Team creation in an “agile mode”

Team Creation is important. Very. When implementing or working with Scrum or any agile framework, the manner of team creation shows how serious an organisation is regarding its agility journey. What will be described below is a pattern for team creation within the LeSS framework for scaling Scrum. However, it can be applied to other frameworks (or methodologies) as the management is involved as well.

Gather everyone in one room. If you have distributed teams in your organisation, make sure that everyone is physically present. Hint: get them on a plane. Online meeting tools cannot be a substitute for face-to-face communication.

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Actors: the management consisting of Product Owners, CTO, CIO, senior managers. The presence of C-Level executives and senior managers is important as it will highlight the much needed sponsorship and support a successful Scrum implementation needs. Programmers, testers, technical writers (in short everyone who is part of the product development effort). A facilitator (i.e. a Scrum Master).

The Management/PO explain, provide their vision and present their products. Some initial preparation with epics/features will help. Each product backlog should have its own booth or distinguished space.

Strive for the creation of cross-functional teams (i.e. teams that will be able to provide a vertical slice of functionality). This will increase the delivery of value and the self-organisation spirit of the teams. How can this be achieved without violating the self-organisation spirit? Provide your “acceptance criteria”: for example; 2 programmers per team + 1 tester + 1 UX designer + 1 technical writer. Furthermore, set up the maximum number of chairs at each product area. That way, everyone will be aware of the maximum number of people on each team and as a result you will not end up with some very large teams.

Now the fun starts: create booths for each backlog. Ask the people to choose the product they wish to work in. Explain why you are doing this. Communicate the product and company vision. And answer all questions. This is a crucial step which is overlooked by many organisations. Don’t do that mistake. Leave the room and return in 30 minutes. Inspect the choices and provide feedback. If a newly formed team does not fulfil the acceptance criteria, then let them know. People tend to choose working with people they already know; however, the latter does not always guarantee the creation of cross-functional teams. Let them have another round and return in the room. Repeat until all teams fulfil the team creation criteria. Usually this will not take more than 3 rounds.

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Now, let’s have a look at some common questions:

What if a team member needs to move to a new location in order to join his/her team?

  • The HR should be aware of this and help him/her with the relocation procedure. Bilateral buy-in from senior management and HR is crucial. It is assumed that the company’s leadership has already agreed with a Scrum/agile implementation and knows what it is about.

A local team does not have all the necessary skills

  • That’s a tricky one; ask the teams to repeat the procedure above OR step aside and let them gain the missing skills within a reasonable amount of time. (Hint: no tolerance for slackers, however this is something the team itself has to decide)

Teams do not change

  • Repeat the procedure. Ask them why. Honest and direct feedback is most valuable asset you can have as a manager/executive/manager. Explain the reasons of this decision. Communicate your vision. In short, look for your own solutions within this framework.

Self-organisation has a direct positive impact on motivation. It is one of the first and most basic steps in every agile transition. It also demonstrates the organisation’s trust to employees in finding their own solutions to problems, which is a huge morale boost as well. Last (but definitely not least), giving space to your employees and providing them with a welcoming environment where they can create, innovate and raise questions, is one of the traits of a modern-day “agile” leader.

 

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