I’m here today to talk about something really important – how to build great teams. We just had a great presentation about building products customers love but if you don’t have a team to do it, it’ll never happen.
To start, let me give you a bit of background on me. --10 + years of agile -and I own a company called Purple Agility which does three main things: – I consult with start ups at different stages of their development on and how to get to reach higher potential, ship faster, improve collaboration -I provide agile training and coaching --and I do some leadership development I have worked at 4 starts ups (employee #8 in one) large companies like yahoo and salesforce and consulted for thoughtworks and independently at a slew of places.
It feels like we should be begin with defining team. Why should we do this? --we because many times we group people together an label them a team but they do not operate as one. They are just a group of people who do things concurrently. --I looked up team on wikipedia – the source of all truth and this is their definition – which has some great components: --its about working towards a common purpose, helping each other to maximize strengths and weaknesses and have shared commitment
So now that we know what a team is, what’s the perfect size? For my purposes, I am going to call two or more a team. We have a lot of theory to draw from --infamous Amazon two pizza team Two people are a team --Scrum says +/7 --overall, it’s commonly held that you never want to get bigger than ten or you lose connectedness, collaboration becomes more difficult and shared context is lost
So now that you have put together a team (not a group) how do you make it great?
I will argue that # 1 determinant of success is shared values Lots of times we hire people exactly like us – that feels good because You know the feeling – when you can finish each other’s sentences and you agree on everything? It’s also good because we have a shared value system But when you exhaust your network and have to find new people, you have to seek out people who share your values. Do they believe in the same future that you do? Why are they doing this? To save the world? Get rich? Not have to report to “the man”? Every answer creates different ways of approaching problems and finding solutions.
But that is not enough clearly. We need more. So back to the wikipedia definition – create shared goals and purpose. Be specific and hold yourselves accountable for it. Look for diverse skills and experience. Yes, it feels good to have seven mini-me’s around, but the truth is, innovation emerges from diverse thinking and groups that can challenge and build on each other’s ideas. People whose different ways of seeing provoke news ways of thinking. Teams should be persistent – and by that I mean stay together over time. Once you gel, keep it together And of course, physically together. So much happens in informal ways that being with each other enables easy communication and best results.
People need different things at different stages And I want to pause and tell you a couple of stories of when things went wrong and what could have been done to prevent them. Let me start with Phil – a brilliant executive who left a high power job at a big company to start his own business. Phil was determined to disrupt the industry with his big idea. But to do so, he recognized he needed to partner with young blood, as his 43 year old self had lost touch with the 20 years olds. So he hired Mike as employee #1 – brilliant 26 year old UE specialist and the two of them proceeded to have many hours in coffee shops together inventing the next big thing. When they were ready to build it, they hired Melissa. In the beginning, everything was great – three peas in a pod. But quickly Phil had to change his role to CEO and go to sell mode. Mike and Melissa were supposed to create the prototypes and Phil would handle sales, marketing and the ever present VC board. And over time, more techies were hired. And things started to get bad for Phil. He noticed Melissa and Mike fighting a lot but he even more – Mike was generally angry and difficult to work with. He started to dread working in a war zone. So he called me. And I met with all of them. What had happened was while Melissa and Mike had different styles and had had a number of fights, the real problem was Mike resented his new role. He still thought of himself as co-ceo with Phil and was jealous of Phil’s activities. And he thought Melissa, who was easier to work with, was get favored status. Ultimately, there was a trust breakdown so severe between Mike and Phil, that Mike elected to leave. And the team chose not to replace him – Phil took a more hands on role and the team improved.
Or here’s a story about Lucy and I. We had worked along side each other for years but never together. We respected each other and had each other’s back. When a hard problem came up and we were asked to go “two in a box” to fix it, we were excited to work together. And in the beginning, it was good. We brainstormed, we openly flattered each other and got things done. And then all of a sudden, Lucy started changing. She was less open with me. Would get insulted over jokes that were ok weeks earlier and soon our productivity started to falter. So what happened? We never really spent the time defining roles or boundaries. When things changed, we never took the time to reflect on what the team needed at this stage. We tried to maintain a relationship which no longer fit the problem.
How to build great teams - Agile
Building Great teams
October 24, 2013
VP Agile Infrastructure Delivery
Owner of Purple Agility LLC
Start up, consulting and large
What is a team? (According to
A team comprises a group of people or animals linked in a common
A group in itself does not necessarily constitute a team. Teams
normally have members with complementary skills and generate
synergy through a coordinated effort which allows each member to
maximize his/her strengths and minimize his/her weaknesses.
Team members need to learn how to help one another, help other
team members realize their true potential, and create an
environment that allows everyone to go beyond their limitations.
A team becomes more than just a collection of people when a strong
sense of mutual commitment creates synergy, thus generating
performance greater than the sum of the performance of its