When I wrote about team topologies a few weeks ago, I introduced you to the idea that different purposes may require different team types and setups to create effective and flow-oriented organizations.
In writing this, I stipulated that there is a shared notion of the meaning of „team“ along the lines of the Cambridge English Dictionary’s „people working together as a group in order to achieve something.“
„Working together to achieve something“ in my mind implies two things: some shared purpose or goal and a degree of mutual responsibility in achieving it.
To share responsibilities, team members must have a broader scope than a particular area of deep expertise or at least have an interest beyond it (be/aspire to be „T-shaped“) and some degree of freedom to decide where to invest their efforts. They also need to be motivated to act in concert.
This description largely conforms to the software- and most IT teams we work with.
However, not every group of employees labeled a „team“ behave like this.
Recently, I have started working with an organization tasked with developing some breakthrough technologies. The „teams“ pursuing these innovations have been staffed with specialists from different units of the firm.
The expected program results are detailed, and delivery pressure is high.
For that reason, some specialists have even been delegated to multiple teams to maximize their capacity.
These „teams“ of „I-shaped“ specialists display different behaviors.
Tasks are tackled in a predominantly individual and siloed fashion. Progress becomes visible at an individual or subgroup level rather than at the „team“ level. Asense of overall flow and group effectiveness is harder to achieve.
Resolution of overarching problems typically has to be actively facilitated by the Team Lead, Project Manager, or PO (often the same person).
As you may have noticed, I have put „team“ in high commas throughout the last few paragraphs as these „teams“ conform more to what is often referred to as „groups.“
These different organization forms are suited for different purposes.
Teams are, in my experience, better at problem-solving and innovation. Managing them requires overall direction, high-level prioritization, and providing appropriate context, but typically little involvement at the task and problem-solving level. Teams may be somewhat less efficient but develop more synergies and, as a result, often have a higher impact.
Groups appear to display a higher efficiency at the task level but require more management involvement in optimizing individual priorities. As groups share fewer commonalities, they also require more effort to manage internal communication. Well-managed groups can have high output but deliver little impact at the group level.
In certain circumstances, groups can (and should) be morphed into teams, particularly if a goal needs to be pursued for an extended period or if a project is to be turned into a product. In this case, it pays to keep Tuckman’s leadership advice for the five stages of team development in mind, even if it is based on generalizations.
Swarms are another organization form to be aware of. Swarms are formed – organically in mature and agile environments; by management in more traditional organizations – when a blocking or high-profile problem needs to be solved urgently and quickly.
Swarming has its origins in the Toyota production system, where it was institutionalized as a means to resolve issues on the production line. When a worker pulled the „Andon“ cord and stopped production, engineers would swarm to his workstation and resolve the issue to unblock production as quickly as possible.
Swarms temporarily and flexibly bring together the best available resources to resolve blockers or the most crucial problem at any given time. Having long been established in various Agile approaches, swarming as a structuring principle has found its way into customer support and other functions. Tesla, e.g., applies swarming extensively, using an AI-based system to route employees to where they are applied most effectively.
Swarming drives a culture of empowerment and diversifies skill sets. It also incentivizes initiative and end-to-end ownership.
Why does all that matter?
The above and my recent post about team topologies illustrate that finding the right type of organization is crucial for achieving your goals. Delegating several „human resources“ into some unit does not per se create a structure that adequately addresses a particular goal or requirement.
To successfully create a new team, you will need to ponder at least the following questions:
- What is your long-term goal?
- What are the new unit’s purpose and intended value-add?
- Are you planning a functional or cross-functional group?
- Will this setup be temporary or permanent?
- What type of governance and working model do you foresee?
- Who will the new team interact predominantly with?
- How can you minimize external dependencies and interfaces?
- Who will lead it – how experienced is s/he?
Structures are essential for businesses to function and grow. Here are resources that may help with creating and improving them:
11 ways to boost your team’s performance
from Asana’s Blog (useful beyond trying to sell you Asana as a tool!)
Click to view!
Have a great weekend and all the best,