Self-Organized Teams

Self-Organized Teams

“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.”

Phil Jackson

In high school I was a member of a successful basketball team, both in record and as a team operating in flow. It was an incredible experience and inspired me to do extensive research on team dynamics and systems theory to gain a deeper understanding of how to apply it to different teams. There were many factors that led to our success but it was a summer basketball league that prepared us for the regular season. Not only was it an opportunity to practice but it gave us the space to assess each others strengths and weaknesses without an assigned captain or coach. Once the regular season started our coach was necessary for strategy and focus but the foundation of the team was already established.

Four days a week for the entire summer our team played in a summer basketball league. With the stakes low, we had the ability to relax and find our collective rhythm without a designated leader. This type of practice would prove to be one of the main reasons we performed so well in the regular season. We sorted out substitutions with a loosely established policy and respected each other’s presence on the court. A few players took on the lead role naturally but everyone felt like a valued member of a strong team.

When the casual pace of the summer league ended, we had to switch gears to prepare for the regular season. The stakes were much higher and a coach was necessary to keep our performing team focused on a strategy. Anyone on the team could have contributed a basic strategy but would hardly compare to what a coach with time, energy, and expertise could provide. Our coach was necessary to carefully consider offensive plays, defensive strategies and provide a perspective outside of the action on the court. He also served as protection; game time logistics, match-ups and even bad calls from the referee.

The same concept can be applied to software development teams. While most newly formed teams don’t have the luxury of time to build a repor, it is important to make sure the expectations of the team are set. A good start is a general understanding of each team member’s knowledge and experience. The team can also benefit greatly from an outside observer. Regardless of the title (ScrumMaster, Agile Coach, Process Coach), they should work towards minimizing rigid policies and constantly negotiate with external factors to find that perfect balance between managing a project and allowing room for autonomy. The coach’s job is to support a group of individuals that are intrinsically motivated and then stay out their way.

There are many theories on how to build strong teams, all of which have relevance in the workplace or otherwise. From personal experience, it’s important to set expectations, support each individual as part of a whole, and respect the team dynamic. You may find that instead of pushing the team for more it is far more beneficial, and easier, to allow the team to be.

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