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Well Formed Teams: Helping Teams Thrive, not just Survive

| by Mark Levison on Mar 25, 2008. Estimated reading time: 2 minutes |

In a recent AgileJournal article, Doug Shimp, Managing Partner with 3Back and Samall Hazziez, Senior Managing Partner for the Preferred Professionals Business Group, have written about what it takes to enable high-performing "Well Formed Teams" to thrive.

The authors have observed a number of characteristics that enable Well Formed Teams:

  • Process: Scrum, Lean and XP. In addition some of the more traditional processes RUP, PMBOK, …
  • Environmental enablers: collocated teams, team rooms, visible charts, white boards, …

However on their own, the principles and practices may burden a team with too much process and information. Instead the authors recommend we focus on what makes teams thrive. In their experience these can be broken down into "3+2".

3 principles:

Let the product lead - always pay attention to the needs of the product. Any time the team considers adopting a new practice or idea ask the question how does this serve the needs of the product.

One bite at a time - Each item of work should be broken up into small enough pieces to eat. Most of us bite of larger chunks than we can chew. Breaking tasks down into smaller parts means that we can get them done in smaller timeboxed cycles.

Keep it visible - one of the most obvious principles it is rarely done well. When we cannot see what our team mates are working on, we cannot see where to apply our own efforts. The result we struggle. With increased visibility we increase the chances that other team members will step in with useful ideas that help solve our problems.

+2 practices:

Conversation and Structure - these are used to balance the three principles above. "The conversation requires enough structure from an established protocol so that we can communicate effectively. … The conversation is necessary for humans to establish rapport so that we can create, contribute and share deep meaningful understanding."

How can you tell if you have a well formed team? In the opinion of the authors they exhibit some of these characteristics:

  • Follow Agile and Lean principles
  • Co-located
  • Team members show a high state of rapport.
  • Team members contribute thoughts and share ideas equally. There is no ownership of ideas.
  • Brainstorming as a group
  • Self assign work
  • Have a good understanding of business objectives and are focused on delivering features that match the business priority
  • The good of the team is placed ahead of the individuals
  • New skills are acquired quickly and as needed to help the team
  • Team members challenge each other to bring out their best
  • Hyper-productivity - where hyper productive is sustained productivity at least 4 times the industry average. (Jeff Sutherland CTO of PatientKeeper and co-Inventor of Scrum).

Well Formed Teams are valuable to the business because they're nimble and able to adapt to the constantly changing business landscape.

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