Explorations Around Agile Teams

Explorations Around Agile Teams

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I’ve been doing agile coaching for over two decades. If there were a Top 5 question I get when doing organizational and leadership coaching, it’s—

  • How do I set up my teams? Vertical, horizontal, hybrid.

  • What exactly is an x-functional team?

  • What about distributed team dynamics?

  • Are the roles full-time? Or can I share everyone?

  • How do I handle shared, service-oriented, or platform teams?

For a long time, I wished for a solid reference that I could send to folks when they have these sorts of “teaming” related questions.

Well, the good news is now I do, but it’s not one book. It’s a triplet of books.

The first book I highly recommend you read is Team Topologies by Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais. It does a fantastic job of identifying common team patterns and discussing the dynamics of each and their integration within your organization.

Before Team Topologies, folks suffered from loose definitions of component and feature teams. The book has significantly advanced the ball in identifying common team types and how to create and structure them effectively.

The second book is Dynamic Reteaming by Heidi Helfand. This book explores the dynamics of Tuckman and creating resilient teams that perhaps change more than you might think is healthy for them. When I first read Heidi’s work, my head exploded a bit because she challenged some of my most solidly held team beliefs.

The final book is From Chaos to Successful Distributed Agile Teams by Johanna Rothman and Mark Kilby. Given our recent pandemic challenges, I don’t think you can understand effective agile teams without exploring distributed team dynamics, and there’s no better guide than Johanna and Mark.

Because I always like to over-deliver, I want to mention a lesser-known book that I’ve found to be quite valuable on this topic. It’s entitled Organizing Toward Agility by Jeff Anderson. Its focus is more on larger organizational structure or at-scale structure, but provides a broad a deep bit of guidance that I’ve found invaluable. It’s not available on Amazon or elsewhere, it’s only available on Leanpub.

Finally, I wanted to give the nod to Spotify. Not as a scaling model or framework but as a set of organizational patterns that might be useful to you. Particularly the notions of Chapters & Guilds.

You can explore more information on Spotify in the links at the end of the post.

I’ve become quite a fan of the Team Topologies book, so my recommendation would be to start your journey with it. Then briefly explore Spotify and Jeff Anderson’s book. Finally, read Reteaming and Distributed Agile Teams as a way of firming up your agile teams’ journey.

Once you’ve been through them, sit back and take a breath. Then, consider the ideas you’ve just consumed AND your organizational context and devise something that will work for you. Don’t blindly accept or leverage the ideas, but do the heavy lifting to make them your own.

Stay agile my friends,


Jurgen Appelo

Team Topologies

Mike McCalla on teams

Mike Hall on team empowerment


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