Agile Transformation

Taking the Best Parts of Agile: Part 3 – The Power of Teams


October 27, 2020


In the first two parts of this series, we described the secret sauce of Agile is understanding that Agile is a framework built on strong principles you adjust to fit your organization. The goal is to make the right adjustments while not losing the underlying strengths that Agile brings.

The four key Agile principles we have identified are:

If you haven’t had a chance to review our previous blogs on the first two principles, check it them out here: Breaking projects into smaller bites and Connecting with Customers

The Power of Teams
As kids, I think everyone of us wanted to be superheroes. Teams give us that ability – they turn ordinary people into top performers. In his book Scrum Twice the Work in Half the Time – Sutherland explains the difference between your best and worst individual performers is 10 times. That means the best performers get 10 times more done than the worst. That sounds impressive, until you hear the difference between the worst and best teams is 2,000 times (2,000 times better starts to sound and feel a lot like a superhero).

Part of the difference might be in existing team structure. Most of the time, we think about teams as individuals working on similar items with a manager directing traffic. That’s not a team. And, it won’t provide the advantage of leveraging the intelligence of the group. In his book Turn the Ship Around, Marquette talks about how, traditionally in a submarine, you have one captain thinking for the 140 crew. Marquette discusses how he got each individual to think for themselves. By doing that, he outperformed every other submarine in the US fleet. It was easy for him to see that no other captain, however smart they may be, is going to be as smart as 140 people.

How to harness the Power of Teams

 Best Parts of Agile

For those who have worked in a solid team, it’s a great experience.  However, teams need the right elements to be successful. An example I like to share is a research project called Aristotle looking at successful teams that Google conducted. They started with an assumption that great teams would be made of great individuals, but couldn’t find any correlation. What they did find were five key elements that did correlate with team performance:

Psychological Safety
Can we take risks without feeling insecure or embarrassed?

Can we count on each other to do high quality work and meet commitments?

Structure and Clarity
Are the goals, roles, and plans on the team clear?

Work Meaning
Does our work provide us with an individual sense of purpose?

Work Impact
Do we believe the work we’re doing matters?

If you’re looking for structure, Scrum, the most popular Agile framework, provides teams a simple approach on how to plan, touch base regularly, review work against plans, and implement regular retrospectives to identify and make needed adjustments.

Benefits of Teams

There are so many benefits to high functioning teams, but one of the most valuable is innovation. New ideas often come from leveraging existing ideas in a new way. When you present a problem to a group, each person comes with a different perspective, a lifetime of different experiences, and the more diverse your team is, the more diverse those experiences will be. Great ideas come from one person seeing the problem in a different way, and then others in the group building on those ideas till at the end you have a completely new solution.  This means:

As an organization – innovation is the lifeblood of any good company. It is the ultimate source of competitive advantage. It is why companies like Google and Amazon are so hard to compete with.

As a customer – it gives you the best product at the best price. Customers are so tired of hearing the word “or.” Would you like quality or would you like a price you can afford?  Innovation gives you the ability to give customers “and.” Toyota did this in the 50’s, providing the quality of a Mercedes for the cost of a Ford, gaining a decade of competitive advantage.

As a team – we talked about a key part of successful teams is meaning and impact. There is a joy of going home (or logging off our computer in our home office) at the end of the day knowing that, as a team, you did the impossible and the world is better because of it. Innovation makes the impossible possible, and it’s fun getting to do it.

You don’t have to be Agile to improve what your teams are doing today.  Look at the Google Aristotle aspects of a team and think about how you make groups more like teams.  Wherever you are today, leveraging the genius of the entire organization will help you be far more effective, with a side effect of much happier employees.

In the last part of our Agile Series, we’ll take a look at Continual Learning.



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