Archive for August, 2009

Building a Team (part I of endless)

2009-08-24

One of the first tasks of someone that wants to build a good team is understanding a little bit about what makes a team successful elsewhere.

Also, while observing, there must be a conscious knowledge that a strong correlation may not mean a relationship of causality.

A small team is a factor seen in most successful teams. Teams with 9 members or less seem to be in general more successful than larger teams. The team size has a strong relationship with a good team.

The real cause for this lays in the easiness to manage the communication between the individuals. As the size increases, it is increasingly difficult to manage a good link with the other team members.

To have good communication within the team, it is very important that the members of the team know who is in the team and who is out.

This is related directly with the concept of pigs and chickens seen in Scrum. The pigs are the committed team members. They are onboard with the team. The chickens may help, but they are not in.

The pigs need to know who the pigs are, and the chickens need to know who they are. It may seem silly, but the lack of clear delimitation of these boundaries for the team will do more harm than any perceived good.

People on the team should form a real team. They should want to be on the team, and they need a common goal.

This goal is going to be the glue that will get the team moving together. Without it, the team members will show a natural tendency to follow their own paths. And if everyone just follows their own interests, there is no teamwork possible.

To achieve a common goal, there are many paths. To common goal can come from a leader, from the team itself, from an outside element, etc. What is most important is that pushing to set a common goal is a difficult job.

Setting goals demand taking responsibility. And taking responsibility can be a risky action and demands emotional involvement.

To be continued…

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The Myth of the Team

2009-08-18

The concept of teams is one that is widespread viewed as good and taught by parents and in the schools from the very early days of almost every child.

There are many reasons for this culture that have nothing to do with how much better teams work when compared to individual efforts. It is all about getting the young to learn the concept of the other, how to live with the differences, and how to deal with dysfunction and conflict.

A single person can be productive, and also, can have many problems. Putting a group of people together also mean that the possibility for problems is multiplied.

In general, teams will find a stable situation, they naturally seek equilibrium in the relationship of its members in a way they can manage to live together. This means avoiding conflict at almost all costs. People will try to find a comfort zone, even without thinking about it.

The big problem here is that the continuous generation of conflict and resolution is what makes a team more productive than individuals.

Also, conflict is dangerous because it can break the bonds that keep the teams together. Too much conflict destroys the team, too little and the team will produce nothing good.

The team dynamics reminds me of a history book by renowned Helio Jaguaribe (Um estudo critico da História). In this book, he demonstrates by looking at the many different failed and successful societies in history that one of the major factors of success is the good challenge. If the challenge is too great, society is destroyed. If the challenge is too little, society will fall into a comfort zone that stops it in time and will render it unprepared to deal with future difficulties.

The teams are a micro cosmos of society, and like societies, a team needs a good challenge and good conflict to thrive.

The goods of teamwork are not given. It is not by simply putting people together that they will be better together than they are in the sum of their individual efforts.

To find good teams, one will see that there is always a factor that “rocks the boat” when conformance rises, and something to bring a gentle breeze when people are about to kill each other.

To purposely build a successful team is even harder than “finding them in nature”. It is not a task to be underestimated.

Continued here…

Bond, Scrum Bond

2009-08-01

I have seen many times companies or professional teams that claim to be like a family. Being like a family is associated with success almost everyplace I have been to.

There are many reasons for this association. The proximity and intimacy of a family is associated with openness and good communication. The family love is related to the unity that connects people in an organization. Blood ties relate directly to self sacrifice towards a common goal, the goal of the family.

All these are perceived to have value and indeed can be a very positive influence on other organizations.

Now, considering the other aspects of a family, there are many dysfunctions to be avoided as well. Paternalism is one of those patterns. In the search for proper teams, management gets carried away and wants to become parents. Mutual proximity of peers can easily become condescendence and intimacy may become discomfort.

What is really important for companies, teams or families is not how things are organized or what is produced. What is valued should never lay in the rules (dogma).

Being a family, or doing Scrum can only be good if what you experience with it is good.

It may sound strange for some, but every time I hear from people that my company is like a family I have mixed feelings. The company does not seek that at all. I guess when a company value openness and collaboration the way we do (or try to do), the association can be inevitable. I think the main reason why Scrum fits well with us is because we value similar things in the first place.

To do Scrum is very much to be aligned with the original Agile Manifesto. To understand Scrum and to do Scrum is far from following a set of rules. In its core Scrum is pursuing some very basic values.

To do Scrum one needs to understand the people involved in projects as people and not as resources.

To do Scrum one needs to seek to generate tangible value. It’s a professional and ethical commitment with oneself.

To do Scrum one needs to communicate with others openly and value it.

To do Scrum is to adapt oneself to reality.

To do Scrum is to ask oneself many questions.

To do Scrum is to value teams with a special bond.