Team size between two to seven members
Teams with more than seven members are increasingly difficult to handle. Why? Bigger teams are more likely to build subgroups or even split and, therefore, usually have difficulties to concrescence. The ability of the whole team to easily come together and communicate, discuss, align, decide and have fun is key for team development.
Multi-disciplinary teams only
We expect teams to create innovation and new ideas. However, teams cannot serve this purpose if there is only one opinion. Only if different views are expressed and discussed, innovation and new ideas will rise.
Work in Progress (WIP) limits
This factor is most difficult to implement but, if managed properly, it has the biggest impact on the teams throughput and quality of results. Eric Willeke discussed this topic and its implications very descriptive in his speech “Escaping the tragedy of WIP” at the AgileAlliance conference in 2019 at Washington, DC. Eric explained the consequences of increasing the WIP above the teams WIP limit as follows: First, starting with zero and increasing the WIP for a team will linearly increase the throughput (more output per interval) over time at constant quality. However, if the WIP limit of the team has been reached, every new work item assigned to the team will exponentially decrease the throughput (less output per interval) and negatively impact quality. Why? Because new work items cannot be executed immediately. Every team member is already fully loaded. Therefore, the new items are added to the team’s own (usually unofficial and hidden) backlog, and this backlog is executed whenever the next slot is available. Note that this is another drawback of exceeding the WIP limit: the existence of hidden backlogs. Avoid them by any means. If they exist, you won’t be able to predict anymore when work is being completed. Fact is, if this happens, you’ll start to lose control. Team deliveries are unpredictable and aligning multiple teams becomes impossible.
Keep team affiliation
A steady team affiliation is required to keep the team development process flowing towards maximum performance and highest inner level of ability. In other words, every time a team member leaves or joins the team, the team development process starts all over again. Our goal is to reach the team stage of “Performing” as quickly as possible and hold this stage as long as possible, ditto with respect to the inner ability levels. Therefore, any unnecessary team fluctuation should be avoided.
Assign features to the whole team instead of individuals
Features or work items rarely require only one skill to be realized – it is always a team effort. Based on this understanding, assigning work items to a team instead of one member seems natural but still, managers instinctively don’t do this. One explanation for this is that managers think of who is responsible and not who will implement it. Managers do not realize that commitment and accountability inside the team are needed to complete the work items. A commitment of one member of the team to the manager is not crucial.
Define a team lead upfront
As mentioned, a team cannot be developed from the outside. Teams can only be influenced and shaped from the inside. Either by leading by example or moderating. Whatever you do, remember, the team lead is always part of the team. Also, it is human to desire a team lead in case this role has not been defined yet. Otherwise, the herd does not know whom to follow and, sooner or later, it will break up into small groups. Managers should not leave this decision up to the team and hope that, by chance, it selects the member with the best skillset for this job. Let’s turn this into an advantage and define upfront the one with the best skills to fulfil this role.
Support team gatherings
Team gatherings are the social events where teams work (unconsciously) on their own team development. While the gathering itself cannot be influenced, the environment can be setup to encourage team gatherings. This can either be a common space where the team can meet spontaneously, or a more organized form of gathering such as team dinners or just going out to the next pub. Most importantly, the organization should be open for suggestions and should be willing to invest money and time. Investments though are often difficult to justify because the return of investment is somewhere hidden in the overall performance of the team. It is the responsibility of the team leader to convince management that it is a fruitful investment.
Define a clear structure to synchronize with other teams
Teams are not independent entities within an organization. Instead, teams have a web of connections between each other. In order to simplify the alignment and the team-to-team communication, it is good practice to define common synchronization structures. For example, regular conference calls between teams, regular meetings of all team leaders or even the definition of communication channels in tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams. Most importantly, the methodology considers the culture of the organization and should be in line with it. Otherwise its benefit of team-to-team alignment is neglectable. Face-to-face visits between teams, are definitely preferable to phone calls. In practice, they are rarely done. Mainly because of two reasons: it is too costly and not all team members are willing and capable to travel. Therefore, I recommend not to spend time and effort for a single face-to-face meeting and, instead, focus on other ways to synchronize regularly. The emphasis is on “regularly” instead of one time only. Whatever you choose, the right balance between effort to synchronize and spread of information will boost your team cooperation and overall performance.
Once you have agreed with management on how to handle these eight factors, you should write them down and make them available to all employees. This helps to apply them during your day-to-day work and holds management accountable.