different terms for teams that can handle disruption. Some of the ones I’ve heard include—elastic, fluid, musical chairs, and reteaming. Not all of them should be viewed as bad. The one I’ve become increasingly fond of is—resilient. Teams who can handle adversity in a variety of instances and still maintain their composure and ability to deliver value as a team.

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