December 13, 2014

The Reality of T.E.A.M.

Written by Leslie Lowman

One of the hardest things for companies transforming to Agile to accept is the idea that team members are to be dedicated to the teams to which they are members.  When it comes down to it, it is really about the cultural shift.

In order to better understand what the cultural shift is, you must first ask yourself: “do I know what a team really is?”  A team is defined as “a small number of people with complementary skills, who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and an approach for which they hold themselves accountable[1].”  Teams that are geared toward the same goals are much more productive and are said to be able to accomplish more together than individually— “T.E.A.M. = Together Everyone Achieves More!”[2]

Traditionally, when we discuss teams, we talk about them in the context of project teams.  However, there are a few things about ‘project teams’ that cause us to pause as we refer to the definition of what a team really means.

One of the things about ‘project teams’ that cause some dread is the fact that project team members are not fully dedicated to the efforts of the one project team.  In most cases, each member ends up being a member of multiple project teams.  As members become members of multiple teams, their focus is interrupted and therefore undermines their commitment to each of the ‘teams’ they are a member of.  It becomes hard to hold yourself accountable when you feel an obligation to commit to multiple teams, which usually will have different goals!

Another thing about ‘project teams’ that poses some stress is that they are only together for a short period of time then the members disperse and join other teams.  When this happens, they now have to build their commitment and goals, as a team, all over again.  If teams must continually come together then are broken apart, sooner or later the commitment to the team means nothing.  Each time the team dynamic changes, the productivity of the team goes down and very seldom has time to recover before there are more changes.

How does this change with Agile, you ask…

As organizations move toward a more Agile-driven one, how they ‘build’ teams becomes very important.  One of the main goals of Agile teams is that they are geared toward a specific backlog, which is centered around a particular product.  Once the team is set with the members, they have the ability to rally around the backlog and focus on that.

When building teams around a specific backlog, or product, it is easy to have them focus on the single team that they are members of.  Using this idea, the members that are on the Agile team are all dedicated to the same goals and outcome.  When this happens, the members have a higher level of commitment because they are dedicated to the one team and can focus on the goals of that team and none others.

Agile teams that are geared toward a specific backlog, or product, have no reason to be dispersed at the end, because there is no end.  Because a backlog, or product, is for all purposes, never-ending, the team keeps working on the backlog and the organization, in some way, keeps the backlog full with things that the product needs to have or do.

As the culture shifts from one geared toward the traditional definition of team to the Agile team concept, their focus and commitment shifts.  It is the organization’s job to support the change in the team structure and help to keep the team focused on the idea that “T.E.A.M. = Together Everyone Achieves More!”[3] holds true!

Tune in next time, when we talk about what it means to be a cross-functional, dedicated team…

 

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