Are you on a Team or in a Workgroup?

If you have four software developers, a Scrummaster and a product owner, do you have a team? Is that all it takes to assemble an agile team?

Forming an agile team is not easy. Most often, a group of people are assembled and given a common corporate goal. They create a plan and start working on it. They are a team, right?

It usually plays out such that each member of the ‘team’ is a silo. They each have knowledge in their area of expertise. This approach is efficient giving everyone the opportunity to develop expert skills in their chosen areas. Communication is minimal because everyone knows what they need to do.

For example, the four developers may breakdown into a database engineer, a web services expert, a JavaScript developer, and a user interface designer. While there is overlap in these areas, they are sufficiently different that it is difficult for anyone to pick up the slack for another.

The better each gets at what they do the more entrenched they become. Each member also gets faster and more productive making the ‘team’ more dependent on their skills. It all works great until something happens to disrupt the ‘team’.

Someone quits, transfers, gets sick, has an accident, etc. Suddenly the ‘team’ is stuck. No one can readily fill in for the missing member. They are operating more like a workgroup than a team.

In a workgroup, everyone has specialized skills. Each member of the workgroup does his or her part and collectively they accomplish something larger.

On an agile team, members also have specialized skills but the key differences are communication and collaboration. On a highly-skilled, agile team, the members know what other members are working on each day.

This doesn’t mean that every member can do every task assigned to the team. It means that team members can assist each other. In the event that a someone is unavailable for a period of time, a replacement can be brought in and gotten up to speed quickly.

If you want to extract maximum value from your teams, strive for open communications (mostly verbal) and plenty of collaboration. The team will be happier and more productive. The business will be stronger and more profitable.

Updated: January 26, 2011 — 10:32 pm